Today on Pastor's Perspective we had a follow up call regarding pastors and alcohol. Yesterday Julie called to ask about an incident that occurred over Christmas. She was at a meal with her pastor and his wife and they were drinking wine. This shocked Julie and she called to ask if that was okay. Both Pastor Brian and I assured her that drinking alcohol was not a sin but that drunkeness was a sin. Later in the hour we got a call about gambling and we gave some warnings against gambling. You can view the show here. Today we got a follow up question asking if we were being consistent in our response to Julie in the same way that we had talked about gambling. It was an excellent follow up in that allowed us to clarify both our comments on gambling and alcohol.
You can watch the dialog here... (starting around the 45 minute mark)
I wanted to explain briefly what I meant when I said that there can be a danger when a leader gives warnings about Christian liberties.
First, Christian liberties are discussed in 1 Corinthians 8-10, Romans 14-15, and Galatians 2. There are other related passages, but I would classify those three locations as "home base" when we discuss the theology of Christian liberty.
Second, Christian liberty is an arena where people can make ethical decisions that are not governed explicitly by scripture. It is essential that we understand that arena as a one which is purchased by the blood of Jesus and one where the Holy Spirit wants to help us decide how to live. A Christian's liberty is directly tied to the work of Christ on the cross.
"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." - Gal. 5:1
When we get Christian liberties wrong we aren't just being legalistic or licentious, we are impugning the finished work of the cross. Our freedom (liberty) is personally connected to Jesus. He paid for our liberty with his blood.
This is an important point because both the weak brother and the strong brother (Rom 14-15) could mistakenly strip the arena of liberty from it's personal connection with Jesus. The legalist (weak brother) boasts in what liberties they don't exercise at the expense of other's spiritual wellbeing (Gal. 2:14-21). The strong brother might mistakenly flaunt their liberties at the expense of other's conscience before God (1 Cor. 8:9-13). But both are violating the implications of the cross.
Third, all liberties can be abused to the point of sin or natural consequences.... including the two we discussed on the radio today: alcohol and gambling. That being the case it is appropriate for pastor's and Christian leaders to warn against excess. Hebrews 13:17 says that Christian leaders keep watch for the souls of those they lead. And that passage implies spiritual leadership.
And that brings me to my point.
When a pastor warns believers regarding Christian liberties and encourages limits they must do so without condemning the stronger brother. If the stronger brother hears the warning of the Christian leader and falls under condemnation that Christian leader has plaid the role of Peter in Galatians 2. If the stronger brother feels less spiritual after hearing the leaders warning then the leader has begun to impact the work of grace in that persons life.
Excessive warning does not compliment the New Covenant message of grace because it can give a sense of spiritual superiority to the person who limits their freedom. We know that our righteousness comes from Jesus Christ and not through us limiting our Christian liberty. By coming down hard on Christian liberties a leader can easily convey a moralistic gospel rather then the message of God's grace. Therefore the christian leader must warn (1 Cor 4:14; Col 1:28; 1 Thess 5:14) without condemning the strong brother and without miscommunicating the gospel of grace.
The Bible gives three specific reasons why we limit our Christian liberty:
- We limit our freedom for the sake of the gospel message reaching non-believers. (1 Cor. 10:23-33)
- We limit our freedom for the sake of other Christian's conscience. (1 Cor. 8)
- We limit our freedom so that our sinful nature is not indulged (1 Corinthians 6:12, Galatians 5:13, Proverbs 4:23)
The biggest emphasis for Paul as he discussed Christian liberties was the advancement of the gospel, second to that, Paul asked for a mutual love. The strong and weak were exhorted to love one-another and not judge each other.
A couple of years ago I shared at length on this given topic. You can watch my lecture here: