How Idolatry Ruined Israel

goldencalf1 Corinthians 10:1-14

I want to continue looking at Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols and the extent of Christian liberty. Previous three posts can be seen here,

PART 1
PART 2
PART 3

Just to recap, the Corinthians believed they could maintain their previous, non-Christian relationship with the pagan culture of Corinth. That attitude further convinced them they were at liberty to join in the ceremonies and other festivities of the pagan temples. In fact, given the tone of Paul’s letter in regards to the matter, they were rather insistent about their participation.

That insistent attitude, however, was ruining their testimony with unbelievers, as well as leading other Christians astray into idolatry. Rather than telling them they have that liberty, yet to be mindful of the so-called “weaker brother,” the standard interpretation of these passages, Paul confronts them with a sharp rebuke telling them to get out of those places altogether. Their liberty does not give them that right; in truth it was really a false, self-serving liberty.

Over the course of 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul, I believe, presents his case for the Corinthians rejecting their false liberty  around four broad areas, 1) It was a danger to believers, 2) It disqualified one’s overall ministry, 3) It ruined Israel, and 4) It disrupts the fellowship of the brethren.

With this post, I come to the third area Paul presents as to why the Corinthians must get out of the temple and stop eating idol food. That is, idolatry ruined Israel.

Paul breaks down his argument along three points,

The Record of Idolatry – He begins by directing his readers back to the OT history of Israel. That he would bring up the OT is interesting. He is primarily interacting with gentiles when he writes the Corinthians, offering correction to individuals who wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with the OT at all. Paul, none the less, instructed them in the history of Israel, because the OT is so vital to understanding the promises of Christ and how they relate to the Christian Church. There is application to be made from God’s dealings with Israel who were His people, to the Christian Corinthians who are also His people.

The Corinthian church came from somewhere. Their existence is anchored in history, so Paul is essentially instructing them in that history. Additionally, Christ was there as well with Israel. That of course is because Christ is God, and like he was with Israel, so to is He with the Corinthians.

There are similarities between the Israelites and the Corinthians. Just as the Israelites were called out from bondage to Egypt, Christ called out the Corinthians from bondage to sin. Just like God protected and provided for Israel in the wilderness, so also Christ protects and provides for the Corinthians.

However, in spite of having God and Christ with them – seeing the cloud of glory, seeing the miracles, and having God provide directly for them – Israel involved themselves with sinful, idolatrous activity. They are what Paul describes as examples from whom the Corinthians can learn by observing God’s dealings with them.

The Warning of Idolatry – As Paul notes in 10:7, Israel engaged in building a golden calf as recorded in Exodus 32. He goes on to remind the Corinthians how they also committed sexual immorality in Numbers 25, complained against God in Numbers 21, and also complained against God’s chosen man, Moses, in Numbers 16. Each one of those instances involved elements of pagan worship. They worshiped false gods, engaged in sexual immorality, and ultimately reject God and Christ.

Those OT events stand as examples, or illustrations, the Corinthian church needs to ponder. They should learn from their tragic example. Just like Israel had first hand experience with the true and living God when He brought them out of Egypt, the Corinthians did as well, especially in experiencing salvation. With that in mind, Paul is warning that they need to consider their slouching toward disobedience with their abuse of liberty. As he writes in 10:12, the Christians needed to take heed, lest they fall into idolatry and incur the judgment of God. Their continued persistence in participating in pagan temple could at any moment destroy them as a church.

The Call to Put Away Idols – Paul then finishes up his warning by reminding the Corinthian’s in 10:13 of God’s promise to take care of His people. He does so by writing that none of them will be overtaken in a temptation, and will never be tempted beyond what they are able to bear.

This verse is misunderstood. The typical view of what Paul is stating here is taken as him telling the Corinthians that when hard trials come their way, particularly in their individual, personal lives, God won’t give them more than they can handle. In reality, however, that isn’t always true: sometimes a person does get a lot and they can’t handle it on a personal level at all.

That is not at all what Paul means with this verse. In the context of our discussion about them abusing their liberty in the pagan temples, the Corinthians would be tempted to involve themselves in the temple ceremonies because it is cultural. As I noted in a previous article, they would see the temple, not merely as a place of idol worship, but as a cultural center where those who want to get ahead in society would gather to be seen and heard and to gain influence among peers. If they were to cut themselves off from those opportunities, there could be severe, financial and cultural repercussions. At least that is the worry on the part of many in the church.

However, the greater good they could do is flee from the blatant idolatry in those temples. The Corinthians need to cut their participation in those places out of their lives, and if they experience uncomfortable persecution and financial hardship, God is faithful, writes Paul, to help them. He provides the way of escape, as it were.

The much greater harm is the idolatry itself. For just like it destroyed the nation of Israel over the course of their history, it too will certainly destroy the Corinthians. That is why Paul commands them to flee from idolatry. It is not a matter of the extent of their Christian liberty, but obedience to the Lord.

Disqualifying Your Ministry

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1 Corinthians 9

I have been exploring the extent of Christian liberty as it relates to Paul’s teaching on the topic of eating meat sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10.

Previous posts can be read here, PART 1 and PART 2

In review, Paul opens his argument in I Corinthians 8 by explaining how eating meat sacrificed to idols can be a danger for believers. He confronts and rebukes the Corinthian Christians for their egregious abuse of liberty that was damaging the testimony of their church and bringing reproach upon Christ. They believed that because they understood that idol worship really did nothing spiritually to a Christian, they had the right to participate as believers in the pagan temple rituals of Corinth. Paul spends three chapters in his letter explaining how they were wrong about their participation in pagan temples, and exhorted them to get out of those places and have nothing to do with them.

Beginning in chapter 9, Paul moves to correcting their abuse of liberty by drawing their attention to his personal ministry and missionary endeavors. His ministry as an apostle gave him the right, or freedom, to ask and receive financial assistance from those to whom he ministered. Paul instead relinquished his financial rights so as not to be an unnecessary stumbling block that would hinder the spreading of the Gospel. Likewise, he exhorts the Corinthian believers to not disqualify their ministry in Corinth.

Keep in mind that the pagan temple services were societal and cultural gatherings for those in Corinth. If a person wanted influence, social status, connections, and personal power within the Corinthian social ranks, that person received invitations to any pagan festivals, rituals, or feasts. If he were to forsake those invitations, he not only gave up social prestige and getting ahead in Corinthian society, there was also the possible forfeiture of financial gain.

Considering the argument that the Corinthians would personally lose there social benefit if they were to give up their so-called liberty engaging in temple ceremonies, Paul points to his own life and ministry. In chapter 9:1-14, Paul lays out his reasons why he not only had the freedom, but the very right, to ask for financial gain from the Corinthians, but yielding up those rights brought so much more spiritual benefit for the Gospel’s sake.

He starts out speaking to his apostleship, 9:1-6. Just as the other apostles exercised their right to financial support, and even the support of their wives, so too did Paul and Barnabas have such a right. Next, he points out how soldiers are taken care of by the army, farmers eat the produce of their own fields, and shepherds can partake from their own flock, 9:7. He then points out the scriptural principle that one who plows has the freedom to eat of what it is he plants, 9:9-10.

In like manner, Paul explains how the Corinthians were the product of his ministry and he had a right to ask them for financial support, 9:11-12. And then he states that those who perform sacred duties, which could include both pagan and believing ministers, regularly share from the altar, 9:13-14. In other words, they are supported financially by those who attend the temple or seek out their spiritual services.

Now the question may be asked, “What does financial support have to do with disqualifying someone’s ministry?”

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A couple of thoughts,

First off, Greek and Roman culture valued oratory. In other words, an erudite speaker with the ability to articulate ideas and persuade with his words so that he compelled listeners with the philosophy he presented, would have the potential for a lucrative talent. In fact, he could be paid quite well.

Additionally, the educated leisure class, or those who commonly frequented the pagan temple festivities, believed that anyone who did not charge for his speaking abilities obviously did not have anything substantive to say. The message he presented was essentially worthless. A really good lecturing philosopher would charge for his philosophy talks. Paul countered that thinking frequently during his ministry. For instance, he responded to the Corinthians for this very attitude in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5.

Yet Paul chose not to charge for his preaching, nor did he care about his speaking talent at all. Instead, he refused his right to receive money from the Corinthians and supported his own way through tent-making and other means. He then points to his custom as an example as to why the Corinthians should put aside any liberty they believed they had with participating in pagan temple rituals and get themselves out of those places.

Paul, then, lays out three broad reasons how the Corinthians can disqualify their own ministry if they would not give up their misguided liberty.

Devalues God’s Calling – 15-18. God had called Paul to salvation; to be HIS apostle who carried the Gospel.  However, if he preached the Gospel, as “under compulsion” (vs.16), accountable to others apart from the Lord, he would be beholden to a big donor or perhaps a group of donors. In other words, the Gospel he preached may not be the true Gospel, but the one his benefactors wished him to preach because they gave Paul money.

