Bible Think Tank

This site is designed to help you interact with others about God's Word. I further some thoughts we developed during morning and evening gatherings at church. I have my NT translations from the original Greek to English. Also, I have book reviews and other current events.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Recent Study - Liberty

What is Christian Liberty?

At church over the last few weeks, we've been talking about Christian Liberty. Essentially, this point is: do whatever you want as long as God is cool with it. Too many unbelievers stay that way because they see Christians saying NO to everything. The fact of the matter is that there are very few "rules" for Christians and all of them are summed up in the chief rule, the law of Christ, "love God and love others like you love yourself."

So, Specifically, I Can...

So what can we do? Can we drink, smoke, play cards, dance, picnic, go to movies (even movies where people kiss), date, go to public school, work on Sunday? These are all things that Christians have for many generations in America have said NO to. Recently however, Christians, at least the BFC, have changed our mind on many of these things. Many of them used to be labeled "especially pernicious to youth." Which I never knew what that meant and as an ordained pastor, I still don't think I know what it means so thankfully we are no longer making that kind of statement.

Dan Kimball has a interesting article on the alcohol and junk food. Essentially he makes a good point, why are Christians cool with overeating but not drinking in moderation? The Bible is all about moderation. Even the qualification for ELDERS, "he must not be addicted to wine" (1 Tim 3:3). I love what he says about causing others to stumble

"When I often hear Christians say they don't drink in public because it may cause someone to stumble, and I ask them who is the 'some' that they mean. It always turns out to be they worry about Christians who would judge them for drinking, not someone actually struggling with alcohol and would 'stumble'. That seems to be unfair to the biblical text quoted and is then more about the fear of Christians than the original meaning of that verse. That's why its important to study the Scriptures on this issue."
That is so huge. We evangelicals really are a bunch of jerks at times. We spend so much time with each other that we really don't know anyone that would really stumble if they saw us drinking. So we've changed the meaning of Paul's statement to something other than what it meant... so "don't cause your brother to stumble" becomes "don't cause your brother to gossip about you." IF we really are free to drink, Biblically. And IF a brother in Christ sees us drinking. And IF he decides to tell someone (gossip). Why am I judged by someone else's conscience? I haven't done anything wrong. THe Bible permits me to use (not abuse) alcohol.

An Assignment

So here is a daunting, yet inspiring project. Go through the New Testament (Matthew -> Revelation) and write down all of the commands. It would be good to write the command and the reference. If you find a duplicate command, write the command once and include both references after it.

Why not the Old Testament? Aren't we bound to follow ALL of God's counsel? I'm lazy and don't even want to get into it now. Just do the assignment and like it! (Hopefully you hear the sarcasm here.) Seriously, it is a huge answer that Christians have been back and forth on forever. The answer is much larger than the scope of this post so I'll get to it later this week.

Listen Up Addicts

Now, in closing I need to make this statement since I am responsible for the outcome of souls: if you are an addict to something, God isnt cool with you even dabbling in your liberty. You aren't free to enjoy what others can. You have a track record of not enjoying that thing, but rather a track record of being controlled by that thing. So don't go away from this post thinking you could get back into some kind of moderate usage. Maybe after a lot of one-on-one counseling with a bonafide professional therapist or pastor, but even then I think your life would be fuller without that thing in your life at all.



Blogger delawaregirl said...

ok, so I don't really agree with the assessment that Christians don't drink (in public) because they don't want to be judged by other Christians. I think there is a demographic that can be particularly susceptible to Christians taking liberty in drinking alcohol and that is the teens. Here's my example. At a family wedding there was drinking. Almost all the young college/career age Christians were drinking. What impression did this leave on a younger sibling who wasn't yet old enough to partake. That's it's ok. There was no one there telling her to use moderation. She's just there observing what others are doing and now she's thinks, what's wrong with it. She was impressionable and their liberty could now cause her to stumble. What do you think?

8/23/2007 4:26 PM  
Blogger Timothy Schmoyer said...

delawaregirl, thanks for posting on this entry. There is no doubt that using our liberty in a carless way can actually lead a weak christian to sin. In your scenario, you are labeling the teenage christian as "weak." I'll agree with you but a better scenario would be a former alcoholic or a former ________. The Apostle Paul is thinking of a former idolater who is now a christian. He is weak in that he still views idol false gods as a force to be reckoned with. Paul says the opposite "an idol is nothing." But for the sake of the conversation: the teenager is the weak Christian. She is weak because reality stays real but her view of reality changes, namely, there is nothing wrong with her drinking.

Let's deal with a teenager drinking. Biblically the only reason for a teenager not to drink is that a teenager is not 21 and the Bible tells us to obey all authorities (Romans 13). It also says not to get drunk and we all know that teenagers are prone to excess (sorry teenagers: that is a hyperbole).

In many ways, it gets to the question of what our behavior communicates to others. I know a Christian man that smoked every day of his life. Sin? Probably he was addicted, so yes it was sin. He never once let his children see him do it so they wouldn't get the wrong ideas. Good example for us in our use of liberty.

