“I Thank Thee That I Am Not as Other Legalists,” Or, How “Freer Than Thou” Became the New “Holier Than Thou”

Some time ago I was asked in a conversation whether I ever drank beverage alcohol and I replied “No.” Upon hearing my answer, my interlocutor quickly and harshly reprimanded me for being a legalist. Then, after I pressed him for an explanation, he made a calculated shift in tack, donned a look of feigned sympathy, and replied, “Oh, I see. You’re not a legalist, you’re my weaker brother.” Not being in a particularly patient frame of mind on that day, I extricated myself from the conversation, but it stayed with me. Something seemed vaguely ironic about the conversation, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Last week, happily, Michael Horton served up a blog post that helped me to organize my vague thoughts. His post was a timely pushback at a trend that has long been evident in the Reformed community but more recently in conservative evangelical and even fundamental Baptist communities—a trend that he calls “reverse legalism.” His argument is that a reverse legalist can sometimes be, ironically, just as legalistic as a regular legalist…but with a twist. Instead of measuring sanctification by multiplying behavioral standards so that he can smugly announce, “I am holier than thou,” the reverse legalist standard measures sanctification by eliminating behavioral standards so that he can announce, with equal smugness, “I am freer than thou.”

The fact is, sanctification is not a matter of competition with other believers. One can become righteous neither by being more restrictive nor more liberated—one becomes righteous by the obedience of Christ. Nor does one become progressively more holy by such means—one becomes progressively holy by mimicking Jesus Christ. Sanctification is at its heart a quest for godliness in all of its communicable forms. And when it comes to our relationships with other believers, its most visible attribute is not one of rivalry but of love.

Our sanctification is adjudicated then, by a “law of liberty” (Jas 2:12), a perplexing idea that seems almost oxymoronic until one understands its beauty. Christian liberty is not realized by adopting a normative principle of conduct (i.e., If the Bible does not condemn it, then I am free); rather, the law of Christ is realized most significantly when I love my neighbor as myself (v. 8).

In his grace, God has provided many things in his universe simply for our pleasure, and he is surely delighted when we find pleasure in his gifts. No person, in fact, can help but enjoy them (Eph 5:29). And yet, the law of liberty is manifested most visibly when someone seeks another’s pleasure above his own. This is poignantly seen in Ephesians 5 in the institution of marriage, but it is not limited thereto. In 1 Corinthians 8–10 it is seen in declining God’s gracious gifts for the good pleasure of the gospel. In Romans 14 in declining God’s gracious gifts for the good pleasure of the church. The law of liberty sometimes even says, for the sake of pleasing another, “I will never enjoy God’s gracious gifts again” (1 Cor 8:13). Because even though “everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial” and “while everything is permissible, not everything is constructive.” In such cases, the rule is this: “No one should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor 10:23).

Now one may quibble with me about whether and to what degree God has given alcohol to enjoy. Further, we might ask whether Satan has (as he has done so often) over time perverted something that is “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” into a idol of prodigious proportions (so Gen 3:6; Luke 4:3–4). But all that aside, it remains a fact that non-participation in one of God’s gifts may well be the very most basic expression of Christian liberty commended in Scripture. It surely makes no one holy, but it need not make one a legalist either. Unless, perchance, it makes one a slave to the perfect law of liberty.

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33 thoughts on ““I Thank Thee That I Am Not as Other Legalists,” Or, How “Freer Than Thou” Became the New “Holier Than Thou”

  1. Great post. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget love and the law of liberty in ethical debates.

    BTW do you know if the math questions above the comment section are meant to weed out computer-generated spam or just the comments of really dumb people?

  2. Alan Benson says:

    Thanks so much for the thoughts. How easily we wobble to and for, lacking scriptural balance.

  3. Max Day says:

    Absolutely right. I was saved almost 30 years ago after squandering much of my teenage youth in drugs and alcohol abuse.

    One of the main things God taught me soon after trusting Jesus as my Savior was that I didn’t need alcohol anymore, because I had something (or someOne) much better; namely, the Holy Spirit dwelling in my body. I didn’t need unholy “spirits” in any form to make me happy or feel good; and that includes wine and beer.

    As a new Christian on active duty in the Navy, I was able to observe how the behavior of other Christians in this area was viewed by those who did not share our faith in Jesus Christ. Some believers (usually Charismatic) felt they had freedom to drink beer, perhaps because of the Lutheran example, and the reaction of unbelievers to this was usually laughter and ridicule at the perceived inconsistency of a profession of faith in a Holy God and the consumption of unholy spirits.

