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      Christian Liberty and Two Sides of Legalism

      Thursday, September 8, 2011

      Is telling to abstain from drink altogether "legalism?"

      Before we get to the answer, let's lay out a few things. Christian liberty is spoken about many places in the Bible. Paul says that if he knows of a weaker brother, he will abstain from doing whatever behavior it is that weaker brother is struggling with. He does this out of love. There are many people who believe that if you tell someone not to drink, you are advocating legalism, but not too many people look at the opposite side. Would you agree that telling someone they must drink is wrong? Is it sin? I believe it is. Nowhere in the Bible does it say you absolutely must have a beer with your dinner. So, to say that one must have a drink is adding to the Word of God and is thus legalism. The opposite side holds true, too, though. Nowhere in the Bible does it say it's a sin to have a drink. To say that one must not have a drink is also adding to the Word of God. So in short, is telling someone they must indulge in alcohol legalism? Absolutely. Is telling someone they must completely abstain from alcohol legalism? Absolutely. The word "liberty" implies "freedom." Freedom is not "you're free to do what's in accordance to conscience as long as you drink alcohol," and it is not "you're free to do do what's in accordance to conscience as long as you do not drink alcohol." Both are wrong, but they are both two sides of the same legalistic coin. Interestingly, however, you mainly run into the imperative drinkers in bars and such, and you usually run into the imperative abstainers in church settings. I wonder if they realize how much they have in common and how similar their positions are.

      The weaker brother is something that must be considered. There's no doubt about that. However, many people take it to an unbiblical extreme by having a "weaker brother" around who is no more real than the imaginary friend I tried to have when I was four. These people basically say that you have to not have a drink anywhere because a weaker brother may potentially be around, know you're a Christian, and thus have his faith shattered because he saw you take a sip of a beer. However, if you applied the logic consistently, you could potentially get someone to quit eating, too. How? If you're in public, people see you. Everyone knows that gluttony is a sin. What is the only way to get gluttonous? Food. Couldn't I then get someone to quit eating food if I adopted the previous logic? Look back at the "potential weaker brother advocate (PWBA)" and see how his logic carries out. If this were alcohol and not food, the PWBA would say, "You shouldn't have a drink in public or even talk about a drink in public. A weaker brother may see you and be injured as a result of seeing you take a sip." How does this carry over to food if the objects of both are not sin, but the abuse of both is? Most can eat a Chicken McNugget and not delve into gluttony. Yet, if the PWBA were consistent, everytime you mentioned you were going to McDonald's on a social network, they would be coming after you for potentially harming a weaker brother as well. I don't see that, and I certainly don't see their friends chastising them when they update their status letting us all know they're going to get a Big Mac. I was SBC at one point, and, from my experience there, I can assure you that the consistent, crossover logic rarely exists. In fact, from my experience, I believe there are some in the SBC who would defend their consumption of fried chicken much more than most would defend their consumption of alcohol. I can't say that eating fried chicken is a sin. It's not. (I rather enjoy eating it.) But I can tell you that telling someone they have to eat or they have to not eat fried chicken is open legalism.

      This illustrates why we need to advocate true Christian freedom; true Christian liberty. The extreme of alcohol consumption - from having a drink to too much to drink - is drunkeness (which the Bible condemns as sin). The extreme of abstinence - from personal to applying it to others - is legalism (which the Bible also condemns as sin). Note that I didn't say alcohol consumption nor abstinence from alcohol is sin. I said the extremes of both are.

      The freedom to discuss these things is also a part of Christian liberty. Many who do not want you to discuss alcoholic beverages or food in any public context allude to Paul in Romans speaking about the weaker brother. However, what they fail to realize is that Paul... spoke about these things in the very verses they allude to, and Paul's letters were sent to be read publicly. What they also fail to realize is that by telling you via blog, Facebook, etc. you shouldn't discuss these things in a public forum, they are discussing these things in a public forum. I'd be much more concerned about the weaker brother having a little sense to spot inconsistencies and giving up on the faith altogether than I would him seeing that I affirm my Christian liberty (even though I would put it away for a time if we discussed it, and he was, in fact, a weaker brother and not a weaker Pharisee).

      So, in summary, here it is:

      - Telling someone they must drink a drink containing alcohol, eat a particular food, etc.
      - Telling someone they must not drink a drink containing alcohol, eat a particular food, etc.

      - Being free to decide among ourselves what you want to do and what you don't want to do. When you start impeding on other people's freedoms, you are only interested in your "Christian Freedom" to take away everyone else's.

      Martin Luther said, "Men can be taken with both women and wine. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women as well?" We shouldn't confuse the object of abuse with the actual abuse of it. That may be the primary way legalism breeds and multiplies.

      For further study, here's an interview I did with Phil Johnson recently on this particular issue. I will be making the portion on the "Potential Weaker Brother" a Rightly Divided Clip here pretty soon.

      (1) http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/jcchrliberty.htm

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