Christian Liberty: Does it matter when & where?

Th topic of Christian Liberties has been the hot topic on the web ever since MacArthur spoke to the issue of beer and ministry. The responses have been manifold and specific to this topic of alcohol. I do not want to join that conversation. However, I do think that it would be helpful to think through the principles of how to excercise our Christian Liberties. It seems to me that the biblical principles are being lost in the shuffle of specifics, personalities, and hyperlinks. In particular I think there is ine principle in particular that has been almost completely neglected. That is what I would like to address, and as I do so I assure you that I am simply working through the issues myself and trying to live out all the truths scripture presents on this issue.

The principle I am referring to is this: At certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided.

To see this principle in scripture we need to look no further than the council of Acts 15. Here the early church leaders, including apostles, decided unequivocally that the Gospel was for all cultures and that all cultures should be embraced by the church. The only thing that the leaders requested was that the Gentiles “abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”

Ok. I understand the sexual immorality, but what is up with the other three? Surely it was not a sin to eat the meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 10:25). Additionally, the meat previously outlawed had been cleared for consumption (Acts 10:9-16). All three of these apparent prohibitions should have been ok, right? Why abstain from what they were free to do?

Well, even though it was not a sin to eat the meat, the leaders in Jerusalem were wise enough to recognize that at that point in the life of the church it would have been detrimental to the church for the Gentiles to exercise their freedoms on these matters. In fact, apparently it would have been just as detrimental as the Gentiles participating in sexual immorality.

What we see here by way of example is explicitly confirmed by Paul in 1 Cor 10:23:

“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.”

It seems pretty clear, to me at least, that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided. I think this is further supported by the fact that in the years following this original letter from Jerusalem the apostle Paul opened the door to cautious/sensitive use of some of these very liberties (1 Cor 10:23-35). Paul was not contradicting his fellow apostles, he simply understood that in different times and in different places how we exercise our liberties needs to change.

By the way, as church history progressed so did the principle that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided. For instance, in Calvin’s day he became the target of intense opposition because of his stance against playing cards. This sounds ridiculous to us. But at that time and in that place playing cards were almost exclusively associated with laziness, gambling, and in some cases pornography. Calvin simply felt that even though there was not a passage in the bible that prohibited the use of cards, it was better to abstain completely than to try to figure out how to use them in a safe way.

Did he make the wisest choice? I don’t know. But, I do think his decision on this issue illustrates my point. Whether he lived it out properly or not, Calvin understood that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided.

I could continue with examples (Edwards publicly censuring boys for looking at pictures in a medical handbook, Spurgeon on those pesky organs, etc.), but I think the examples above will suffice for now (that statement might come back to bight me). The question that we need to honestly ask ourselves is what are the sensitives issues of our day? Are there liberties that we should just avoid? Are there issues that we should be more cautious with? Honestly, how are we thinking through these issues today? Do we believe, or even think about the fact, that at certain times in the life, maturation, and locaction of a church there are certain Christian Liberties that are especially sensitive and should simply be avoided.

I think that this is a good starting place for thinking through the use of Christian Liberties, but I don’t think it is enough. So, next time I hope to post some specific questions we can use as we determine how to use our liberties.

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