    That all by itself should lead any conscientious believer in Jesus Christ to forsake the consumption of alcohol in any form, for the sake of the Gospel and the souls of the Lost.

  4. Gerry Carlson says:

    Another example of “reverse legalism” might be akin to the liberal political penchant to use judicial activism to bestow rights where none have existed in constitutional law. Modern evangelicals love to embrace and legitimize cultural indulgences with a spacious mantra of “being free in Christ”.

    Is it legalistic to heed James’ admonition regarding the “law of liberty” and endeavor “to keep oneself unstained from the world”?

  5. Roland E. Pittman says:

    In fact, legalism goes even farther than “holier than thou.” Those who cry legalism against abstinence from alcohol often inveigh the argument that Scripture does not specifically prohibit drinking alcohol, just drunkenness, are involving a legalistic argument by emphasizing the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. Legalists argue that if Scripture does not specifically forbid, then it is acceptable, ignoring the spirit and intent of Scriptural principles. Legalists argue for strict adherence to the letter and nothing more. The obvious Scriptural principle of not doing anything that would cause others to offend or sin, as clearly articulated by Paul, comes into application with alcohol because it leads others into behaviors that inevitably will end in drunkenness for some. This is NOT legalism because it embodies the spirit and intent of the law (i.e. prohibition against drunkenness) rather quibbling about the narrow confines of semantics and wording.

  6. Great reminder. Thanks. I needed to hear this.

  7. Zach Hamilton says:

    I agree that even inside fundamentalism our culture has changed. 10-15 years ago, it seemed to me that those with stricter standards publicly set the tone, and those with looser standards quietly kept it to themselves. For example, when I was a teen the few fundamentalists who went to movies would never openly talk about how good Independence Day was (at least until it came out on video!) because they would be called out by the ruling conservatives. I recall damaged consciences on one side and spiritual pride on the other.

    These days (and again just from my limited perspective) it’s reversed. Fundamentalists who don’t attend movies sense that they are in the minority now. This leads them to quietly soldier on, convinced their looser brethren are on a dangerous path. And, as Dr. Snoeberger has pointed out, the freer majority trumpets their liberty on Facebook and blog posts and in private conversations. Hopefully as Christians we can learn to co-exist in selfless love with each other’s non-sinful quirks while striving hard to set our own standards with humility and godliness.

  8. Excellent thoughts. Thanks for the post.

  9. Van Andrews says:

    You put into words what we have been noticing recently, especially in the Facebook era.

  10. Jeff says:

    What does loving your neighbor as yourself have to do with you never having drank alcohol? I missed that connection.

  11. Scott Leigh says:

    “What does loving your neighbor as yourself have to do with you never having drank alcohol? I missed that connection.”

    So as I see it, the author was first accused of being a ‘legalist’ for his abstinence answer and later a ‘weaker brother’ by a reverse legalist all over the issue of alc-y-hol. Both legalist and reverse versions are thought essentially to be in rivalry with another brother as illustrated by their phrases, ‘I am Holier than thou’ and corresponding “I am Freer than thou’ smugness. The rivalry is seen clearly in the words ‘than thou.’ Instead they should be loving brothers not competing for what they don’t do as ‘holier’ or do do as ‘freer.’ So there you have it. From the demon drink to love, I think.

    Perhaps even a limerick will help?
    A reverse legalist interlocuted a certain brother ’bout his alcohol drinking,
    A ‘No’ answer either made one a legalist or weak brother in his odd syncing.
    So the theologically driven man posted a blog with a link to Horton,
    Who didn’t hear a Who but his theology proceeded to help shorten,
    The distance between rule-oriented slaves past and present in our thinking.

  12. Jeff says:

    I get the “don’t judge” question. I’m referring to the law of liberty statement in which the author said: “Christian liberty is not realized by adopting a normative principle of conduct rather, the law of Christ is realized most significantly when I love my neighbor as myself.”

    I assumed (maybe falsely) that the author’s not drinking alcohol should be seen not as a normative principle of conduct, but rather as the abstinence from a good thing for the sake of another – a “love my neighbor” move. But I missed how the author’s not drinking was an act of liberty.

