Christian freedoms are a complex issue. They change with each generation. In times past, Christians frowned upon gambling, dancing, card-playing, smoking, wearing makeup, Sunday sports, R-rated movies, etc.
In present times, there are issues such as, “Can a Christian drink alcohol? Can a Christian attend a gay wedding? Can a Christian celebrate Halloween? Can single Christians of the opposite sex share a room on a road trip? Should a Christian use birth control? Can I attend a funeral of another religion or celebrate Christmas eve mass at a Catholic church?”
Future generations will have even more complex issues I cannot predict. All issues could be easily solved by one word: Refrain. But few are willing to consider that. Even devout Christians prefer to see how far they can push the envelope rather than how much they can refrain.
Of all the issues that plagued the Corinthian congregation, Paul spends more time on Christian liberties than any other (three chapters) — even sexual sins and drunkenness. He understood human nature: Give a man an inch and he’ll take a mile. He also saw, perceptively, that the gateway to Christians living in immorality is by appealing to the Christian freedoms argument. Therefore, Paul put controls in place that many people simply skip over or choose to ignore.
Paul essentially gives four questions to clarify any Christian liberty issue (1 Cor 8-10). If you apply these honestly, most issues can be resolved:
1. Will it cause a weaker Christian to stumble (1 Cor 8:9)? Meaning, will it lead them into sin. I heard one pastor mention that he once sipped wine at a wedding reception. Little did he know, a recovering alcoholic from his congregation was present, too. Years later, the recovering
alcoholic confided to him that the event had caused him to spiral out of control. Rightly or wrongly, the recovering alcoholic left the wedding thinking, “If it’s OK for the pastor to do it, then I guess it’s OK for me.”
The heart-broken pastor vowed to never again make that mistake. The destruction wasn’t worth it for a sip of wine. Sometimes, refraining from your “rights” is best so as not to wound the conscience of a young believer. To wound a weaker Christian is to “sin against Christ” (1 Cor.
2. Is it considered participation with the world (1 Cor 10:14-22)? Meaning, will this affect the church’s witness negatively? For instance, can Christians live together before marriage if we remain in separate rooms (a popular movement these days)? Nothing in Scripture specifically bans it. However, what perception is being cast? Probably not a good one.
And don’t be foolish. No one thinks you are remaining in separate rooms.
3. Is it helpful to the congregation (1 Cor 10:23)? Meaning, will this build up or deepen a Christian’s faith or be a detriment to it? The conscience of non-Christians must be considered as well (10:29). They are watching us, too.
4. Is it for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31)? Meaning, does it increase his fame and reputation? Or, does it increase yours?
Most issues will become clear once you work through these four questions honestly.
Your sin nature will rise up and try to pull you toward one of two extremes: legalism or license. Legalists live by strict rules that kill joy and grieve the Spirit.
Conversely, license is the opposite extreme: Anything goes that is not specifically forbidden in Scripture, no matter it’s impact on the other Christians or Christ’s bride, the church. This grieves the Spirit as well. Don’t fall into the trap of “extremes.” Exercise humility. Do nothing from selfish ambition. Count others more significant than yourself ... and I am confident you will make the right decision.
Chip Thornton is the pastor of First Baptist Church-Springville.