I have watched with interest, this recent conversation within the Southern Baptist Convention concerning what is permissible, and what is not, for believers in Jesus Christ. Questions have come up such as, can Christians drink alcohol? What about smoking cigars? Where do we stand on any number of other social issues that have, at least in recent SBC history, been considered taboo? From a number of sources we have found opinions, and statements as varied as one could possibly imagine. All of this discussion has made me ask myself, what do I believe?
For me personally, there are two passages that drive my own understanding of personal responsibility, and freedom, more than anything else. The first is Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” In this passage, Paul was speaking to the Galatians and reminding them to resist the Judaisers who would add to the gospel of Christ. His point was that Christ had given them authentic freedom and that they were muddying it by adding rules and regulations that God did not add. I see this problem happening greatly within SBC life today. We are requiring of each other things that God Himself has not required. One should ask themselves, before making any decision, whether God has forbidden the activity or not. When we think of activities such as drinking, in particular, there is very little that one could use that would allow you to see a scriptural injunction against the consumption of alcohol. There are a series of inferences that most use to justify their abstinence. Passages that remind us to not be controlled by alcohol, for instance, and additional references that help us to remember our responsibility for our witness and for our weaker brother are used. I’ll admit that I too use these passages as reasons why I often choose not to consume. The reality is, however, that these are not commands that condemn the consumption of alcohol, the use of tobacco, etc on a corporate level. As a result, I think it is fair to say that if God has not clearly mandated one way or the other concerning these issues then we must also not be adamant in our call for abstinence. Personal conviction is one thing; a corporate mandate, however, is entirely different. As such, I refuse to allow myself to be “burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” And therefore I recognize that a believer can be involved in a variety of often avoided areas and still stand upright without having contradicted scripture.
Having said that, it is important that you understand the second passage that drives me in relationship to these questions; that is 1 Corinthians 10:31. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Paul is addressing those areas where scripture may allow for freedom, but may also cause controversy in relationship to our intimacy with God. Paul’s point was that we may have freedoms that we intentionally restrict for the sake of others. What is most interesting to note in this passage, is that Paul never universally condemns controversial activity for the sake of others, but rather he leaves it up to their individual relationships with their Savior, to determine what is right for each of them, in their respective situation. The truth is, in many cases, these free believers needed to restrict their freedom for the sake of others and the gospel, but the important thing for this conversation is that neither Paul, nor God, personally restricted that freedom.
So now we get to the current environment within SBC life. It seems that many people are concerned about the way that others are living their lives particularly in reference to areas where we seem to have biblical freedom. I would challenge us to consider Paul’s own approach to the same basic situation. Let us not be quick to condemn, creating rules that enslave, when freedom should be our expectation. However, just as important is that those of us who have recently been trumpeting biblical freedom equally understand the need to consider God’s glory in all things.
So, in conclusion, can one live in ways that are not expressly condemned by scripture, but are often avoided by faithful believers, and still be faithful to Christ? Sure they can. So let us enjoy our freedom, but let us be careful not to let the enjoyment of freedom occur at the expense of God’s glory. We need to be sure of our situation and sure of our freedom at the same time. Let us not limit our freedom simply because it is the easy way out. Christ gave us freedom for a purpose and to limit it would be to limit the life that God has given us to live. Charles Spurgeon may have said it best. Possibly the greatest of all Baptist preachers, when speaking in reference to a message preached by his friend, Dr. George Pentecost, decrying the sin of smoking cigars, Spurgeon said, “Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be sin. And notwithstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night.” So I would ask you, if your activity is not condemned by scripture, can it be done to the glory of God? If so, than do so with zeal, and do not look back; if not, however, than carefully consider the consequences of your actions and choose to honor Him.