Paul on the other hand makes it clear that he is beholden to no living person. He is only accountable to God because he choose to give up his rights when it came to making a living at ministry. While he was entitled to financial support, he saw how it could possibly cause others to doubt the credibility of his overall ministry, thus discrediting God’s calling on his life.

Diminishes His Service – 19-21. Paul turns to explaining how surrendering his rights to be supported for ministry freed him for more service (vs.19). Freed from any obligation to a set of supporters provided him liberty to minister to a wide variety of people.

On the one hand, he made himself like the Jews, or what he describes as “those under law.” He wasn’t unnecessarily offensive to the Jewish people, but accommodated their practices for the purpose of having inroads to their synagogues.

An excellent example of Paul’s ministry in this fashion is seen in Acts 16:1-4 where he has his young disciple, Timothy, circumcised so as not to be an offense to the Jews. Paul certainly recognized that honoring certain Jewish tradition did not add anything to his salvation (vs.20), but it did provide him the ability to attend Jewish gatherings for the purpose of proclaiming the true Gospel.

Yet on the other hand, when necessary, he adjusted his ministry to reach gentiles, or those “without the law,” with the Gospel. He avoided the snobbery that Jews often displayed against the gentiles, like for example Peter’s separation from the gentiles when other Jews from Jerusalem visited with him at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13).

And just so that Paul was clear to the Corinthians, when he states he is “without the law,” he is not saying he lives a lawless life with no holiness. He is submitted to the “law of Christ,” (vs.21). That doesn’t mean he lives under an entirely different expression of the law of God, but that his ministry is directed by Christ-likeness. Similar to what Paul will later write in this letter in 11:1 to be “imitators of me as I am of Christ,” or how the law of Christ constrains him to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2.

Damages Others – 22-27. Lastly, Paul explains how continuing with the participation in temple festivities can disqualify one’s ministry by losing the opportunity to present the Gospel to the weak.

Now the question among commentators at this point is who does Paul have in mind when he mentions “the weak?” Is it the idea previously discussed in chapter 8, a person with a weak conscience? A Christian who has a thin faith and lacks the knowledge of God like the strong, and who could easily fall back into patterns of sin from which he was saved? Or does he have something else entirely in mind?

The understanding  that the weak is a person struggling with his conscience on matters like whether or not Christians have the liberty to eat idol food would make sense if Paul’s main argument in 8-10 is for the strong to show love for the weak in faith by giving up their liberty for their sake. But as was established in the previous articles in this study, Paul’s argument is for the Corinthians to totally remove themselves from pagan temples and idol feasts. He isn’t trying to settle a dispute between those with the freedom of knowledge to eat idol food and those still trapped by their weak consciences.

Considering the context here, it is better to understand the weak as not Christians with weak consciences, but as unbelievers who were the social underclass in Corinth and could never prosper from the participation in temple culture from their rituals. The primary reason for drawing that conclusion has to do with Paul’s overall discussion from 19-27.

The illustrations in chapter 9 are used by Paul for explaining how giving up his right to financial support helps him further the Gospel. His reasoning from 19-22 for giving up that right is so that he could reach the lost in all levels of society, Jews, Gentiles, and now the weak. If the weak were already Christians, categorizing them with unbelieving Jews and gentiles is strange.

The point he is making is meant to confront the Corinthians who used their liberty at the pagan temples as a means for their personal financial gain. Their right to be free in regards to temple rituals and feasts not only isolated them from those Christians who could be led astray back into idol worship, but also from the unbelievers who were of a lower social class with no economic ability to participate in those temple practices. For Paul, he relinquishes his financial rights for the weak so he can bring them the saving Gospel, (22-23).

As Paul concludes his thought, he notes the discipline of athletes, (24-27). A runner who wishes to win the gold medal will discipline himself so that he can obtain it. He denies himself leisure time, and instead runs to build endurance. He limits his diet, eating those foods that will strengthen his body. He takes care of his feet, perhaps spending extra money on well-made running shoes.

In the same way, Christians need to discipline themselves, and that would be centered squarely on limiting what perceived liberty they believe they have. In doing so, it will keep them from a disqualified ministry that limits the effectiveness of the Gospel.

Lame Arguments Liberty Drinkers Should Avoid

I originally wrote this post back in 2011 after John MacArthur stirred the dander of the 30-something pastor set who love to play like they are sophisticated metropolitans or who want to “take dominion over and reform drinking booze.” He wrote an article basically telling them to put down their beer steins and wake up to the fact that there is more to Christian liberty than the unshackled, William Wallace shout of freedom with drinking micro-booze.

When I engaged the critics of John’s article, I quickly discovered they made some of the lamest arguments for liberty drinking I had ever encountered. I wrote up a response to each of their key talking points. Since then, new arguments have been put forth, and seeing that this is an issue that is still a problem in local churches, I wanted to update my initial post.

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Allow me to start off by affirming to my readers that I am not a teetotaler. I would never advocate for being a teetotaler. I probably have just as much disdain, if not more, for the legalistic social mores binding undiscerning Christians to classic American fundamentalists.

In fact, I like a good wine. I may have a glass if I am on vacation with my wife and we have opportunity to stay at one of those fancy Pacifica hotels dotting the coast of California. Recently, I have started taking a Coke Zero and rum in the evening, which I find delicious. When Costco has a case of that fruity, alcoholic beer-malt liquor stuff on sale, we’ll pick one up. And during the holidays we splurge a little and buy a bottle of Bailey’s.

However, I am also aware of the fact that alcohol in any form is viewed by the majority of American Christians as being “sinful.” Yes, I realize they are mistaken about that, but reality is reality, and that attitude is not changing anytime soon, in spite of anyone’s efforts to the contrary.

As long as beer and wine is perceived as a terrible vice used by party people on spring break, rowdy tailgaters at a football game, and tavern brawlers whose mugshots appear on the Smoking Gun website, it is not a wise idea for Christian ministers to foster alcohol consumption among their people. My life is lived in front of many folks, and it is to those people I am responsible for ministering Christ. Making it a habit of obnoxiously flaunting my liberty with alcohol consumption is not helpful for them, and will only generate more confusion than is necessary.

Now, with that being stated, there are individuals who insist Christians should not only express their liberty with drinking, they have anointed drinking as a spiritual virtue. Anyone who opposes their outlook is mercilessly ridiculed and condemned. The arguments they put forth, however, are not well thought through. So, let’s look at the lame arguments I have encountered defending Christian liberty drinking.

Martin Luther and/or the Reformers and/or the Puritans brewed beer and consumed wine.

That is generally the immediate response to my position of cautious moderation. “Well, Martin Luther and/or the Reformers drank beer, so why can’t we?”

Keep in mind that Martin Luther lived 500 YEARS AGO!

While we certainly applaud Luther and express our heart-felt Christianly thanks for him defending the timeless truths of the Gospel, that does not mean we are to automatically emulate him, or any other Reformer for that matter, and his various social convictions.

Think about it. What is more important? That we reform ourselves according to biblical standards or historical standards? What was a normal part of society in Germany 500 years ago may had been acceptable, but was it necessarily biblical? Even if it is just American Christians who have weird hang-ups with alcohol because of the old prohibition days still doesn’t mean we need to be like German Christians today. It may not be the best use of liberty for them either just because they live in Europe and have no connection to our prohibition past.

The same can be said about the other Reformers as well. Do we adopt all the social conventions of the Reformers and the Puritans just because they did them? Several Reformers practiced astrology, like Phillip Melanchthon. That’s not to say everything Melanchthon wrote stinks of new age mysticism. He was just as much a complex sinner as the rest of us. But his belief in astrology does reflect a common, historic practice among many Protestants during his time. So, who is ready to reclaim and take dominion of horoscopes from the Fundies and reform them for the glory of God?

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The more bizarre use of the “Luther drank beer” argument is the appeal to Puritans, who supposedly were quite the bar flies, or at least one would think according to their beer drinking defenders. But we’re talking about the Puritans. Those were the guys who thought wedding rings were popish and outlawed Christmas during Cromwell’s Protectorate. Will we “reform” according to those convictions?

And just a closing word about the absurd claim that a brewery was the first building the Pilgrims built upon arriving in the new world. That is an urban legend. If you and your people are sick and dying and winter is coming on in a strange land, do you waste time building a brewery? Or will it be basic shelter?

obesity

Food is abused by way too many people, but you don’t hear Christians crying out about gluttony. Yet there are more people in churches who overeat than there are alcoholics and drunkards. No one rebukes those gluttonous Christians for their reckless overindulgence in food.

