Christian Liberty, Blogs, and Beer

The blogosphere is filled with trends and fads – blogs have the “power” to set trends, even in Christian communities.  Though this may rub a few of our readers the wrong way, one trend or fad I can’t help but notice is to include all things smoke and drink into the blog, possibly under the name Christian liberty.  In the blog world of Calvinism, for example, it is trendy and fashionable to compare weak Christians to light beer and strong (manly?) Christians to stout ale.  It is trendy in the blog world to trumpet fat cigars and dark beer while even mocking Christians who do not do these things or do them in “weakened” form.

A few things have to be said to this.  First, Christian liberty is different than the liberty we enjoy in many Western cultures.  Civil liberty means you may listen to music “x” as long as it isn’t over a certain decibel level.  However, Christian liberty is quite different because 1) it puts our neighbor first and 2) because it is tempered with self-denial.  Calvin explains it this way (while reflecting on Rom 14.1, 13, & 1 Cor 8.9, among other texts in his Institutes, III.10-12):

“We who are strong ought to bear with the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves; but let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.”

“We have due control over freedom if it makes no difference to us to restrict it when it is fruitful [i.e. benefiting our neighbor] to do so.”

“Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forgo it.”

“Our freedom is not given against our feeble neighbors, for love makes us their servants in all things….”

In other words, Christian liberty (as with all true liberty!) has boundaries.  Christian liberty is tempered with love for neighbor (think of him/her before our liberty) and self-denial (we don’t need to indulge in this liberty).  If Christian liberty is not tempered with love for neighbor and self-denial, it is more like a high school fad (i.e. the brand of jeans you wear) than a Christian ethic.

Matthew Henry, in his comments on 1 Cor 8.7-13, says it this way: “We must deny ourselves rather than occasion their [the weak] stumbling…if Christ had such compassion as to die for them, we should have so much compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sakes.”  “We must not rigorously claim our own rights, to the hurt and ruin of a brother’s soul.”

I don’t have time to comment on it, but one other thing should be considered: it is probably not a sign of “weakness” if a Christian does not drink beer or smoke – it doesn’t make him the weaker brother.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

11 thoughts on “Christian Liberty, Blogs, and Beer”

  1. A Sobering Word and Forthcoming Review…

    The Reformed Reader reminds us of what true Christian liberty sees as its goal, namely the fellow- believer for whom Christ has died. Their eternal soul is more important than sharing a bottle of port.
    Christian liberty is directly related to the next …

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  2. Amen. Freedom in Christ is part of the theology of the cross that esteems the heavenly wisdom of humility in self-denial. The over-the-top touting of beer and such is just childish.

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  3. I agree, not drinking or smoking does not make you a weak Christian. What I don’t understand is why the folks who fixate on my smoking and drinking habits don’t fixate on my eating habits instead. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard sermons on the evils of…well I’ll limit it to smoking and drinking. I’ve yet to here anyone talk about the evils of fried chicken and Twinkies, oh and don’t forget the gallons of Coke that get consumed at the church dinner. Which is healthier, moderate consumption of alcohol or moderate consumption of soft drinks (if there is such a thing)? I will gladly encourage anyone to follow their convictions, even the ones like Christian Vegans, that I don’t understand. I just long for a little consistency…please!

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  4. Amen and great post. While I am fond of both drink and smoke, I get tired of those who are in your face with their ‘Christian Liberty.’ This has no resemblance to the humility and self-denial of true Christianity. Bob, I second your comment. When was the last time you heard a sermon on gluttony? Certainly this is a problem in America!

    I’m glad you put the qualifier at the end that the weaker brother is not the one who doesn’t drink or smoke. The weaker brother is not the Southern Baptist. The weaker brother is the one who is a babe in Christ, hasn’t learned to distinguish right from wrong, or is weak in the flesh and prone to one sin or another. If we are honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge that we are all weak in one area or another. Would we want other Christians tempting us with their ‘Christian Liberty’ in the areas we are weak? Do unto others, etc. this is the law and the prophets.

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  5. Great post Shane! That’s a good point about it being a fad. I wonder if the people who do it realize how much of a fad it really is, and how much their behavior can be basically clique-ish. (e.g., you have to drink the right beer, smoke the right tobacco, listen to the right music, enjoy the right novels, etc.)

    One of the ironic aspects of it to me (and something I think I heard Horton mention on WHI once) is that these people are often not very interested in liberty at all. If they were, they wouldn’t be so insisting that every one drink the same beer as them or smoke cigars like they do. It’s just a new kind of legalism. Instead of being self-righteous for not drinking, they’ve become self-righteous for drinking what they like to drink.

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  6. Thanks Shane! A great reminder of something we hear far too little of today. Here’s Richard Baxter:

    “When you make a great matter of it, what you shall eat and drink as to the delight, and when you take it for a great loss or suffering if you fare hardly, and are troubled at it, and your thoughts and talk are of your belly, and you have not that indifferency whether your fare be coarse or pleasant, (so it be wholesome,) as all temperate persons have, this is the heart of gluttony, and is the heart’s forsaking of God, and making the appetite its god” (Practical Works 1:311).

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  7. It is true that the weak brother isn’t he who refrains from a thing indifferent but he who hasn’t made his mind up about a thing indifferent. Not only should a caution go to those who particpate in a thing indifferent in order to protect the conscience of the weaker brother, but one should go to him who refrains in certainty. He who participates in certainty and he who refrains in certainty are both strong, neither is weak. Often he who refrains in certainty can cast himself as weak and lord it over he who participates. This actually lord’s it over his strong brother. Then a fight ensues in which the strong participater flaunts his liberty in response to the strong refrainer, and the authentically weak brother gets harmed in the fray.

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    1. Zrim,

      Here is my problem. I believe we would not have this discussion now if it were not for the obsession in the pulpit with alcohol. It was not always been so. The “temperance” movement started out being temperate, not abstinent, not prohibitionist. So many preachers focus on things indifferent. The result is that many people now believe that the consumption of alcohol as a beverage is a sin. This belief results in all kinds of contortions on the part of preachers and distortions of scripture. Claims that Jesus turning the water into wine that was grape juice for starters. I don’t have a problem with my conscience concerning alcohol. I am also willing to refrain from consuming alcohol for the sake of my weaker brother. What I fear is that the issue is no longer about the weaker brother. Now the problem is that churches have said that scripture is all we need for faith and practice and then turn around and condemn smoking, drinking, dancing, movies, cards, sports…all of which are indifferent. These same churches celebrate (and I do mean celebrate) gluttony. We seem to be oblivious that the world is watching and doesn’t understand our inconsistency. Jesus first miracle was turning the water into “grape juice?” Doesn’t there come a point when Christians need to stand for the authority of scripture in this regard? I think you are right to say that a stronger brother should not flaunt his liberty. I think our “American Christian” culture makes our weaker brothers even weaker when it harps about things indifferent.

      Bob

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