  13. J Randolph Carroll says:

    The argument goes in kind of a circle for me which does little more than show one to be as bad as the other… but I do agree with the “reverse legalism” idea that as I’ve often said, puts me in the position of being the negative one when others allow for everything then anything I disallow is assumed to be legalism, which is simply not the case… the point I’ve always tried to make is that “liberty” is less about what I am free to do and more about what I am free from doing and the “weaker brother” is actually the one to whom we defer such things… liberty is about what I no longer sense the need to do (“put off”) and and strength is about what I now sense the need to do (“put on”)… Can one honestly say they find strength in drinking alcohol (or whatever the issue)? I now longer need a drink for courage, or to relax, or to enjoy a nice meal. My courage, peace, and joy is in the Lord. If one still needs it I don’t condemn him in the thing, which God seems to allow but there is much more danger (weakness) in alcohol than one will ever find positive (strength).

  14. Mark Snoeberger says:

    A very reasonable question. Assuming for sake of argument that the consumption of alcohol in its modern forms is in fact something God gave us freely to enjoy (which one might easily challenge on a number of grounds), then refraining from alcohol in the interests of another can take a variety of forms:

    • I could refrain so as not to tempt an acquaintance to return to a debilitating habit of drunkenness, which is idolatry (1 Cor 8:7–12 cf. 1 Pet 4:3).

    • I could refrain because an unbeliever expects me to refrain and to imbibe would cause him to abandon his curiosity in the Gospel (1 Cor 10:28).

    • I could refrain because a Christian acquaintance believes drinking is sin and if I persuade him by my action to drink in violation of his conscience, then to him it is sin (Rom 14:23).

    • I could refrain because I don’t want my children or the seminary students under my tutelage to form bad habits, knowing from experience (with things like, say, facebook and video games) that young men regularly err by doing good things to excess.

    At the end of the day, I’ve concluded that the most prudent and loving course of action for me is not to drink for as long as I live. I do this with reasonable precedent (1 Cor 8:12) for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of my brothers and sisters in the church of God. I don’t ask all believers in the world to do the same in order to prove their spirituality (which would be legalism), but I don’t believe I must maximally partake in all of God’s good gifts to prove I’m spiritual either (which is also legalism).

    MAS

  15. Tara says:

    A previous commenter (Zach Hamilton) said it best: “Hopefully as Christians we can learn to co-exist in selfless love with each other’s non-sinful quirks while striving hard to set our own standards with humility and godliness.”

    Ahhhh! That sentence is perfect. I attended a Bible college where the standards/rules kept getting stricter (and progressively more unreasonable!) as each year passed. I get it that skirts had to be below the knee. But now girls can’t wear button-up shirts open? (Of course that is no longer a fashion – ha!) Someone thought the style would cause men temptation to lust. And then all of a sudden girls were not allowed to come to class with wet hair because it could be perceived as sexy.

    (And now because some people abhor the the word sexy this comment will most likely get deleted.)

    The fact is, every. single. thing. we say or do can be taken offensively by someone. And we can see how Satan has put his grubby hands on just about all of life so that if we continue to avoid offending everyone what is there to do anymore? Don’t put on lipgloss in front of a man, it’s sensual. Don’t go on vacation, it’s not being a good steward of money. Don’t buy disposable diapers, it is wasteful. Don’t eat that brownie, it is gluttonous!

    What about redemption? What about Sherwood Pictures putting out these tremendous movies that believers can support in theaters? Why can’t we take back what Satan has made evil? We did it with women wearing pants. That is acceptable by most Christian circles today, and yet it didn’t used to be. And then it was wearing dress pants to church. That was unheard of in the 80′s but is now the norm, even in independent Baptist churches. Why do those things no longer offend but so many issues are still held unacceptable for a believer? – syncopated music and theaters of course the big ones.

    I come from the opposite extreme, drilled into my head in college not to offend a soul – so err on the side of caution and avoid as much as possible. But that is not living! I now have a warped view of grace because of this and it makes me want to backlash against that extreme.

    I appreciate this article alluding to how we ought not flaunt everything we do. But to completely avoid certain things because someone might see us and stumble – that’s purely fear-based, people-pleasing living and I’ve done it for too long. I understand if you are in a situation where you don’t want your recovering-alcoholic friend to fall back into the pit of alcoholism, don’t invite him to Applebees or whatever. But to say that dining at Applebees is wrong because you don’t want anyone to think by ordering a burger you are condoning the serving of alcohol – that is ridiculous. Don’t make fun of that friend by saying he can’t handle eating at Applebees – that’s mean! But to keep your whole life private out of fear of offending him or anyone else just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s impossible to live like that.

