The Abandonment of Something

I have been wanting to discuss the following issue for quite some time. I hope that this post can spark some lively debate…although no one will ever see the 50 comment mark that J. Sok set with that forbidden Christmas issue. Anyway, this post is either about morality or legalism…I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one.

The results are staggering when you compare the former generation to the one we are existing in now. The same would be true if you were to look at our parents generation compared to our grandparents. Times change…people change…the church changes…and spirituality evolves. So many things are different now than they were one hundred years ago…heck…even twenty years ago. Pondering this issue has caused me to run upon a roadblock that I am truly struggling with. Enough with the preface…here is the meat of the discussion: Within the past two weeks and at different times, I have been in the company of good christian people who were drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and gambling. I look back at those encounters and realize that I thought nothing of it. There is a dilemma with this experience. If this were thirty years ago…say in the 70’s…there would be major problems with this kind of living. Not only would you be looked down upon, but your Christianity probably would have been a joke to most. If this were sixty years ago, It would be sinful for one to even think about someone doing these things…much less taking part. But now, at the end of 2005, I was in the presence of christians fully devoted to the Kingdom of God who were drinking, smoking, and gambling…and no one thought twice about it.

It seems to me that something is being abandoned.
Option number one is to believe that the morality of believers is slowing falling by the wayside. As the generations pass, we become more and more tolerant of the things of this world. Plain and simple: morality is being abandoned.
Option number two is to believe that we are abandoning legalism. We have realized that socially drinking, smoking, and gambling are as bad and morally wrong as drinking coke, eating candy, and playing the stock market. Plain and simple: We’re free in Christ…and He doesn’t care.
So are we abandoning legalism or morality?
Is it a mix of the two? My grandfather (who is one of the most godly men I know) would probably have a heart attack if he knew of the things that surrounded me regularly. Is that a problem…or do we just chalk it up to being a part of the “old school?” I would love to know what everyone thinks on this issue. I believe that it is something that we should think long and hard about. Try not to merely spout off the first thing that comes to your mind…think about it. I appreciate your comments.
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17 Responses

  1. I know this isn’t an “answer” – but I wanted to let you know I’ll get back with you on this. Since I’ll be gone this next week, it might be a bit – but I have been going through this same thing – so I’m up to talk. Bear with me 🙂

  2. You make a good point, bro! I think these activities Christians take part in are not about abandoning legalism/morality. The main problem is, to non-chistians, these things are not a “christian” thing to do. Unfortunately, they dont look at a persons heart but at their actions to see if Christ is living in us (believers). I hate it too, always being concerned with what non-christians view us as, but if it makes a difference to the Kingdom of God, what image our actions display should be something we should always consider in every decision we make!!!
    P.S. I cant wait for the party on Sun.

  3. I know my answer but i am just letting you know i am going to come back at a later time and hash it out…i hope it makes sense

  4. i couldn’t come up with a short, comment-friendly response, so I wrote a far-too-long response on my blog

  5. so i decided I didn’t like my post and took it down to work on it some more…

  6. well…please put it back up, dave. I want to know what you think.

  7. Kenneth read your post the other day and told me that I needed to log on and think about this issue. Here is just my first thought…
    If we say that this is a “moral” issue, is it because we are being too “legalistic?”

    There have been certain circumstances where I do not agree with ‘restrictions’ placed upon Christians because I do not believe it is a moral issue but rather a legalistic issue. While I feel that the people who place these restrictions are being too legalistic, they claim that these restrictions are moral issues. Hence, they may say that I lack a moral stance, and I say they are just being legalistic AND vice versa. Does this make sense?

    My above comment does not necessarily reflect my view on the gambling/drinking/smoking issue specifically, but anything.

    I agree with Kathryn, although we may feel freedom to partake in certain things, we should not do so because the appearance and its affect on others, particularly non-believers and babes in Christ.