The biggest (no pun intended) problem with this argument is that gluttony is not just overeating. It is especially NOT overeating in the sense of a guy eating an entire large pizza in one sitting or scarfing down Chili’s 3,200 calorie “Freakin’ Onion” appetizer all by himself.

Gluttony is always tied to drinking in the Scriptures. What we know to be a drunken, debauched lifestyle. One may say overeating is a part of the debauched lifestyle, but it is the idea of out-of-control, riotous living that makes “gluttony” sinful. This is not super-sizing your McDonald’s order.

Consider Deuteronomy 21:20: And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’

If you look at the entire context, you have parents – PARENTS MIND YOU!; you know, mama and daddy – bringing their son before the elders to be judged because he is basically a thick-headed good for nothing who spends his time and money (family’s money) on riotous living. The word “glutton” has the idea of a vile, worthless person.

Notice what happens with this son. He is brought before the elders of the town so they can pass judgment upon him and if they judge against him, he is stoned to death. That’s the death penalty, folks. He is not executed for being 60 pounds overweight and having lunch at Jack in the Box every other day. (See my further study HERE).

scooterThe Health Consequences associated with eating recklessly is no joke. Just ask anyone with diabetes. Overeating should be treated just as seriously as alcoholism.

Related to the “gluttony” argument is the “obesity is just as bad if not worse than alcoholism” argument. This one is usually put forth in the combox after a teetotaler lists a bunch of statistics telling how many people die from alcohol related deaths, or how many women and children are abused by alcoholic husbands or parents. As a rebuttal, it’s dogmatically proclaimed that obesity is just as bad if not worse of an epidemic and social problem as alcohol.

That is a profoundly ridiculous comparison. The societal impact of alcoholism and obesity is incomparable. That is because alcoholism has the greatest potential to destroy innocent lives.

Many. innocent. lives.

In fact, alcohol has destroyed those lives unmercifully. There are no Mother’s Against Obese Driving organizations advocating against 350 pound people driving automobiles. There are no laws against driving under the influence of fried chicken. A cop won’t stop a guy and ask him if he has been eating, and then give him a breathalyzer to test his blood-gravy level. And there is a good reason for this: Obesity only hurts one person. No man, after leaving the Macaroni Grill has ever gotten into his SUV, and under the influence of the Mama Mia! chicken Alfredo platter he consumed 30 minutes before, crossed into on-coming lane and killed a family.

Now, just so I am clear. I am not saying obesity is a good thing. Being overweight does have considerable health problems for the individual. AND I would say Christians should make eating healthy a part of their spiritual lives. My point here is to merely show that obesity is no where near being the societal problem associated with the consumption of alcohol. No where in the ball park. Obesity is a result of bad lifestyle choices. Much like smoking, another vice liberty drinkers tend to encourage.

ed youngSex is abused just like alcohol. Are we going to forbid sex as well?

That objection falls flat because Christians are not equating the flaunting of liberty drinking with drunkenness and alcoholism, the common idea when one speaks of  “abusing alcohol.”  Christians who are troubled by those who flagrantly parade their liberty drinking from the pulpits, and among others at church, are simply saying that such behavior is profoundly immature and wildly inappropriate.

Married couples are certainly at liberty to make out with a bit of PDA if they so choose. They are also free to touch one another in an arousing fashion that would lead to sex. Not one person is forbidding them from partaking in the act of sexual relations.

But I think we can all agree that it would be grossly unseemly, not to mention a bit icky, if that couple were to have one of their big PDA make out sessions at church in front of the single folks. I think we would all say the same about them sharing explicit and graphic details about their sexual experiences at a Bible study fellowship.

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Why do we want to be so legalistic about alcohol when it is such a blessing to mankind? God created wine for us to enjoy the bounty of His earth. The prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption.

Again, no one is condemning the consumption of distilled spirits. We are all on the same page with the prohibition against drunkenness, not consumption.

The faulty logic of this claim suggests that because wine is processed from grapes, and alcohol is a natural derivative of fermented grapes, that places alcohol in a special category of blessing. Additionally, it is argued that passages like Deuteronomy 14:26 and Psalm 104:15 proves that God not only blesses the consumption of alcohol, but commands it.

Of course, that line of argumentation ignores the overwhelming multitude of biblical passages that warn against the consumption of alcohol. Certainly the prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption, but seeing that the Bible speaks so pointedly against the dangers of drinking alcohol, why would God’s pastor want to use a pub as a setting for a men’s Bible study?

Moreover, that is the exact same argument I have heard from Christians who seriously think God has blessed the smoking of pot. I kid you not. I once had one fellow, with a stern conviction in his voice and passion in his eyes, explain to me that God gave ALL the grass and green herb of the field for man to use, and that means cannabis. I reckon, by extension it would also include opium and the coca plant. And before anyone tries to “rebut” me by saying “but the grass and herbs were meant to be for FOOD, not SMOKING, duh,” keep in mind that pot can be baked in brownies.

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I realize a lot of the liberty drinkers were saved in one of those smothering, fundamentalist Baptist churches who regulated every behavior and activity with an iron fist of legalism like a draconian-driven HOA board of directors. I mean, a person couldn’t even wear short pants in the church building, let alone dream about drinking a beer. I sympathize with those folks. I really do. But honestly, is drinking beer really THAT important?

When the in-laws were in town for the holidays, there were times we would go to Sunday brunch at some fancy restaurant. My wife had a niece who would only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. She had an entire buffet laid out before her, and she obsessed on the mac N’ cheese. I remember telling her, “You have this wonderful banquet of food and all you are eating is mac N’ cheese? You know, there is much more to life than mac N’ cheese.”

Likewise, there is much more to Christian liberty than sitting in pubs drinking micro-brews.

Jesus and Wine Theology and the Reformed Hermeneutic

Jesus Drank ReislingTheology that is really cool and fun and stuff

At the risk of receiving a severe wedgie from a number of my Reformed acquaintances who run around my game circle, I wanted to respond to a discussion that took place at the ReformCom 2016 with the guys of Apologia radio, N.D. Wilson, and Darren Doane.

I specifically want to focus in upon the bizarre ramblings from Doane regarding what I call his “Jesus is wine theology.” Doane’s “theology,” if we can even call it that, perfectly highlights the horrendous abuse the historical Reformed, typological hermeneutic rains down upon the Bible when a person studies it.

I’ll begin with a bit of background.

Doane is a commercial video director, as well as a filmmaker.  He is known for religiously themed work such as Unstoppable, a movie addressing the problem of evil with Kirk Cameron, Collision Course, a documentary that follows around Doug Wilson and the late Christopher Hitchens as they debate in various venues, and Saving Christmas, that carries a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes and has the honor of being the winner of the 2015 Razzie award for worst picture.

So much for taking dominion, but I digress.

I tussled once with Doane on Twitter in the months before his award winning Saving Christmas was released. I even stated that I thought the trailer looked fun when I was defending Kirk’s promotion of the movie on a Catholic radio program against some finger-wagging discernment folks. I wrote about that HERE.

Where I took exception with Saving Christmas was with Doane’s excessive overuse of typology. For instance, in our Twitter exchange, he insisted that Christmas trees are talked about in the Bible because God was the first one to bring a tree into His house. He likened the lamp stand in the tabernacle with us putting Christmas trees in our homes. I wrote about out exchange HERE for those interested.

Doane has since moved from spiritualizing Christmas trees to now spiritualizing wine. At the ReformCon2016, he participated on a live podcast interview for Apologia Radio where he enthusiastically discussed the topic of wine and Jesus and drinking for the Christian. The audio can be heard HERE. His comments begin at the 56:06 mark. Or watch the Youtube portion HERE.

I’ve written out a loose transcript of the relevant portions I wish to address. Keep in mind that I have slightly edited his remarks removing the “…and ums,” along with smoothing out the excitable effervescence that bubbles from his talk.

When I became a Christian I didn’t drink, which is even better because I was double-holy. I not only became a Christian, but I was like super moral. Like double-anointed portion.  I don’t drink. This is fantastic, I was the sober guy.

When I became a Christian, the last thing I even thought about was alcohol. I mean, I just received salvation. My sins were forgiven. My interest for the word ignited. I dug into the Scriptures because I wanted to nail down what the Bible taught on important points of doctrine. I couldn’t have cared less about determining the limits of my Christian liberty with drinking a beer or scotch. There were deeper, more profound truths that occupied my heart.

And who was he hanging with as a new Christian? He gives the impression all his friends from church were a bunch of frat party drunks and he was the designated driver taking them home from a Sunday night fellowship.

Skipping to the end, as he wraps up his musings about Jesus and wine, he explains that even after he had studied out wine from the Bible, he still did not drink. That was until an acquaintance asked him why and then remarked, “Whose gonna teach your daughter to drink?” implying, “how is she gonna learn to drink?”

