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Not the Fundamentals: Alcohol

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Gentle Reader,

There are valid reasons to abstain from alcohol. Some people, like me, simply don’t like the taste of most of it. Others have never had the inclination. Those who grew up in homes with alcoholic parents or who have had problems with alcohol themselves often eschew drinking vehemently. Some medications interact badly with alcohol, as is the case with many antidepressants.

However, to say that Scripture forbids drinking is not a valid reason.

The command simply doesn’t exist. We are absolutely told not to get drunk, just as we are told not to lie, not to habitually overeat, not to be vengeful. Consistently and constantly, we are reminded that only God is to have mastery over our lives. Any addiction, from substances to relationships, is to be dealt with and turned away from.

Amazingly, what appears to be perfectly clear is often muddied by those who insist that alcohol is itself a sinful substance, and that imbibing is just about the worst possible thing that one can do.

This is especially seen in connection with the life of Jesus, as some that teach that in the Cana wedding miracle (John 2), He did not make fermented wine, but some other substance akin to grape juice. R.A. Torrey writes:

“[Jesus] provided wine, but there is not a hint that the wine He made was intoxicating. It was fresh-made wine. New-made wine is never intoxicating. It is not intoxicating until some time after the process of fermentation has set in. Fermentation is a process of decay. There is not a hint that our Lord produced alcohol, which is a product of decay or death. He produced a living wine uncontaminated by fermentation. It is true it was better wine than they had been drinking, but that does not show for a moment that it was more fermented than that which they had before been drinking.”

Torrey’s argument is a case of reading an opinion into the text. There isn’t a hint in John 2 that all, many or even some of the guests were drunk at the point of the miracle, but can we take this non-mention to mean that nobody was intoxicated? Furthermore, the Greek word for “wine” used throughout the passage is oinos, the common word for fermented wine – not grape juice. 

Was the wine watered down? Some say so:

“Wine today has a much higher level of alcohol than wine in the New Testament. In fact in New Testament times one would need to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the large amount of alcohol in two martinis today.” (A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking, Bibliotheca Sacra, Issue 553, 1982).

And yet Greek, Hebrew and Roman sources all speak of wine with at least a 15% concentration of alcohol; even if mixed with three parts water, the resulting 5% would be higher than that found in most beers today.

Not only did Jesus make wine, and wine that was alcoholic, Luke 7:33-34 is one of several passages showing that He also drank it:

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Obviously, our Lord was without sin and so was neither a glutton or a drunkard. The accusation reveals the prejudice of the religious leaders, who had a problem with everything Jesus did and said. Surely the Messiah would conform to their expectations!

In Matthew 26, Jesus celebrates the Passover with His disciples, at which four cups of wine were drunk. The Gospel records:

“Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (vs. 27-28)

The cup that Jesus had His disciples drink from was most likely the third, which is:

“The cup of redemption, which reminds us of the shed blood of the innocent Lamb which brought our redemption from Egypt. We see that Jesus took the third cup in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25. . .This was not just any cup, it was the cup of redemption from slavery into freedom. This is our communion cup.” 

I ask you, how gorgeous is that?

As in our discussion on food, we turn to Paul in Romans 14 for a final word:

“Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (vs. 10)

Alcohol is not something we should fight about. It’s not something we can judge each other on. Certainly we can talk to a brother or sister if the inappropriate use of alcohol is seen or suspected. Getting drunk is a serious thing that can cause innumerable problems. But a glass of wine or a bottle of beer with dinner? Not something to yell about.

Grace and peace along the way,

toujszda2


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Not the Fundamentals: Food

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Gentle Reader,

Back in the Biblical day (which was, of course, a Wednesday), the Jewish followers of the Way had to wrestle with what becoming a follower meant for a Gentile. Must a Gentile first become Jewish? What did being Jewish look like in the wake of Christ’s resurrection? Should there continue to be boundaries between Jew and Gentile, even if both looked to Jesus?

The Apostle Paul devotes quite a bit of space in his letters to mapping this out. He sharply rejected any notion that someone who was not already Jewish should have to submit to the whole canon of Jewish law. (This is important. Paul never rejected his Jewishness. While he did wholeheartedly teach that it was Christ alone, and not the law, that saved, he followed Jesus within the context of Judaism). Essentially, if one was not born into ethnic and national Israel, then one was not bound by the strictures of the Sinai covenant – the letter.