  8. thank you, kristy

  9. I can just see the picture of Eve at the foot of the ‘apple’ tree in the Garden of Eden—– ” Did HE really mean this tree, Adam? HE probably meant more than one piece at a time was sin? Don’t you think HE really should have left it up to us? “

    Andrew Bonar said, ” It is not the importance of the law, but the majesty of the Lawgiver, that is to be the standard of obedience….Some, indeed, might reckon such minute and arbitrary rules as these as trifling. But the principle involved in obedience or disobedience was none other than the same principle which was tried in Eden at the foot of the forbidden tree. It is really this: Is the Lord to be obeyed in all things whatsoever He commands? Is He a holy Lawgiver? Are His creatures bound to give implicit assent to His will?”

    We can not categorize sin if we are to live a life of holiness. God will not let us get away with that kind of attitude.

    And as much as I hate to be one of the “old school” —you will see things more clearly with age. Trust me, I regret helping two of my friends in college get abortions. AT the time, it was ‘no big deal’—–Praise God that he uses our sins in youth to benefit others as we grow in wisdom in HIM.

  10. Here is my lengthy response:

    First, I would attribute this to the normalization of the abnormal that occurs within the ecumenical monoculture. I mean after all Texas Hold ‘em is a professional sport, you can even watch it on ESPN. If homosexuality is your thing you can go and see Brokeback Mountain, whose previews look suspiciously like a romantic heterosexual western, do not let that fool you because it is graphically homosexual. (If you are wondering no I did not go see it but if you want a review go here: http://www.kids-in-mind.com/b/brokebackmountain.htm ) That would have never happened twenty years ago. The ecumenical monoculture’s obsession with tolerance means that the most base behavior is not only accepted as normal but praised.

    Secondly, putting all philosophical arguments aside here is what the Bible says.

    “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” I Corinthians 6:12

    Here are a couple principles from that passage. First, is what you are doing helpful. Does it profit you to do what you are doing? Does it contribute to your spiritual growth? Or to ask them negatively does this action cost you? Does it stunt your spiritual growth? Secondly, will your actions enslave you? That answers the question about gambling, smoking, and drinking. Will this action lead you into bondage? Will this action master you? If so stop and flee from it.

    27If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29I do not mean your conscience, but his.

    What you have in this passage is an unbeliever invites two Christians to come over and eat. Often individuals would buy the meat that was sacrificed to idols because it was cheap. So these Christians go to eat with an unbeliever and if a Christian objects to eating food sacrificed idols then the other Christians are not supposed to eat it. Who cares if the unbeliever is offended? Your responsibility as a Christian is not to offend the other Christian. (This is why I object to Churches canceling Christmas and New Years services because unbelievers will not be there.)

    There are several principles that we can learn from this passage as well. Do your actions set a good example for other Christians? Or to ask negatively do your actions set a bad example for other Christians, especially less mature ones?

    I Timothy 3:7 says that overseers “must be well thought of by outsiders.” Are you well thought of by outsiders because of your actions? Do non-Christians look upon your actions as good and praiseworthy? Because if they do not then you had better stop what you are doing and start acting like Christ.

    I Timothy 3:2, Tutus 1:6, and Titus 1:7 all say that overseers “must be above reproach,” they must be blameless and unrebukeable. Will your actions result in rebuke? Could you be reprimanded because of your actions?

    One of the most oft quoted passages on this subject is Romans 14 of which I am posting verses 7-9. “7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

    This passage brings me to the final and most important point; is God glorified through your actions? Does this action glorify God? This encompasses every principle that I have just given. Do you really think that you are glorifying God by poisoning yourself with cigarettes and alcohol? Or by throwing away what wealth God has given you on a stupid card game? Not to mention the horrific example you set for younger believers by doing these things. Those questions should answer themselves but just to make it clear the answer is no.