When I heard that, I thought, “Eh?” Christian parents are obligated to teach their kids how to drink? Your kids have to be taught how to drink? What exactly does that entail? Them watching you regularly down a rum and coke? Spirited dinner table discussion of the state drinking age limit? Or what is the best way to age whiskey? Honestly? What is the bizarre fixation with neo-Reformed folks and drinking booze? I’ve never understood it. It’s like a little kid who is now potty trained and has to tell everyone he is wearing big boy pants.whatwouldjesusbrewBut let me move along to what I wish to address specifically and will get me into trouble,

Years later, because I love theology, every year I would sort of pick something to dive into. One year I picked wine. Jesus did say “I’m Wine;” so I thought I would dig into the Bible on “wine.” So I spent almost a whole year going through the Bible, looking at how wine was used.

Jesus said “I’m wine?” Searching my Bible Works, I can’t find any where in the Gospels when Jesus said such a thing. Maybe he has in mind John 15, where Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches?” While it is true that wine comes from grapes that do grow on vines, that is not the same as Jesus saying “I’m wine.” Or it could be when Jesus talked about putting new wine into old wine skins, and he assumes the “new wine” is Jesus. Who knows?

Moving along,

When you start digging into something it gets super fascinating. Like when did wine first appear? When did fruit first appear? In fact in creation it’s at the end of day three and that ties into end of day three of Jesus’ Resurrection, there some cool stuff going on there. What is wine? With wine, you actually have to take grapes and kill them and you have to smash them and you have to kill it, you have to bury it. And put it into somewhere dark then after time it comes out. It’s totally new. It’s glorified. You have this Jesus-picture thing going on. It’s like in theology this is getting really cool and fun and you’re going through this stuff.

And then something hits me about communion, and that’s what theology does, it does everything, it rolls, it starts going, it starts paradigm shifting, all because of theology, right? … And then all of the sudden it hit me that wine burns. [pause here for dramatic effect]. You take grape juice. It’s sweet, it’s fun. My kids love it. But you take wine, Wooo. It burns. It’s fire. God is a consuming fire. Oh Darren’s on the skinny branch right now, he’s just reaching. But you go back and look at fire in the Bible [another dramatic pause] That’s. What. Theology. Does.

I can imagine the scruffy-bearded young folk in the audience listening to that nonsense for the first time thinking to themselves, “Oooohhhh, That’s so deep. I never thought about all those connection between Jesus and wine before.” Well yeah. No one else has either. What he presents is borderline neo-orthodoxy gobbledygook. (I chuckle when he says wine burns and is like fire and you need to go back and look at fire in the Bible. Someone has. It doesn’t mean what you think).

Let’s break down that theology:

God created the seed-bearing plants on day three.
Grapes are seed-bearing plants.
You have to crush and squeeze and essentially “kill” grapes to make wine.
Jesus said he was the vine and we are the branches.
Jesus was crushed and squeezed and killed.
But was raised to life three days later.

See? God creates plants day 3+grapes being crushed=Jesus in the tomb 3 days! Wine! THEOLOGY!

brewing companyDoane’s theology is no more theological as that tongue speaking 13-year old girl telling everyone God says in the Bible that he wants them to be a funnel to receive His blessing. The only difference is that Doane gets a pass from the folks at RefCon because he hangs with Doug Wilson and says he is Reformed and Calviney and of course, drinks wine.

Now I can hear my detractors complain, “Fred, that is Doane’s views, and he is a little whimsical when he reads the Bible.” In fact, during the Facebook comment discussion when I reviewed Saving Christmas, even R.C. Sproul Jr. chimed in telling me that Doane’s imaginative interpretations are unique to a small number of individuals in the theonomy camp like James B. Jordan (who is no longer a theonomist as I understand it). That sounds like a reasonable clarification. It’s inaccurate to impugn a majority of individuals based upon the weird ramblings of a few.

I believe that objection is problematic, however.

Here is where my observations will stir up with my Reformed acquaintances the kind of excitement generated when one throws a live squirrel into a gymnasium filled with 250 yellow labs: The tendency to spiritualize and abuse Scripture with heavy doses of typology is endemic to the Reformed hermeneutic.

The Reformed hermeneutic claims that because Jesus is the fullest revelation from God, the Apostles, as they wrote the New Testament, were led by the Holy Spirit to spiritualize the Old Testament. They would, for instance, redefine the recipients of the OT prophecies that were originally given to the people of Israel, as now pertaining to the Church. The Reformed hermeneutic teaches that the NT has interpretative priority over the OT. Thus, Reformed interpreters believe they are at liberty to utilize a typological/spiritualized hermeneutic when reading the Bible.

The degree to which typology adversely effects the meaning of Scripture will vary from person to person, but it is certainly there among the Reformed. One need merely to look over the few Reformed commentaries on the Song of Solomon to see what I mean. Guys like John Gill and John Collinges, wrote massive, encyclopedic works on Song of Solomon simply to say it is a book about Jesus loving the Church. A.W. Pink, who has always been a favorite of mine, was also notorious for his heavy typological emphasis in his various gleaning series, and even the 1689 Federalism Baptists emphasize typology almost to the exclusion of other hermeneutical elements necessary to the reading and understanding of Scripture. The worst is with folks like John Walton, who turns the creation account of Genesis into some theological picture about the temple of God or whatever.

I certainly believe God presents pictures and types in the OT that are fulfilled with an anti-type in the NT, but the writer of Scripture tells us what is going on. He doesn’t leave it to us to creatively find the type/anti-type connection. A good example would be marriage originally intending to picture Christ’s love for the church and the church loving Christ. The thing is, however, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that marriage was meant to be that picture.

Types become a problem when enthusiastic Christians begin seeing types when none really exist. One that just drives me crazy and is often appealed to by Reformed folks is 1 Samuel 17 when David defeated Goliath. I listened to one Lutheran pirate, who will remain unnamed, spiritualize that entire story as a type of Jesus defeating Satan. David was Jesus, Goliath Satan. He went so far as to claim the five smooth stones David gathered from the brook before he met Goliath in battle were the 5 wounds of Jesus on the cross, the nail prints in his hands, his feet, and the spear wound in his side.

facepalmI’m Sorry. That deserves a Jesus facepalm

Though it sounds all pious and spiritually insightful, it misses the entire point of what 1 Samuel is trying to convey. It’s merely contrived fancy to say it is all a big story about Jesus defeating Satan.

Where types don’t really exist, any that are discovered become subject to the interpreter’s imagination and it ultimately strips the real authorial intent from the meaning of Scripture. Bible study is turned into a free-for-all, and the true understanding of the text is lost. If you take that approach to reading the Bible you will always be out bobbing around out on the skinny branch with Doane.

The Myth of the Stronger Brother

realmen1 Corinthians 8

I recently introduced the topic of Paul’s discussion on eating food sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10. Folks can pop over to my first post to catch up on the background info.

However, to provide a little recap:

It is my contention that Paul was doing much more than settling a dispute between factions of believers at the Corinthian church who were divided over whether or not a Christian had liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols. I think Paul was insisting that ALL the Corinthian believers were to leave the idol temples and have nothing to do with them. He did not see eating idol food as neutral that ultimately did no spiritual harm to a Christian. He sees eating idol food as seriously dishonoring to the LORD and a disaster to the Christian Church.

Over the course of three chapters, Paul lays out his case as to why the Corinthians must leave the pagan temples and abandon eating idol food all together. I broke down his argument into four larger points: Eating idol food, 1. is danger to believers, 2. disqualifies one’s ministry, 3. destroyed Israel, and 4. disrupted the fellowship.

With this post, I want to consider the first point: Eating idol food is a danger to believers.

An overview of some critical concepts introduced in chapter 8 will help us understand Paul’s argument.

First, what exactly did Paul mean by the idea of “things sacrificed to idols” in 8:1?

As I noted in my introductory article, the classic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 8-10 believes when Paul speaks of those things sacrificed to idols, he is talking about meat from a pagan sacrifice that is used in a religious ceremony, but then is taken to the local street market where it is sold to the general public for a price. The temple authorities not only use the meat in their ritual but also turn a profit in the local market by selling off what was left.

The Corinthian Christians were shopping the local markets for food to buy, find a fabulous piece of meat for a cheap price, and purchase it for the family to eat. Other Christians, who were once heavily immersed in the Corinthian pagan culture, are troubled by those fellow Christians who so easily, without a second thought, purchase food that was once used in a religious sacrifice. In their minds, that piece of meat has the stench of the pagan ritual wafting off of it. Those Christians are defiling themselves and cursing God by eating it.

Turning to 1 Corinthians 10:25, that seems to be the scenario that Paul is addressing as I will explore when I come to that chapter. However, eating things sacrificed to idols is much more than preparing a prime rib dinner for a fellowship time with meat purchased at the local market that just so happens to have been sacrificed to idols.