But when someone is doing something and not talking about the behavior: how do we know what their attitude about it is. Is my drinking (and i dont) telling a teenager it is okay to do it, or is my drinking communicating that it is okay within guidelines (21+ and not addicted or drunk).

Thanks for interacting, i'd love to talk more aobut it.

8/24/2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger s said...

Couple thoughts on this topic.
1) I agree with delawaregirl that this was a bad example for the teens. It is bad enough that teens are bombarded by drinking/etc by the media but when they see family and associates doing it then they are naturally going to think it is acceptable and what they will do at that age.

2) I also agree teens should be consider weak. Lets face even if they were a Christian since they were 5 they still would only have the spiritual maturity of a 8-12y. That being said I think a better word may be impressionable.

3) No one has mentioned the potential alcoholics. We do not know who has the propensity to be addicted to alcohol.

4) No one has mentioned that alcohol has adverse affects on the body either such as liver issues, etc. Yea I know some argue it helps the heart etc but I havent seen any evidences on that. My grandparents have drank a glass of wine with a meal for as long as I can remember but they both have pacemakers/etc.

5) Similarly alcohol alters mood (even in low dosages). It causes some to be overly happy, mean, etc. Impairs reflects and judgment and results in depression because it is a downer drug!

To me the key to Christian liberty is 1 Corinthians 10:23. All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial. The real question is what is the benefit of drinking in public or even in private? In my mind it has nothing but negative potential! It could cause christians and non-christians, weak and strong to stumble. Even gossiping is a sin and we shouldnt take a "chance" to cause someone to do sin by our actions. It is also not good for the body and we are to take care of our bodies because they are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

I see no wisdom in a christian drinking and want to interject that John the Baptist and others were praised in the Bible for not having touched strong drink not for using their liberty correctly.

8/24/2007 9:58 PM  
Blogger k said...

Here is how I see alcohol and christians. I have never seen a marriage relationship and a relationship with God strengthened with alcohol. I have seen marriages torn apart and seperation from God because of alcohol.

I agree with Pipers 4 reasons to abstain:

1.First, I choose not to drink because of my conscience.

2.The second reason is that alcohol is a mind-altering drug.

3.The third reason why I choose total abstinence is that alcohol is addictive.

4.The fourth reason I choose total abstinence is to make a social statement.

8/25/2007 12:27 AM  
Blogger Timothy Schmoyer said...

so i guess is the hot topic, everyone is posting on this one.

S, you made 5 point and a verse

1) i agree with you and delawaregirl on the teen thing with this added point: uncles probably don't have this opportunity but dads if they drink have a great opportunity to talk about the whole issue with their teens and to make it crystal clear what the guidelines are.

2) again, teens... same thing: we absolutley need to be careful with that. better a millstone and all that.

3) Alcoholics, absolutely, and I did mention that as the last point in my post.

4) i would disagree with you on the harm to the body that use of alcohol has. The abuse of alcohol harms the body, as does the abuse of anything (tobacco, food, sex, etc) harm us. You never heard a study for benefits of alcohol to the body. Harvard should do on this point, they list benefits AND detriments of use and abuse.

5) .06 blood alcohol content impairs judgment. For an average man, one or two drinks wouldn't do it based on the blood-alcohol-content table half way down this page.

And then you write "to me the key to Christian liberty is 1 Corinthians 10:23. All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial. The real question is what is the benefit of drinking in public or even in private?" So I need to ask: there is no Christian liberty, is there?!?

Spurgeon said this about smoking cigars (and he did by all accounts do so repentantly):

"The expression "smoking to the glory of God" standing alone has an ill sound, and I do not justify it; but in the sense in which I employed it I still stand to it. No Christian should do anything in which he cannot glorify God; and this may be done, according to Scripture, in eating and drinking and the common actions of life.
When I have found intense pain relieved, a weary brain soothed, and calm, refreshing sleep obtained by a cigar, I have felt grateful to God, and have blessed His name; this is what I meant, and by no means did I use sacred words triflingly.
If through smoking I had wasted an hour of my time—if I had stinted my gifts to the poor—if I had rendered my mind less vigorous—I trust I should see my fault and turn from it; but he who charges me with these things shall have no answer but my forgiveness." (source -

8/25/2007 10:23 AM  
Blogger Timothy Schmoyer said...

let me reply to k

You wrote: "I agree with Pipers 4 reasons to abstain."

I love Piper. I am with Piper on so many things. In fact, I can't really think of anything we disagree on, except maybe church autonomy. It is interesting that he employs the banner phrase "Christian Hedonism" and then seems to abstain from the full meaning of the phrase.

I embrace all of his following points except the first one, so let me save that one for last.

"2.The second reason is that alcohol is a mind-altering drug."

Alcohol is a mind altering drug. To be fair, food also is mind-altering. Why are so many Americans overweight (60% are obese). I replied to S on this point already: .06 BAC affects one's judgment. For an average man that is the third beer. I do practice abstinence with this reason in my mind.

"3.The third reason why I choose total abstinence is that alcohol is addictive."