    What I find most disturbing is not that we tolerate Christians who drink, smoke, and gamble but that we tolerate those who do nothing at all. Idleness plagues the church. Spiritual and intellectual sloth has resulted in overwhelming amounts of Biblical illiteracy and grown adults who are spiritual babies. The army of God is engaging in spiritual warfare with an army of babies, or as Paul puts it “infants in Christ.” Most of today’s evangelical leaders are pansies and it is showing. To use a rather vivid example told to me while witnessing at a gas station. “I agree that we need to give milk to those who cannot eat solid food. But I am sick of having to spread the facial hair to get the nipple through.” We should be upset about that. We should be saying, along with Paul, “GROW UP. MOVE PAST THESE ELEMENTARY DOCTRINES AND MATURE. YOU SHOULD BE TEACHING OTHERS BY NOW. BUT YOU ARE LIKE CHILDREN WHO NEED SOMEONE TO TEACH THEM THE MOST BASIC PRINCIPLES OF GOD.”

  11. thank you, keith…great comment

  12. Thanks man. It is just sad to see that in embracing our freedom, from sin and from the works righteousness of the old covenant, that we have forgotten that we are now slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18-20). The original context of these passages is speaking about being freed from the Jewish traditions and rituals, not freedom to do whatever we desire. I think if we (myself included) could remotely grasp what true righteousness is then what many call legalism would be seen as abhorrently liberal. Our emphasis should not be on our freedom in Christ but our slavery to Him.

    It is also interesting that Pharisees were legalists and the Sadducees were liberals. So here we are discussing the same issue.

  13. First of all, from what are you basing your assertions that in the 70’s or earlier gambling & drinking would have been unacceptable among Christians? Maybe in certain places in Kentucky, but I doubt it in other places.

    It’s my understanding that Baptists were good brewers of alcohol back in the late 1800’s. I’ve heard jokes/rumors about an abandoned alcohol still or something under Southern Seminary’s campus. Those may not be true, but they’re based on the truth that those people used to drink.

    People obviously drank wine in Paul’s day, as he told Timothy to. Even Al Mohler admits that there is no Biblical basis for complete abstinence.

    That said, I think things like poker have just gained greater prominence in pop culture (TV) than it would have in the 50’s-90’s. Probably because it is gambling, and considered a vise.

    Do I think that the church has lost certain passions for following Christ in joy, and have lost sight of the purpose of the church? I think certain people in the church have.
    I think this symptom is shown in 2 types of church members:
    1. Legalistic ones who would rather bash churches that close their doors on Christmas day than strive for unity and encourage real, genuine worship at home as well as in the sanctuary.

    2. Ones who squander great amounts of their resources on things like the lottery, or poker, or tobacco because they have no desire to spend their resources deepening their relationship with Christ.

    I agree with Dave’s statement that some of these things (drinking, sports, cigars) may not be wrong per se, but may indeed draw your heart from Christ.

    I have strong Christian friends in many countries that drink in moderation, and play poker or the lottery. I don’t condemn them, or refuse to associate with them. It’s their conscience, not mine.

    But, I’ve made a decision for my own life on what my values are. These values do not include gambling, drinking, or tobacco. I have a clear conscience on it, and feel fine in passing my values on to “disciples” who I may “mentor” or to my own children. I feel like these things personally draw me away from Christ.

    I agree with Dave: A God-focused joy and passion is most important. Is your poker night taking you away from time spent memorizing scripture? (Memorizing scripture being a good way to meditate and savor the joy of all that God is for us in Christ Jesus). Is your tobacco habit frowned on by your dentist as cancer-causing? If so, why risk time and life on problems that your children will have to pay for?

    Our church needs a deeper passion for Christ, and His church. More love for each other, and more love for the world that is dying w/out Christ.

  14. i did write a response after my first comment but i guess it never made it up oh well…since i have returned from nashville i have had much time to think. I would first like to say that time challies wrote an excellent post on gambling and legalism, Those who are involved in the discussion go check it out, (http://www.challies.comarchives/001565.php)

    His points are quite biblical and quite thought provoking.