What Paul has in mind when he addresses the topic is the religious ritual and the meal eaten by the participants partaking in that meal. No Corinthian could avoid the rampant paganism that pervaded their city. Paganism was everywhere. Participation in the temple rituals are what connected them to their society and their culture.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols entailed an elaborate religious meal eaten by all the participants sharing in that meal. The animal for sacrifice was brought to the temple. The appropriate rites were performed that involved a priest making the sacrifice on behalf of the person or persons. The priest would examine the entrails of the animal determining whether there was a “revelation” from some deity. The rest of the food would be prepared for a banquet and eaten by the friends and invited guests. Individuals with unique privileges or social status could use special sanctuaries in the temple for their ceremony.

Participation in those various ceremonies was an integral part of living life in Corinth. Everyone attended and utilized the temple. It was the place where a person would make social connections, advance in business dealings, and demonstrate he or she was an upstanding member of Corinth. In other words, the pagan temple, and all the feasts that took place there, reflected a particular worldview.

That is the reason eating idol food in the temple should have been such a big deal among the Corinthian Christians. Eating at the temple was tied directly to a specific religious worldview opposed to God. What Paul is intending to address throughout chapters 8-10 is that the Corinthian Christians did not see their participation in those ceremonies as a problem and they should have. Rather than leaving the temple culture of Corinth behind them, they whole-heartily participated in it and attempted to synchronize their Christian faith with that participation.

Another important concept Paul outlines in chapter 8 is the idea of “the weak.”

Again, the classic view understands the weak as Christians troubled with eating meat sacrificed to idols. However, the “strong” Christians had matured sufficiently so as to understand that eating meat sacrificed to idols did nothing to really do any spiritual harm. The weak were merely enslaving themselves to a silly superstition regarding meat sacrificed to idols and needed to think biblically. Because their consciences were misinformed on the matter, they were infringing upon every one’s liberty.

buddhistDown the street from my church in LA is one of the largest Thai Buddhist temples outside of Thailand. Nearly every week there is some festival or ceremony happening at that place. The folks attending there bring their food to be offered to the monks and in the various ceremonies. To raise money for the temple, the Buddhists sell food at their temple as well as at a nearby Thai restaurant. Many folks from my church frequent the place. (They have some excellent fried bananas, by the way). However, some of my Christian friends believe the restaurant is a living example of what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 8 and will refrain from eating there for fear of violating someone’s conscience from our church.

The problem with that perspective, and the strong/weak dichotomy in general, is that it doesn’t really exist in Paul’s discussion within these chapters. In fact, the use of the word “strong” to describe the mature believers is nowhere mentioned from 8-10. It is merely assumed that because Paul discusses the “weak” that the opposite, the “strong,” is implied with his argument.

That conclusion is drawn from Paul’s discussion of those with “knowledge” or “who know” found in 8:1-4, 7, 10-11. Thus, those with knowledge, or described as “who know,” are understood to be the mature, strong believers. They recognize that the idol is nothing, that the false religion is just that, a false religion, and eating any food associated with one of the false sacrifices does nothing spiritually or physically to the person. Similar to what Paul writes in 8:4-6. As the strong, they have liberty to buy and eat idol food and to enjoy it. The weak, however, do not. Their consciences trouble them when they eat idol food, so much so that they are said to become defiled from eating it.

The idea of knowledge in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, however, is his way of calling someone a Christian. Knowledge is equated with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to understand and receive spiritual truth. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1:5, Paul writes of being, “…enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” This use of knowledge is also found throughout many of Paul’s epistles like, 2 Corinthians 2:14, 4:6, 10:5; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; and Titus 1:1 to list a few.

The knowledge the Corinthians had revealed to them the true nature of false gods and false religion, 8:4-6. But rather than their knowledge being a good thing, it was in fact terribly misused. Backing up to 8:1, Paul expresses how knowledge can make one arrogant. When Paul writes in 8:9, “But take care that this liberty of  yours does not somehow become a stumbling block…”, that liberty is not a good thing; he is actually chiding their false liberty they had developed. What they considered liberty had made them arrogant toward one another within the church as well as those outside the church.

It needs to be kept in mind that the Corinthians’ so-called liberty was not merely limited to only purchasing meat that just so happened to have been sacrificed in a pagan temple. Instead, they were Christian believers actively involved in pagan ceremonies. The Corinthians were not asking Paul, “Is it alright if we eat food sacrificed to idols bought in the market?” but were insisting, “What’s the big deal about participating in temple services?”

Pulling our discussion together, the weak that Paul describes are those Christians who were still infused with old habits as idolaters.

Those weak Christians heard the Gospel. They believed upon Jesus as the Savior Who delivers sinners out of the bondage to their sin. Christianity is the religion of the true and living God. The worship of God and the fellowship with His people takes place in an entirely different and radically new way. God hates idolatry, according to His own word, and will suffer no other gods before Him.

Yet, fellow believers from their own church still frequent the temple and participate in the services that were offered, fellowshipping with pagans and attending their feasts that were often profane. All the while, those believers claim that because they are now in Christ, they have true knowledge about God and thus the liberty to eat and drink in the temple.

But that attitude poses two significant dangers that threaten the church.

First, it sins against the believers. Paul argues in 8:10-11, “for if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, it he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.”  Paul’s words could not be clearer: The Christian who has developed a false sense of liberty in his mind and thinks it is okay to participate in the pagan festivities at the temple could very well bring a fellow believer to ruin. The idea of ruin means destruction, not just offended sensibilities.

Second, it sins against Christ. Paul continues in 8:12, ” And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” Beyond just bringing spiritual disaster against a fellow brother, the Christian is sinning against the Lord Jesus. That is because He is the one who secured that one’s salvation and now it has been place in danger by the foolish behavior of a fellow Christian.

What is Paul’s solution? Does he tell the Corinthians to be on the alert for immature believers and avoid them so as to not to offend their sensitive to the notion of eating in temples? Does he suggest discipling the weaker brother to grow in maturity so he can eventually join everyone else down at the temple? Not at all. He writes, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” In other words, completely eliminate your participation in such activity.

As we will go on to learn, dining in the idol temples is not just a stumbling block for the so-called weaker brother, it is a horrendous idea for all Christians.

Idol Meat and Christian Liberty

idolAn Overview of 1 Corinthians 8-10

I have been meaning for a while now to post some of my studies on 1 Corinthians that I presented to my volunteers at Grace to You over the last year. I was particularly anxious to toss up my studies on chapters 8-10, because I believe they are so wildly misunderstood by the larger Christian community.

But alas… I got distracted and put it off. However, a little dust up with some NCT folks on Facebook ignited my passion, so here we are.

Like I noted, I think chapters 8-10 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is totally misunderstood and misapplied by Christians, especially among the Red State evangelical and neo-Reformed types I bump into on social media. The chapters address specifically the idea of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the concept of Christian liberty, and the wrongheaded thinking among Christians about the subject has created a misapplication of what it is exactly Paul was addressing.

The idea of Christian liberty, in my opinion, has fallen upon hard times nowadays. It is usually defined along the lines as having the freedom to sit in pubs, drink beer, smoke cigars or pipes, and watch popular television programs, while at the same time conversing about theology. Many of those new libertines once circled around in the orbits of strict, fundamentalist congregations that were ran like a concentration camp by straight-laced, kill joy finger-waggers who condemned those activities they now celebrate.

Yet, at the same time, any Christian who even suggests that drinking and smoking and consuming entertainment is not necessarily the wisest testimony to present before the world, are shamed as being legalists. They will be labeled the “weaker” brothers, and some go so far as suggesting that they are “in sin” because they wish to place a yoke of burden upon the “stronger” believers who have been freed by the work of Christ to enjoy their new found merrymaking. The entire scenario is a concept taken from the chapters in Corinthians that are before us here.

drinkingwhat.That liberty/strong and weak conscience dichotomy represents the classic understanding of 1 Corinthians 8-10. It is taught that Paul was responding to an internal squabble taking place in the church of Corinth over whether or not Christians were at liberty to eat food that had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Two factions had emerged. On the one hand there were the so-called strong believers who felt that all Christians have the ethical freedom because of Christ to eat any food that may have been offered to idols. Yet on the other, there were Christians in the church, who came out of the rank paganism of the Corinthian culture, who are weak in conscience regarding the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

The strong believers wrote Paul asking him to arbitrate the dispute. They wanted his instructions regarding the matter, especially they wanted Paul to inform the weak to stop worrying about offending God with partaking of delicious food that just so happened to be sacrificed to idols. When Paul wrote back to them in our letter that is 1 Corinthians, he sided theologically with the strong, but rebuked them for not considering the weaker brothers among them. Instead of giving them total freedom to eat a succulent prime rib that just so happened to have been used in a sacrifice to idols and telling the weak to shut up and enjoy their freedom, he informed the strong to lay aside their liberty for the sake of the weaker brothers serving them until they had sufficiently matured in conscience so as to enjoy the prime rib with them.

