Friday, April 4, 2014

Causing someone to stumble?

NOTE: This entire post is written with the assumption of alcohol consumption that is both a) legal (no underage drinking!) and b) responsible/moderated. Drunkenness is out, as is habitual/addictive drinking. Those are obviously prohibited. Alright: read on.

A few months ago, I accidentally discovered something pretty startling: That the whole "Christian Temperance" movement is still alive and kicking, crappy theology and all. If you have a strong stomach for ignorance, grammatically incorrect hostility, and the most horrible logical fallacies around, feel free to search for "Should Christians drink?" on your search engine of choice. Those with comments sections are the most amusing/enraging/saddening (depending on which mood you're in already).

There are lots of arguments against Christian consumption of alcohol, ranging from the awful ("The world does it, so we shouldn't, because SEPARATION!") to the really awful ("We're not supposed to get drunk, so that means we shouldn't drink at all!"), to the absolutely nuts ("Also, the wine in the Bible is non-alcoholic, except for when it isn't, and then it's bad!"). I'm not going to go into those arguments, because rather than requiring dismantling, most of them just fall apart in the face of a stiff breeze.

But there's one that remains, one solid stand-by that never fails: Admit defeat, but claim the protection of the "weaker brother." "And even if it's somehow not a sin, we think it is, so Paul says that you can't do it, or else you'll be causing us to stumble!"

After all other non-arguments have failed, this one stands defiant, proud to claim the title of "weaker brother." So let's talk about that. Let's talk about what it means to cause someone to stumble.

First, the source text: Romans 14:20-23

"Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

So: How do you cause someone to stumble? What does it mean to do that?

First, it does not mean "Make someone upset on the internet." If someone you don't know is actually going out of their way to despise you and pass judgement on you, you're not causing them to stumble. (although they are putting themselves firmly in Paul's crosshairs throughout the whole of Romans 14).

Secondly, it does not mean "Do something that someone else thinks is sin." We see this illustrated throughout Paul's missionary life. As an easy example, we see him eating with Gentiles, when such was seen as sin by the Judaizers from Jerusalem. In fact, he actually calls Peter out for catering to their immature doctrine (see Galatians 2:11-14).

Finally, it does not even mean "Proclaiming something to be neutral or good, when others believe it to be evil." Otherwise, Paul couldn't even have written Romans 14 without causing people who disagreed with him to stumble!

Here's what it means: Encouraging someone to partake of something that is either a perceived or actual sin. That's it. That's what it means. If someone firmly believes that drinking alcohol is sinful, and you're in their presence, encouraging them to drink, then you are, in fact, causing someone to stumble. Or if you're with a recovering alcoholic and order a drink, then you are causing someone to stumble.Your freedom is a reminder of their captivity, and an invitation to be captive again.

Don't do that. Don't tempt recovering alcoholics, and don't pressure people to do something they see as a sin.

But if you aren't doing that--if all you're doing is pissing off Pharisees with your moderate and self-controlled drinking--then have fun, and think about Jesus doing the same at the wedding in Cana.

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