    I think my intial comment went along the lines of no we have not abandoned either. I like c.j. mahaneys definition of legalism in which he says it is trying to gain favor or forgiveness by following a set of rules. In that sense i think we are all legalists. maybe not conciously but we all fit our lives and behavior around a set of instructions we find in scripture. heck a good portion of the scriptures is law. the truth of the matter is that Christ in the grace of God, has provided a freedom. Not a freedom to sin all the more, but a freedom from the judgment of our sin. I think keith is dead on, we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. But rightesousness is not found in found in for example, not having a beer, not smoking a cigar, or not playing a $5 game of hold’em, or following whatever other laws we think we sshould in scripture, we are free from that by the blood of Christ. our righteousness is Christs righteousness imputed to us, and that means freedom.

    Now the issue of morlaity seems to be closely tied. the moral standard for all humans is a holy God, and is personfied and exemplified perfectly in Christ. Pre-regeneration we find ourselves unavoidably falling way short of that standard, and impossibly seeking to do so. Even after we are born again we fight the same battle. But this time our battle is one, and the holiness we seek after is not for our edification, but to God’s glory. our pursuit of holiness is a response to God in the grace he has given us, and it cannot be done alone, but by the righteousness of Christ, and the work of the spirit.

    Ok so i kind of chased some rabbit and i do not even kknow my orginal intent, but i would say this…is having a beer wrong? no is it necessarily beneficial? not completely is it wrong for others to look at those who might have a beer and say “you are a dirty sinner for letting that devils water touch your lips!!!”? most definitely

    i think as christians we need to be honest with ourselves and others say sin is sin. freedom in Christ is total freedom in Christ. and yet our actions must at all times reflect the mind of Christ, and do all that we do to the glory of God.

    Smitty- I love the post man, tell mama that I was jumpin up and down when I read her comment and the Bonar quote. He is one cool calvinist/hymn writer/dude!

  15. so i just wanted to add in retrospect, i may have sounded like the “freedom in Christ” guy, like Dave mentioned, but i agree one hundred percent with him. I went back and read over my sermon, on phil. 1 and affirmed it all the more, that our life is Christ, in morality, ministry, and everything else. It is to live with an eternal perspective.

    I can never make sense in comments so please take it easy on me 🙂

  16. well…honestly, guys….my intentions in bringing up this issue were not to encourage people to pick a point on the ‘line’ and defend it to the death. I was going to compose a sequel post to help steer the dicussion back to what I believe is the correct track. But I see that everyone who made a comment nailed in on the head. I thought that most would pick a side…but everyone has seemed to transcend the line.

    The question of right vs. wrong or morality vs. legalism is secondary to this one: ARE WE ADVANCING THE KINGDOM OF GOD WITH EVERYTHING THAT IS WITHIN US? – answer that and the rest will fall in place. I appreciate all the comments. You guys nailed it.

  17. If anyone is still reading this post then here are more of my thoughts. To avoid the incessant posting that occurred on Justin’s post about canceling church on Christmas I have thought this over for a while. This is what I have decided (specifically in reference to I Corinthians 6:12 and how we are not to be enslaved). I find it impossible that any intellectually honest Christian can read this verse and then say to them self: “I know my drinking may lead my brothers in Christ into slavery but this is my freedom in Christ and I am going to exercise it.” Or even worse “I know my drinking may lead my non-Christian friends (who do not have the help of the Holy Spirit in resisting temptation) further into their bondage to sin but this is my freedom in Christ and I am going to exercise it.” And even worse than that, “I know that statistically gambling has devastation affects upon the economy and society but gambling is my freedom in Christ and I am going to vote to legalize it.” As Christians we are to oppose, evil on every front this primarily involves Gospel proclamation but as the salt of the earth, we must act as a moral preservative and stand against sin on all fronts. Promoting or participating in an activity out of Christian liberty that is enslaving and destroying countless lives is absurd. The justification of such actions as “Christian liberty” is self-deceiving and intellectually dishonest.

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