That interpretation is the standard one taught from the pulpits and believed by most Christians today; but it misses the point of the passage.

Rather than Paul deciding between two groups arguing at Corinth over whether or not the food they were eating was tainted with pagan hands, Paul was disagreeing with all the arrogant, enlightened Corinthians who insisted they could be a practicing believer AND still participate in idol temple ceremonies that were a staple of their culture there in Corinth. Chapters 8-10 isn’t about eating food that just so happened to have been used in a pagan sacrifice. Paul was telling them to get out of the temples and stop eating idol food all together, because the food was being eaten during a pagan service. These chapters have nothing to do with the freedom of strong believers eating food sacrificed to idols and deferring to the weak in conscience.

Now, before I unpack all of that, a little background is in order.

We in the 21st century, western society really cannot comprehend the power of religion, particularly a pagan, non-Christian one, forming our political-social lives. Here in the good ole U.S of A., we consider ourselves a “Christianized” nation, but if we are honest about it, we for the most part experience a secularized version of the Judeo-Christian ethic. As much as atheists will complain bitterly that atheism is shut out of the political arena and a person has to be a Christian to run for office because the entire US is “Christianized,” given the trajectory of our country’s moral decline, that is absolutely untrue.

Probably the closest we can come to the situation in Corinth during the time of Paul would be Islamic states and those countries where Roman Catholicism has a heavy influence among the people like Croatia and Mexico. India, with its commitment to Hinduism would be another, as well as a number of Asian nations committed to Buddhism. In those countries the politics and culture are interwoven to such a degree with the main religion that it dominates everything.

When the Apostles began to take the Gospel into the uttermost parts of the world beyond the boundaries of Israel, they went into a world that was pagan with a myriad of different religions, idols galore, and temples everywhere. We see in the book of Acts how the Gospel bumped up against idolatry. For instance, in Acts 14:11-13 the pagans tried to sacrifice to Paul thinking he was a god, Acts 17 records Paul’s famous encounter on Mar’s Hill in Athens, and in Acts 19, a riot breaks out in Ephesus when Paul preached the Gospel and challenged the cult of Diana.

A huge part of the pagan religious world was the feasts served in idol temples. Those feasts were what connected the pagan gentile to his culture and his gods. Just think about the religious milieu that was part of the everyday living for the OT Jews. In the same way, the temple practices were at the center of every facet of their lives, and the feasts and food offerings God required were considered to be so important that He brought judgment upon Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, for their sacrilege with mishandling those offerings on behalf of Israel.

Thus, when we come to Paul’s letters in the NT, idolatry and idol worship were a major theme he often addressed. For example, in his two letters to the Corinthians, Paul explained how idols were a part of their former lives (1 Corinthians 6:9), how idols lead people astray (1 Corinthians 12:2), and asked the Corinthians what business does God’s people (that would be them) have with idols (2 Corinthians 6:16).

In other NT passages Paul commends the Thessalonians for turning away from idols to the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). In Acts 15:20,29 it is interesting that the letter from the Jerusalem counsel told gentiles to abstain from fornication, things strangled, consuming blood, and idols. Acts 21:25 reiterates those same commands.

With those passages in mind, it is important to recognize that Paul is not okaying the so-called stronger believer eating a pot roast he bought at a market that was only offered in a sacrifice. The fact that the Jerusalem counsel condemned all of the areas gentiles participates in when worshiping in a false, idolatrous religion, and the fact that Paul spoke against idolatry throughout his epistles, makes it clear he was not talking about a pot roast someone bought at a market that was offered to an idol. What he was telling the Corinthians in 8-10 was to get away from the idols and temples and the pagan feast.

But we need to keep in mind that it was a major struggle for the gentiles to abandon their idolatry. That is because the new gentile Christians came from a pagan saturated society. Eating a meal in a temple to a deity would be a big, social-economic opportunity. It would be difficult to just give that up. Participating in those ceremonies and showing interest in the goings on in the local temple is what made them Roman or Corinthian. It demonstrated they were fit for leadership, that they were diverse and multicultural. In our day, it would be similar to attending a gay wedding of a business colleague. 

What the Corinthians were proposing to Paul was not the question of “do you think it is okay for us to eat food sacrificed to idols,” but rather they were brashly stating, “What’s the problem with attending pagan festivals and eating food sacrificed to idols?”

First Corinthians 8-10 lays out four reasons why it was a problem for the Corinthian Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

1. It was a danger to believers

2. It disqualified one’s ministry

3. It destroyed Israel

4. It disrupted the fellowship among believers

I’ll consider each one of these points in turn as I work my way through these chapters over the course of the next few posts.

Strong Drink is Raging

I read about this tragedy when the story first broke.  I saw the follow-up post this morning, Ambivalence about Alcohol.  I truly appreciated the writer’s larger paragraph in which he wrote,

Unless you’ve counseled a worn-out wife about her husband’s alcoholism, unless you’ve comforted a teen whose parents have both been heavy drinkers for as long as he can remember, unless you’ve discipled a new believer trying to throw off his addiction before he loses custody of his child, unless you’ve wept with a woman who has tried and failed to get sober for the better part of two decades, and most of all, unless you’ve looked into the dull eyes of a husband who just an hour ago lost the mother of his two young children to a drunk driver—unless you have some real life experience with the dangers of alcohol—I don’t want to hear about your liberty to drink. I certainly don’t want to hear you encouraging others to drink. It’s time to grow up in your discernment and compassion and to be a warner rather than a tempter.

Truer words could not be spoken. I can’t tell you how galled I become with young Reformers and their insistence that wine and beer drinking is the end all of their walk with Jesus.  Or to borrow more trendy Christianeze, “faith journey.”

Last fall I was tangled up with a group of young Reformed libertines over the subject of alcohol and how they have made drinking an idol of their liberty. They didn’t like what our pastor wrote on the subject, particularly “pastor-teacher” Steve Camp.

Yet it is agonizing stories like the one above that puts all their chest thumping against “fundamentalists” about drinking beer and whiskey in a more sobering light. People may complain that the author is exploiting an “emotional” situation by writing that these liberty drinkers have never counseled an abused wife or a person who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver, and perhaps there is a twinge of emotion with his post, but overall, he is right.

You’ll notice that the author said nothing about total abstinence from drinking. He’s not a teetotaler.  He is, however, hitting at the broader consequences of drinking in our American culture, and the facts of the matter are quite plain: the young Reformed pastors who lift high their liberty to drink on their blogs, in their small discussion groups that meet in taverns, who have impressive imported Scotch bottle collections, are inexperienced when it comes to counseling people through the destruction alcohol can reap upon their lives.

Sadly, a lot of them don’t get this. We’re not even twenty comments deep under that post when a person made the asinine comparison that over eating and obesity is just a severe a problem as drinking.

I agree with the contents of this post. However, it continues to baffle me that so many can preach against alcohol and drugs (and rightfully so!) but continue to ignore America’s #1 killer and addiction! Obesity and food addictions that result in heart disease and other illnesses are the MOST prevalent in America today and they are almost completely overlooked by Christians. The Bible speaks on the sin of gluttony. However you will see, time and time again, a morbidly obese preacher speaking on drugs and alcohol stating that they body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and we contaminate it when we use them. Meanwhile, as soon as the sermon is over, everyone heads to the all you can eat buffet. In this area, I find Christians to be the MOST hypocritical.

Hypocritical indeed.  This is one of the top four lame arguments the liberty drinkers make when they defend their vice.  The reality is that no obese person who heads to that pizza buffet after church doesn’t then get into his or her car and under the influence of pepperoni, black olives, and cheese, kills a family driving home.  There’s just no comparison.

The author’s admonition is to the point: grow-up, get some discernment and compassion and stop being a tempter with your so-called liberty.  Because if you as either a Christian or worse, a pastor, actively promote alcohol consumption among young men as your badge of liberty, you are not only acting irresponsibly, but utterly foolishly.

The Case of the Winebibbing Church Leader

Over at Here I Blog, Mark lays out the following soul-searching scenario:

It’s Friday evening and your [sic] out to dinner with a few friends from church. Dinner is in an open area where several restaurants have outside eating areas that allow the patrons to see one another. The area was set-up to encourage community interaction where many people and families walk around and socialize both before and after dinner.

While getting ready to eat laughter coming from a table on the patio in the restaurant next door distracts your table. Looking across the patio a well known church leader can be clearly seen drinking a glass of wine. It is definitely wine as confirmed by the bottle on the table. Confirming their suspicions your friends ask and you affirm that you know this church leader. The people next to you also notice the wine and they begin grumbling about the church leader drinking in public with “those kind of people.”

