Monday, February 29, 2016

Excommunicating Vegetarians

14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master [1] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4 (ESV)
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Those who were strong in faith, were suspicious whether those weak in faith even had faith. Should they allow them to come to the altar? This is where Christians are welcomed or turned away. In the early church this was what it meant to welcome someone, it was to open the altar to them. That this was even a question shows that to some extent “close communion” was practiced in the early church.
I for one can see why the early church wanted to excommunicate all vegetarians. They are normally obnoxious people. Of course, vegetarians today would be vegetarians for completely different reasons than the vegetarians of the early church. They were vegetarians because all the meat had been sacrificed to idols. These people would not get along with vegetarians today, because vegetarians today hang out in Indian restaurants that double as Hindu shrines where all the food is offered to Hindu idols. Well, not all of them do I suppose. But no one asks these days either, and these vegetarians wouldn’t be caught dead in a place where it was even a question. The strong Christians made use of their liberty, they didn’t worship false Gods. They just didn’t care if the food was offered to an idol or not. They knew that it had no bearing on their faith with God. They knew that eating the meat by itself was not showing faith or worshiping a false god.  
So we have the weak Christians and the strong Christians. Paul’s counsel is that we should not judge one another. We all have the same judge, and we should let him judge how he sees fit. Look to ourselves. In some of these things, we all have to make our own decisions for ourselves, but we can’t make them for others. At some point, we even have to let our children make their own decisions in regard to all those things.
But I do often wonder to what extent we in the west can apply these teachings to ourselves today. Perhaps in regards to worship? Contemporary vs. Traditional vs. Liturgical?  Most often today it is applied to things like alcohol, dancing, smoking or watching the movie Dead Pool. Can a Christian cuss? We pass judgment on each other. It tears the church up. I’m not always sure what the answers are. We let our preferences tear our congregations apart when it comes to worship styles. There is something fundamentally wrong with that. On the other hand, no one has any right whatsoever passing judgment on another for drinking, smoking or dancing, let alone cussing. We have no business making up these rules, and when we do the church loses. Neither do we have reason to judge others for not doing those things.
Where scripture is silent, we remain silent. This is the Lutheran way of saying, “You are not allowed to make up rules and bind others to them.”  You know there is a whole world of people out there afraid to go to church because of rules that Christians have made up? Do we even know what it means anymore to eat and drink with sinners? I fear the church does not at times. I remember confusing a woman badly in Norway when I was drinking a beer in an Irish pub listening to Irish music. I told her I wanted to become a pastor. She didn’t believe me. She thought I was compromising my faith by having a beer, as if the kingdom of God had to do with eating and drinking. These are the weaker brothers today, in my estimation. People who have been given false notions of what it means to be a Christian. People who think they would not be welcome in church or that they would have to give up their friends in the bar to go to church. It’s not just in Norway that this happens. I’ve seen it all too often in America. We don’t get to make up these rules. If you want to abstain from such things for your own reasons go on ahead, but keep it between you and God. This is the thing though about the weaker brothers. It’s hard sometimes to tell the difference between them and a Pharisee. They constantly want you to abstain for their benefit, because they said so. How does that work? I think the strong brothers had to ask themselves this over and over again. At what point is it no longer to my weak brother’s benefit that I defer to his weakness?
This is something that has to be asked in seriousness. Today, no one is lead to believe that one is worshiping another god in any of these things that we clumsily try to apply to this text. In fact in this scenario when it is applied to drinking or smoking, or what have you today, it is those who make the rule that are guilty of the sin. They make the kingdom of heaven about eating and drinking, not going to movies, or dancing. They will often say they are offended. I’m sorry, but I don’t see them being offended in the Biblical sense of the word. In fact, I see them offending in the Biblical sense of the word in that they lead people to trust in what they do or don’t do as an assurance of their faith, or however they want to put it. In truth they make people believe that they are denying Christ for giving into a cigarette, or having a glass of wine with a friend. And that causes serious injury to a person’s faith.  It could embarrass them so bad they never come back to church where their faith is nourished by the word of God, by his forgiveness.  

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