    I would venture to say that most Christians of whom this article is speaking isn’t truly flaunting their “liberty”. Maybe it comes across that way because it looks offensive? Maybe they are just trying to live their lives and would genuinely be sensitive to a situation where there was true danger in causing a specific person to stumble. Not avoiding the chance of stumbling someone, as the slippery slope suggests, but a single actual circumstance where they give up a grace gift to encourage that person.

    Does any of this make sense? These thoughts have been rumbling around in my mind since my upbringing and especially college. I cherish my education but am still reeling from the affects of such rule-based standard setting. I realize the rules were institutional but they were made heart issues if any were questioned. A little grace and common sense, please??

  16. Joe says:

    “Legalists argue that if Scripture does not specifically forbid, then it is acceptable, ignoring the spirit and intent of Scriptural principles. Legalists argue for strict adherence to the letter and nothing more.”

    What about the Pharisees? Did they not, in fact, add to the law? They are held out as the epitome of legalism in Scripture. If they existed today, they would forbid alcohol completely, as have many Christian groups.

    To read in Scripture that drunkenness is sin, and then to take it a step further and declare of your own volition that any alcohol is a sin is legalism.

  17. Joe says:

    “But to completely avoid certain things because someone might see us and stumble – that’s purely fear-based, people-pleasing living…”

    This is the best comment so far.

  18. Jeff says:

    Thanks for taking the time to break that out. I really appreciate your answer and think it is a beautiful example of exercising freedom in love.

  19. Mark Snoeberger says:

    Paul seems to disagree: “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble” (1 Cor 8:12).

    I have no doubt that legalism flourishes and I have no desire to enter into dialogue about this institutional rule or that institutional rule. I simply want to suggest that care be taken so that our reactions are not as unbiblical as that to which we are reacting.

  20. Hannah says:

    I’m sorry that the one “reverse legaliist” you encountered was so unloving and self pleasing. The whole point of being free in Christ that he missed is this: we are free from sin – no longer obligated to serve self because of the Holy Spirit residing within us, and we are free from the law – no longer required to have standards or actions that prove our salvation because Christ lived the law for us perfectly.

    The point that we all seem to miss is that our view of our standards has gotten in the way of Christians seeing Christ. Loving your neighbor as yourself was the second commandment Christ gave, the first was to love God. I don’t know if we will ever fully understand God’s love in our sin filled world, but when our focus is turned towards loving God and imaging Him things like drinking alcohol or listening to different kinds of music or dressing a certain way seem to matter a whole lot less.

    Because of God’s love, I have friends that I would normally never hang out with because we have no common interests… except Christ. God takes all the glory when his creatures have fellowship solely because they love Him. Learning and exuding God’s love makes our conversations less like: “Hey, do you drink?” “No.” “Well, then you’re a legalist because you don’t drink.” “Well, then you’re a reverse legalist because you do drink.” to “Hey, God’s been showing me some amazing things that I’ve been needing to learn.” “That’s awesome, me too. What has He been teaching you?”

  21. Tara says:

    I do believe and agree with Paul’s example in that passage. But my dilemma has always been: everything you do is going to offend someone or cause a person to stumble. Everything. It is difficult for me to put the same blanket standard on everything that *I think* might offend someone, based on what certain people have openly struggled with or man’s-in-general lack of wisdom/self control/spiritual maturity/whatever.

    A good example: I have a lot of overweight (and a few overweight friends, yet I still serve dessert when anyone comes over. I am probably causing them to stumble. Or am I? Do I never eat dessert again because the nation as an average is fat?? I see this issue no different than the drinking one. How can it be? And yet potluck and creamy chicken casserole is a huge part of Christian churches – with no sensitivity given to people who binge.

    In this situation how do we do as Paul suggests and still live our lives? Who avoids dessert? Who avoids potluck? I know the easy answer is to serve healthy desserts when overweight people visit. But then do we not invite these people to our child’s birthday party where cake and ice cream are being served?