One was, however, bound by the spirit of the law. This is best shown in the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch (and elsewhere):

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” – Acts 15:28-29

That the first three commands deal with food might seem strange to us, but rules about eating and how to eat were (and continue to be) part of the Jewish identity. This is why Peter’s vision in Acts 10 is significant:

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’

The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.” – vs. 9-16

The context of Peter’s vision has to do with the Gentile mission; he was about to be called into life of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. So we are presented with layers. Concerned with ritual purity, a Jewish person in this era would not normally associate with or go into the house of a Gentile, which Peter was about to do. God was telling Peter to let go of a lifetime of prejudices. Sharing the Gospel with a Gentile would not be wrong and it would not make Peter unclean.

I find it fascinating that the Lord used food in this vision, especially since the Jerusalem Council occurred not many years later. Here we see a clear sign that God was not asking new Gentile believers to commit to Judaism. This does not mean that following Christ within Judaism ceased to be a valid way of living. In many ways, Jesus reaffirmed the “first” covenant in His life and teachings. (Unfortunately, I do not have time to devote to that. Another time). Gentile Christians did not somehow “replace” Jewish Christians. There was, and continues to be, two beautiful ways of living, all based in God.

Sadly, the debate over food has never ended. The participants shifted from Jewish and Gentile to Gentile and Gentile. Christian and Christian. It went from “what does God command?” to “what will make me a ‘better’ Christian?” (This is, of course, my opinion).

Some groups, like the Seventh-Day Adventists, maintain that a believer should be vegetarian or vegan. Others hold that on certain days or times certain foods must be avoided, like the Catholic teaching on Friday abstinence (not as straightforward as you might think). Many groups encourage some form of fasting during the Lenten season, including my own Church of the Nazarene. And yet this is not really where the battle rages. I’ve been friends with enough Seventh-Day Adventists to know that they aren’t going to beat me up for eating a hamburger. I’ve also known enough Catholics to know that they do not believe that Protestants are bound by the Magisterium’s teaching. And the fasting that goes on in my church during Lent is highly personal and individualized.

No, unfortunately the fight goes on at a deeper, person-to-person level.

I’m all for eating healthy. My husband and I just had a good discussion about this. We spent yesterday afternoon stuffing baggies full of fresh vegetables for snacks and try to plan our meals in advance. We both have things like hypertension and diabetes in our family histories and we know that it’s important to do what we can to take care of the bodies we’ve been given.

But I’m not talking about that kind of thing.

I don’t know if it’s the American culture or what, but suddenly what one eats is a VERY BIG DEAL. And not only is it what one eats, but where one purchased the food. And if it’s organic and GMO-free. And if it supports local farmers. And…and…and…

Meanwhile, there’s a kid who dies because he didn’t have anything to eat, period.

But we’d rather snipe at each other than address real hunger.

There’s a snarky, judgmental attitude about food, and it’s infected Christians. Big time. Of course we’re all going to have our opinions, our likes and dislikes. There’s nothing wrong with that. What bothers me is the condescension I see around the interwebs. My favorite? Well, if you would just do your research. 

Okay. I did:

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” – Romans 14:1-4

In other words, get off the high horse.

What you eat (or don’t) doesn’t make you a better person or a better Christian than another.

But Paul doesn’t end there:

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” – Romans 14:19-21

Be sensitive to each other! Don’t force your opinions about food down another person’s throat. If you have a vegan friend who absolutely cannot stand the sight of meat, be nice to her. Eat a salad and some pasta when you’re having lunch together. This doesn’t mean that you have to become vegan. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a steak for dinner. You don’t have to change your opinion about anything. But you can be kind.

The Apostle ends with this fabulous statement:

“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” – Romans 14:22a

I love that! We would do well to follow this advice in every area of our lives. So much, including food, is not worth fighting about!

Grace and peace along the way,

toujszda2


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Not the Fundamentals: Signs, Wonders, Tongues of Angels

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Gentle Reader,

Two-for-one today! I’m slightly behind in my posting schedule, and this piece goes well with the one just before.