Think about what you may do in this situation. Think about what you might say to the church leader and/or the folks at the table next to you. Are you angry, upset, disappointed, embarrassed, etc.?

Now pause. Move the scenario back in time for a moment.

Let’s say you are in public during Jesus’ ministry and what you are witnessing is the following:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’… (Matthew 11:19 ESV)

The church leader in question is Jesus and you are a witness to the charges quoted in the above verse.

  • What would you do?
  • Did your reaction change with the scenario? Why or why not?
  • Would you do the same in both scenarios? Why or why not?
  • Or…. ?

As a preliminary remark, I thought it was rather telling that none of the commenters in the combox interacted with the questions raised. All of them pretty much bickered with each other over the alcoholic intensity of the wine Jesus created at the Wedding in Cana.

This makes me wonder how seriously any of these young men have thought through the issue of Christians drinking alcohol in our American culture. Do they even care about the ramifications of their choices? I digress.

Moving back to the questions.

Given the situation as outlined above, witnessing a church leader from my church drinking a glass of wine at a restaurant, my reaction would depend upon what I knew of his reputation. Is this man known to be godly and one who is spiritually sensitive to the needs of the people he helps to shepherd? If I knew him to be a sober-minded, Christ-honoring man, I wouldn’t become alarmed if I saw him drinking wine with a group of people.

The situation is contrasted with Christ being accused by the Pharisees of being a winebibber because he ate and drank with sinners. By extension, some would imply that if you saw this church leader in the same situation as Jesus, and if you were scandalized by what you saw, then you are akin to being a judgmental Pharisee.

I think there is something of a disconnect with this comparison. The Pharisees were motivated by political and socio-religious convictions that were ignored by Jesus. His “breaking” of their self-imposed, legalistic values stirred in them a manufactured indignation. Their accusation of him being a winebibber is in essence, phony. Additionally, the Pharisees were growing with their petty jealousy toward Jesus. They were looking for something to pin on him so as to discredit him as a teacher. This is much different than a church member just “by chance” seeing an elder or pastor drinking wine in a restaurant with a group of people.

A more apt comparison would be an individual you happen to know is a self-righteous, finger wagging nosy-body who has it in for the leader in question because that leader passed up the finger-wagger when he was assigning Sunday school teachers, and the finger-wagger pulls you aside before church to tell you he saw that leader drinking wine on Friday night at Black Angus with a bunch of unbelievers. Obviously there is more to the accusation than a concern for the leader’s witness in the broader, secular community.

That stated, however, the biblical story of Jesus being falsely accused of winebibbing doesn’t give a church leader an automatic pass in such situations. Even though I would not be alarmed at the sight of him drinking wine at a restaurant, I would probably make a point of talking with him, maybe even let him know I saw him by strolling over to the table at that moment to say “hi”.

The fact of the matter is that in our American culture, alcoholic drink has a stigma attached to it. Even worldly people recognize this. As much as the YRR pine for the cultural convictions found in Spain or Germany regarding liquor, they live in America where we have severe hang-ups in regards to alcohol. This reality needs to be considered when exercising their liberty. Not that they are forbidden to drink, but that they do so wisely.

That said, let me present two alternative scenarios related to the winebibbing church leader seen in public drinking alcohol.

Scenario #1:

Let’s say you are a church leader, and some unbelieving friends of yours invite you and your wife to dinner at one of those restaurants where several of the eating establishments have outside dining areas that allow the patrons to see each other.

As you pour your glass of wine, you happen to glance across to a table where you recognize a couple who recently joined your church. They are watching you with curious amazement.

You happen to know both of them have been Christians for about a year or so, both of them coming from a hard background, because you were the one who interviewed them for membership. You also happen to know the wife had a serious problem with alcoholism.

Now that you see them looking at you, and knowing the principles outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:9-11, do you,

  • Raise your glass to them and mouth “How’ya doin’”?
  • Make a mental note that you need to prepare a Bible lesson for them on why you have the liberty to drink openly in public and they need to grow out of being weaker brethren?
  • Set the drink aside?

Scenario #2:

For my YRR friends who equate drunkenness with over-eating and believe that obesity is at epidemic proportions and on the same level as alcoholism, let’s say you and a bunch of your hipster pals are all dressed up in your skinny jeans and A&F ribbed tee shirts, and you all are enjoying your pint of beer at a favorite dining spot where several restaurants have outside seating areas that allow the patrons to see each other.

Right as the waiter brings you your grilled, skinless chicken breast and sautéed vegetables, a loud chortle distracts your table and a well-known church leader can be seen slathering a big glob of honey butter on a Lambert’s Café sized roll. It is clear from the plates of food, as well as the glossy shine on his lips that can be seen glimmering under the lights from where you are sitting, that he and his party are consuming a large, high caloric meal with lots of breaded fried things.

As one of your friends takes a sip from his pint, he confirms his suspicions and asks if that “portly” fellow is one of your church leaders. Your other friends also notice the plates of high caloric food and they all begin to grumble as they watch the leader slather butter on a second roll. One of the girls with you sneeringly remarks something like, “Is he going to eat ALL of that?” and the rest of your friends begin snickering and talking about those heavy people on “The Biggest Loser.”

Are you angry? Upset? Disappointed? Embarrassed? Do you make excuses for him? How do you react to your hipster friends in their skinny jeans?

Lame Arguments the YRR Should Avoid When Defending Alcohol Consumption

Whilst I was on my blog break, John MacArthur, stirred the dander of the 30-something pastor set who love to play like they are sophisticated metropolitans. He wrote an article basically telling them to put down their beer steins and wake up to the fact that there is more to Christian liberty than the unshackled, “William Wallace” freedom of drinking imported booze.

I know they were upset with him, because I read a lot of their blog posts and tweets. Not only did the bulk of them entirely miss the point John was making, a number of them would spiral off into left field with some lame arguments they put forth to defend their convictions.

I boiled those arguments down to the four or so lamest ones I encountered repeatedly, and I thought I would highlight them for our educational pleasure.

Before getting to them, however, let me offer some preemptive comments.

I am not a teetotaler. I would never advocate for being a teetotaler. I probably have just as much disdain, if not more, for the legalistic social mores hoisted upon undiscerning Christians by classic American fundamentalists as representing true, Christian virtue as the YRR folks do.

In fact, I like a good wine. I may have a glass if I am on vacation with my wife and we have opportunity to stay at one of those fancy Pacifica hotels dotting the coast of California. We sometimes splurge a little and buy a bottle of Bailey’s around Thanksgiving time that takes us a good couple of months to sip on.

However, I am also aware of the fact that alcohol in any form is viewed by the majority of American Christians as being “sinful.” Yes, I realize they are mistaken about that, but reality is reality, and that attitude is not changing anytime soon, in spite of YRR efforts to the contrary.

As long as beer and wine is perceived as a terrible vice used by party people on spring break, rowdy tailgaters at a football game, and tavern brawlers whose mugshots appear on the “Smoking Gun” website, it is not a wise idea for Christian ministers to promote alcohol consumption among their people.

My life is lived in front of many folks, and it is to those people I am responsible for ministering Christ. Making it a habit to flaunt my liberty with alcohol consumption is not helpful for them, and will only generate more confusion than is necessary.

Now, with that being stated, let’s look at the lame arguments the YRR make to defend their alcohol consumption.

Martin Luther and/or the Reformers and/or the Puritans brewed beer and consumed wine

This is generally the immediate response to my position of cautious moderation. “Well, Martin Luther and/or the Reformers drank beer, so why can’t we?”
Keep in mind that Martin Luther lived 500 YEARS AGO! While we certainly applaud Luther and express our heart-felt Christianly thanks for him defending the timeless truths of the Gospel, that does not mean we are to automatically emulate him, or any other Reformer for that matter, and his various social convictions.

Think about it. What is more important? That we reform ourselves according to biblical standards, or historical standards? Honestly, what was a normal part of society in Germany 500 years ago may had been acceptable, but was it necessarily biblical? Even if it is just American Christians who have weird hang-ups with alcohol because of the old prohibition days still doesn’t mean we need to be like German Christians today. It may not be the best use of liberty for them either just because they live in Europe and have no connection to our prohibition past.

The same can be said about the other Reformers as well. Do we adopt all the social conventions of the Reformers and the Puritans just because they did them? Several Reformers practiced astrology, like Phillip Melanchthon. That’s not to say everything Melanchthon wrote stinks of new age mysticism. He was just as much a complex sinner as the rest of us. But his belief in astrology does reflect a common, historic practice among many Protestants during his time. So, who is ready to reclaim horoscopes from the Fundies and reform them for the glory of God?

The more bizarre use of the “Luther drank beer” argument is the appeal to Puritans, who supposedly were quite the bar flies, or at least one would think so according to many of the YRR. But we’re talking about the Puritans. These were the guys who thought wedding rings were popish and outlawed Christmas during Cromwell’s Protectorate. Will we “reform” according to those convictions?

