The Christian blogosphere and web community is filled with trends and fads – blogs have the clout and power to set Christian trends. 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, Tweet, or Facebook update, possibly under the banner of 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. Christians post pictures of the beer they drink for all to see. It is trendy in the blog world to trumpet fat cigars and craft 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 Western culture. 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 an immature high school fad (i.e. the shoes or 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 cigars – it doesn’t make him the weaker brother.