I am not a cessasionist. I believe that miracles happen today, because God is involved in our world and answers the prayers of His people. In fact, I believe that we in the West see few miracles because a) we do not recognize them as such and b) we rely on ourselves and our resources often to the exclusion of seeking God’s intervention.

That said, I am also not a “signs and wonders” person, and that is also because I believe that God is involved in our world. He graced His people with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. While there are many instances when a burning bush would be awesome, such a thing is usually not necessary. The quiet voice of the Lord is enough.

I see a divide between how God chose to operate before Christ and how He has chosen to operate after. In the Old Testament, great signs and wonders were a means of drawing people to examine their inner selves and repent. In the New (and into today), the great sign and wonder is found in the changed life, set free by the power of the Cross. And so believers today walk within the mightily supernatural – rain at the right moment, a mysteriously disappearing tumor and demons put to flight at the name of Jesus – and within the daily supernatural – a word fitly spoken, a sense of peace, the ability to turn from an addiction.

A congregation’s stance on signs and wonders and, specifically, speaking in tongues, makes for some of the greatest argument within the Body of Christ.

There is a constant battle within each of us between hunger for God and hunger for what He can do.

I do not question, in any way, the salvation of those who adhere to the charismatic end of the spectrum, but I do wonder at the chaos found in many such circles. Every miracle, every sign recorded in Scripture reveals not only that the Lord is powerful, but that He is orderly. Everything that He does serves a purpose. The point is never the miracle, but the Source of the miracle. Jesus refused to behave like a performing monkey and dole out miracles willy-nilly (John 6:26b - “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”). Having been exposed to several charismatic streams throughout my teen years at the private school I attended, the lack of order and purpose bothers me. We should not walk this life of faith in expectation of a constant “high.” We should not be looking for God to put on a “show.”

At this point we hone in on the example of speaking in tongues. I do believe that the ability to miraculously speak in a real foreign language, as happened in Acts 2, is legitimate and continues to happen today in the mission field.  It would not make sense in my context, so I have never this experience. As for the “tongues of angels,” what I have been exposed to has…well, it has freaked me out. I can only characterize it as screaming, high-pitched giggling, spittle-filled gibberish. Again, I’m not at all saying that those who do such things are not saved. I am simply uncomfortable with what I have seen. I have found this “speaking” to be distracting and focused on the speaker, rather than the Lord.

Most bothersome is that each time I have been exposed to this, the participants have, without exception, completely ignored these directives:

“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33

The last sentence says it all for me, especially because I deal with anxiety. God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. 

So, perhaps it is not the use of the “tongues of angels” that troubles me, but rather the lack of order. What can anyone gain from the ecstatic utterances of a dozen people, none of whom can rightly explain what they have been saying? If the spiritual gifts are for the equipping of the Body for ministry (Ephesians 4:12), then they had better be exercised to that end.

Ultimately, it is not a fellow believer’s swimming in the charismatic stream and others not that brings trouble. I have no problem with the laying on of hands. I have no problem with praying for miracles. But do not tell me that I must speak in tongues as evidence of my salvation. Do not tell me that I must be able to heal people. There isn’t a thing in Scripture that stands as evidence of belief other than a sincere devotion to Christ. Faith is found in the minute-by-minute decision making. It does not live only in the grandiose gesture.

Unfortunately, we all-too-quickly lose sight of that. At a youth conference I attended at age 16, the speaker asked for each person who had never spoken in tongues to stand a ask God to give them the gift. I remember thinking that such a thing was crazy. The idea of every believer demanding a certain something from God, whether it is tongues or not, is galling. How presumptuous can we get! We would to well to remember that:

“If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” – 1 Corinthians 12:15-21

We’re not all supposed to be the same. We don’t all get the same gifts at the same time for use in the same way. God desires our interdependency on each other and our utter dependency upon Him.

So, if you speak in tongues and that deepens your relationship with God, that’s great. I’m happy for you. I don’t do that. I won’t demand that God give me the ability to do that. And we’re both saved.

Grace and peace along the way,

toujszda2

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