And just a closing word about Mark Driscoll’s absurd claim that a brewery was the first building the Pilgrims built upon arriving in the new world. This is an urban legend. If you and your people are sick and dying and winter is coming on in a strange land, do you waste time building a brewery? Or will it be basic shelter?

airplane seatFood is abused by way too many people, but you don’t hear Christians crying out about gluttony. Yet there are more people in churches who overeat than there are alcoholics and drunkards, and no one rebukes these brothers and sisters for their reckless overindulgence in food.

The biggest (no pun intended) problem with this argument is that gluttony is not just overeating. It is especially NOT overeating in the sense of a guy eating an entire large pizza in one sitting or scarfing down Chili’s 3,200 calorie “Freakin’ Onion” appetizer all by himself.

Gluttony is always tied to drinking in the Scriptures. What we know to be a drunken, debauched lifestyle. One may say overeating is a part of the debauched lifestyle, but it is the idea of out-of-control, riotous living that makes “gluttony” sinful. This is not super-sizing your McDonald’s order.

Consider Deuteronomy 21:20:

And they shall say to the elders of his city,`This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.

If you look at the entire context, you have parents – PARENTS; you know, mama and daddy – bringing their son before the elders to be judged because he is basically a thick-headed good for nothing who spends his time and money (family’s money) on riotous living. The word “glutton” has the idea of a vile, worthless person. Notice what happens with this son. He is brought before the elders of the town so they can pass judgment upon him and if they judge against him, he is stoned to death. That’s the death penalty, folks. He is not executed for being 60 pounds overweight and having lunch at Jack in the Box every other day.

icecreamThe health consequences associated with eating recklessly is no joke. Just ask anyone with diabetes. Overeating should be treated just as seriously as alcoholism.

Related to the “gluttony” argument is the “obesity is just as bad if not worse than alcoholism” argument. This one is usually put forth in the combox after a teetotaler lists a bunch of statistics telling how many people die from alcohol related deaths, or how many women and children are abused by alcoholic husbands or parents. As a rebuttal, it’s dogmatically proclaimed that obesity is just as bad if not worse of an epidemic and social problem as alcohol.

This is a profoundly ridiculous comparison. The societal impact of alcoholism and obesity is incomparable. That is because alcoholism has the greatest potential to destroy innocent lives.

Many innocent lives.

In fact, alcohol has destroyed those lives unmercifully. There are no Mother’s Against Obese Driving organizations advocating against 350 pound people driving automobiles. There are no laws against driving under the influence of fried chicken. A cop won’t stop a guy and ask him if he has been eating, and then give him a breathalyzer to test his blood-gravy level. And there is a good reason for this: Obesity only hurts one person. No man, after leaving the Macaroni Grill, has ever gotten into his SUV, and under the influence of the chicken Alfredo platter he consumed 30 minutes before, ran a stop light and killed a family.

Now, just so I am clear. I am not saying obesity is a good thing. Being overweight does have considerable health problems for the individual. AND I would say Christians should make eating healthy a part of their spiritual lives. My point here is not to advocate overeating, but to merely show that obesity is no where near being the societal problem associated with the consumption of alcohol. No where in the ball park. Obesity is a result of bad lifestyle choices. Much like smoking, another vice the YRR tend to encourage.
CHILE-CANNABIS-LEGALIZATION-MARCHWhy do we want to be so legalistic about alcohol when it is such a blessing to mankind? God created wine for us to enjoy the bounty of His earth. The prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption.

It is believed that because wine is processed from grapes, and alcohol is a natural derivative of fermented grapes, that places alcohol in a special category of blessing. Additionally, YRR argue that passages like Psalm 104:15 which says, And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart proves that God blesses the consumption of alcohol. After all, Psalm 104 is a psalm of praise to God who provides all good things for mankind.

Of course, this line of argumentation ignores the overwhelming multitude of biblical passages that warn against the consumption of alcohol. Certainly the prohibition is against drunkenness, not consumption, but seeing that the Bible speaks so pointedly against the dangers of drinking alcohol, why would God’s pastor want to use a tavern as a setting for a men’s Bible study?

Moreover, this is the exact same argument I have heard from Christians who seriously think it is God blessed to smoke pot. I kid you not. I once had one fellow, with a stern conviction in his voice and passion in his eyes, explain to me that God gave ALL the grass and green herb of the field for man to use, and that means cannabis. I reckon, by extension it would also include opium and the coca plant. And before anyone tries to “rebut” me by saying “but the grass and herbs were meant to be for FOOD, not SMOKING, duh,” keep in mind that pot can be baked in brownies.

And one final thought in response to the “the prohibition against drunkenness, not consumption” reasoning. There is no prohibition against slavery in the Bible either. Really. Go look it up. Paul never condemned slavery as a practice. The only thing condemned was “man stealing.” So, as long as your slave isn’t “stolen” there is no prohibition against owning him or her. Who is up to the challenge of defending slavery for the glory of God? Anyone?

Lookit

You young, restless and reformed dudes, no one wants to stifle your fun. Yes, I realize a lot of you all were saved in one of those smothering, fundamentalist Baptist churches who regulated every behavior and activity with an iron fist of legalism like a draconian-driven HOA board of directors. I mean, you couldn’t even wear short pants in the church building, let alone even dream about drinking a beer. I sympathize with you. I really do. But honestly, is drinking beer really THAT important? Seriously?

I have a niece who, when we went to Sunday brunch at some fancy restaurant, would only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. She had an entire buffet laid out before her, and she obsessed on the mac N’ cheese. I remember telling her, “You have this wonderful banquet of food and all you are eating is mac N’ cheese? You know, there is much more to life than mac N’ cheese.” YRR pastor, there is much more to Christian liberty than drinking imported beer.

The Iconoclast

Last week, John MacArthur crashed the kegger party of the young, restless, and reformed with this post:Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty

Making sure to let everyone think he still has a relevant opinion on these matters, Steve Camp tweeted,

 

I love and respect John Mac very much, but IMHO this article was a legalistic over-the-top driveby. Spurgeon smoked cigars, Luther drank beer, the Lord drank wine. We can enjoy those things to God and His glory. The only prohibition is drunkenness Eph. 4:18f [sic] not consumption.

I believe he means Ephesians 5:18ff, but none the less…

In a response to a commenter to that statement, Steve followed up by writing,

This was an ad hominem drive-by. He’s arguing against YRR pastors using beer, cigars, wine, tattoos as a point of focus in ministry. But offers no specific examples to prove his concerns. Thus is old school Bob Jones coming to the surface, not careful exegesis from the text of Scripture.

The terrible thing about our twitter age is that it has taken a devastating toll upon reading comprehension.

If Steve had carefully read John’s article, rather than the opening few paragraphs, he would have seen that John said nothing about the consumption of alcohol being a “sin.”

Do it yourself: Go to the article, hit CTRL + F and do a search on “sin.” John uses the word maybe 6 times in his article. Once referring to an idiot book by Mark Driscoll in which he seriously suggests that Europe has more biblical beer than America, a second time to chide the knee-jerk reaction by the YRR who immediately shout like Steve Camp that “THE PROHIBITION IS ABOUT DRUNKENNESS, NOT CONSUMPTION! and drag out the “Martin Luther drank beer” argument, and a few other times to address the sin that does arise from consuming too much alcohol.

Nothing in the article has John stating he is against the consumption of alcohol.

Steve’s next tweet suggests he read a little deeper into the article. The point John was making is as Steve reports: John is troubled by the YRR using beer, wine, and liquor, or other similar vice, as a point of focus in ministry, especially the “Christian liberty” angle.

A couple of thoughts here:

First, John did provide specific examples of his concerns. There’s no ad hominem going on. I count at least 10 links taking us to the websites of young reformed guys who make beer and wine, if not the focal point of their ministry, at least a major part of it.

Second, does John really need to have his “exegesis” in order to have this concern? Steve doesn’t recognize this concern? I recognize it. Young people who feel it is their “Reformed” duty to stick in the eye of the old-time American fundamentalism they so disdain now by imbibing alcohol certainly troubles me. Especially when they make lame appeals to Martin Luther who lived what? 500 YEARS AGO! And Puritan breweries: you know, the Puritans. The folks who outlawed wedding rings and Christmas trees. Something tells me the YRR aren’t jumping on board with the Puritans with those items.

Steve is much like many of the folks who left comments under that blog. They focus on what John has taught about the use of NT wine in previous sermons and claim it is untenable. It doesn’t matter if it is. That’s a separate discussion.

What does matter is that wine and beer drinking has become the idol of the YRR. There is just no arguing against this fact. Everyone is upset at John because he came in and kicked them over.