Christian Liberty, Beer, and Blogs

Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battles Translation) (2 Volumes) [This is a slightly edited repost from August, 2009.  Note: I’m not 100% sure the opening paragraph is still accurate, since I no longer read blogs.  But I believe the point still stands.]

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.

shane lems

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6 comments on “Christian Liberty, Beer, and Blogs

  1. Brenda R says:

    I have been thinking about this and reread a couple of times since yesterday. Recently, a man in the building that I live in came to my door drunk with good intentions of helping me regain my handicapped parking space. Until that night, I had no idea that he drank. He goes to church every Sunday and plays guitar with the worship team. Through this encounter I found out that he was a marine, which would have been in the 70’s, but did not want to talk about it. I went to my door and started to say thank you and good night. He grabbed me, hugged me and continued to tell me that he loved me several times. When he let go and started up the stairs he said that he had a root canal that day. I asked if he was alright and he said yes. I left a note the next morning asking him to let me know that he was ok. Having formerly worked in a dental office I knew what kinds of pain meds the docs would give after a procedure like that and was afraid for him mixing something like that with alcohol. I didn’t see him again for almost a week. Two weeks ago, on Sunday morning I was coming in as he was leaving. I asked how he was and he angrily said he was fine and would have knocked me over if he had come any closer. He grumbled something on his way out, but I didn’t understand more than “you said”, a blame shift of his behavior.

    I am continuing to pray for him. I don’t understand what happened or why. I was told by the office staff that he was moody. PTSD, bipolar? I don’t really know him all that well, but I fear for him if this is an ongoing issue. Before this we have only talked about passing out Bibles, Christian music, my passion for abused women and children, a little about my kids and kids he claims to have mentored. There were little bits and pieces, but no relationship other than being kindred in Christ. I know that all I can do is pray for him. He was always friendly until that night and I don’t know what I did that angered him so. It breaks my heart

  2. A.J. Will says:

    I can really appreciate the point of this post. I myself do enjoy beer, and while I don’t smoke cigars much, I do have a pipe that I smoke once in awhile. My conviction is that the teaching of Scripture is not abstinence but rather sobriety. And further, that we ought not to intentionally do things harmful to our body, which is why I enjoy my pipe sparingly. And I heartily agree with your comments here. So while I engage in both moderate drinking and smoking, I hate to see either waived about as a banner for liberty in Christ. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Rom. 14:17

  3. […] Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his bog and is used with […]

  4. Norman H says:

    Thank you for the well written piece, especially the final note about being careful to automatically define someone who doesn’t smoke or drink as a ‘weaker’ brother.

    It’s a hard truth of Scripture that we are to ‘endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.’ 2 Timothy 2:10

    Often that means denying self and delighting in the glory of God and edification of others. And if that makes us seem ‘weak’, then so be it!

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