Alcohol is addictive. It has terrible sway over so many individuals (and indirectly over their loved ones). I also recognize that I have tendencies towards addictiveness. A vignette will capture this observation: in college, I loved SimCity. Nothing wrong with the game. I would play it every free chance I got in my freshman year. During chapel gatherings, we would be praying and all I could think about is what I would do next on my city. That is when I gave the game up altogether. It was coming between me and God. I was addicted to a game. I am not sure if this tendency would pour over into alcohol, but I am not going to find out. As it is a much more expensive thing to be addicted to... expensive in more than one use of the word. I do practice abstinence with this reason in my mind.

"4.The fourth reason I choose total abstinence is to make a social statement."

I believe that abstinance DOES make a social statement. As a pastor, I told my congregation why they would never see me in a bar. That being said. I do recognize a truth that I do not think many total-abstinance-christians recognize. Our behavior makes social statements that we do intend to make AND, equally as powerful, it makes social statements that we DO NOT intend to make. I do practice abstinence with this reason in my mind.

Now for the first reason.

"1.First, I choose not to drink because of my conscience."

My conscience would not be stunted by my drinking alcohol. Would other people's consciences be affected if they saw me imbibing? Paul says so: "if someone says 'that is idol meat' do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake— the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience?" (1 Cor 10:28-29). But notice Paul's logic in verse 27-30. When it is cool, do it; when someone's got a hang-up, don't do it in their presence.

Paul never has in mind that we surrender our freedom altogether, but just in the presence on the weak.

Now it sounds through this whole discussion that I am really rallying around alcohol. For me this is a theoretical exercise, not a justification of practice. I don't drink, I don't want to drink. But I want to stand in unity with a truly mature Christian who happens to drink. He has been given by God the strength and wisdom to practice this freedom. I am required as God's prophet (lower-case p) to communicate God's truth to all involved parties and not allow his freedom to be suppressed by anyone.

Now let me interject in closing a hugely important observation on the Piper quote. I am sure that Piper does use Scripture on this as he does with every other sermon and article and book. But the four points he made are LOGICAL points and not SCRIPTURAL points. I am not condemning Piper. I am sure that he would be the first to say "i abstain for non-biblical reasons and the wise practicer practices with God on his side." Non-biblical is not the same as anti-biblical and it is okay to have logical reasons for something. But I praise Piper for saying "I abstain for these reasons" rather than "it is wrong for these reasons."

Where God is silent, I can speak for myself, but not for others.

8/25/2007 10:54 AM  
Blogger Timothy Schmoyer said...

I just read Piper's sermon that K referred to.

This is his introduction, which supports the point I made about his view:

"There are two questions I want to discuss tonight. One is: Should Christians in America today abstain from the use of alcoholic drink as a beverage? The other is: Should such abstinence be a requirement for church membership? My answer to the first question is yes, and my answer to the second question is no."

The sermon was in 1981, has he shifted his view since then?

8/25/2007 10:57 AM  
Blogger s said...

I skimmed through the article about the benefits of alcohol but I wouldnt use an article that uses words in the introduction such as "seems to be good" and "probably protects" as a source of fact about it being good for us. As the article mentions people have different definitions of what drinking in moderation means. It also states that not everyone drinks in moderation (even if they want to). Which leads to:
-14 million Americans meet standard criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism
-Alcohol plays a role in 1 in 4 cases of violent crime
-More than 16,000 people die each year in automobile accidents in which alcohol was involved
-Alcohol abuse costs more than $180 billion dollars a year

The article also brought up something I didnt know: "Alcohol Increases Risk of Developing Breast Cancer".

To my point of the potential alcoholic the article says "Genes Play a Role" which I knew but the articles says it also depends on the level of enzyme. So there are a lot of physiological issues here that are different for each person.

To further clarify my previous point I do not see the benefit of a christian using alcohol I also do not see the benefit in defending the use of alcohol. Yes, it is a Christian liberty issue but I think christians and churches should err on the side of caution and encourage people not to do anything that could possibly cause harm to ones body or others.

Regarding spurgeon, I think he was a great pastor and I agree with most of his theology but he was just a man. I personally think he was using excuses to justify his use of cigars. Like alcohol there are other things that would produce the same benefits without the unwanted physical/social/spiritual side effects.

One could argue that communism works on paper but fails because of human nature.

I am just not seeing the benefit of telling Christians they can drink if they want. Help me understand the benefit here.

8/25/2007 12:57 PM  
Blogger Timothy Schmoyer said...

lot's to say about alcohol...

my post really wasnt aobut alcohol... it was about Christian liberty and how Christians would rather judge each other than thank God for the complexity of His community of saints. That was the thrust of Dan Kimball's blog entry and that was the idea I was picking out to discuss.

We can keep talking about alcohol if we want to, but what is of interest to me is the bigger point. We should be careful in the use of our liberty, this is what Paul is saying in 1 Cor 8-10. But to be careful to the point of abstaining from liberty and requiring others to abstain from liberty goes beyond God, His Scriptures, and Piper in his sermon introduction.

In summary let us all endeavor to live under the counsel of the BFC - BPL on Liberty as a summation of Biblical content.

8/25/2007 1:19 PM  

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