    Please tell me if I am wrong in comparing obesity to alcoholism. And if not, what are some practical ways to follow in Paul’s example of avoiding stumbling blocks regarding issues that are not one of the church’s top 5 or even 10? (Drinking, movies, music, dress, etc.) How do we live out the passage where subtlety blinds us from the hidden vices of our brothers and sisters? Please tell me the answer is not to make a blanket standard for every issue – nor every person or circumstance. I am not talking situational ethics. But people and places and problems are very individually different.

    Do you say that if the majority of people would be offended by X to not do it, but if only a couple people would be offended then it’s permissible? As in women wearing pants, an issue which has moved from the former to the latter. So then is it also a matter of priority? Yes I know I think way too deep but this issue has caused me a lot of internal struggle and has put the focus on what man thinks of me instead of what God through Christ thinks of me. It makes me walk on egg shells about everything, fearing what certain others may view as unacceptable. (And I’m a “good girl” – ha!) It leads to a sneak around don’t ask or tell mentality that, frankly, is probably needlessly prevalent in churches today.

    Or…am I really alone in this?

  22. Kevin says:

    My understanding is that the conservative point of view is an argument against all “Strong Drink” which endangers one to drunkenness very easily (Prov 20:1).
    The conclusion is that the industry that produces alcoholic beverages today would be classified by nature as strong drink (unless you really mix 10 parts of water with 1 part of a 6-10% alcoholic beverage to make the alcoholic content miniscule). Secondarily, the arguments regard the appropriateness/purposefulness of using “Christian Liberty” in the face of a whole history of examples that demonstrate that it is not expedient.
    Very few conservatives anymore would simplistically believe that all ref in the Bible to wine refer to non-alcoholic beverages (i.e. simply grape juice). Furthermore, Jesus’ comment on the Pharisees condemned their hypocrisy more than condemning every single one of their “fences” that they put around the law some of which would have been in the spirit of the law (matt 23:3). We sometimes lump all the Pharisees into one evil group. Some of them genuinely respected the OT, were looking for the Messiah and did accept Jesus the Christ when He came.

  23. Kevin says:

    “(And now because some people abhor the the word sexy this comment will most likely get deleted.)”

    A par excellence example of “reverse legalism” and not being loving to those who you deem have an “unreasonably high standard.”

    Looks like you forgot about this already: “Hopefully as Christians we can learn to co-exist in selfless love with each other’s non-sinful quirks while striving hard to set our own standards with humility and godliness.”

    If you realize your vulgar choice of words may offend then why do you go on using them if you love the above principle so much?

    In grace I will refrain from dissecting the rest of your comments.

  24. Tara says:

    It was not my choice of words – it is the word my college administration used. I did not use it to be vulgar. I just know some blog authors would not want other readers to think they condone the use of that word because it would make them look bad. Do you see how messed up this can get??

  25. Consider Your Wayz says:

    The original post was very well stated, Thank you! In the dialogue presented I do not believe anyone was calling an idividual who drinks a reverse legalist but rather the individual who accuses the non-drinker of being a legalist. The freedom that we have in Christ is that we are no longer slaves to the Law as the OT believers were. As Paul said. “The live of Christ constrains us”. How exciting is that! What I do is a result of my love for God, not an attempt to reach God by rules. The spirit presented in the NT is not one of anarchy but one demonstrating a personal relationship by which we are motivated by love. The standards of love are not man-made and are much higher, and of greater conviction. There is no accusation of one who does not see eye-to-eye but rather our focus is the audience of One and how we can point others to Him. When we focus on our liberties we have lost sight of the grace of God and as Peter when he looked at the water began to sink , so will we when we take our eyes off of Christ.

    “Lord keep our focus on You and help us to forget ourselves!”

    -Consider Your Wayz

  26. Tara says:

    Like, seriously. If I want to put on my Facebook how much I love this one Audrey Assad song and how her voice is just so beautiful, I don’t want to not say it because I fear others are going to gasp because it is not a hymn. The reason I say something like that is not because I’m flaunting my freedom to listen to Audrey Assad but because I like it, it’s not bad, and I enjoy sharing something I like that’s not bad! But I feel like the original post is telling me it’s not loving because my grandma is on my FB friend’s list and she only listens to hymns. But she just might like it.

    So then what in the world do I write about from my life if I am so nervous about what people are going to think? How far do you take it? Not tell anyone about anything you think, say, do, love, care about? Don’t share your struggles or vent on your blog because someone might share those same struggles? Just don’t express these things ever? Don’t breathe to loud or quiet or fast or slow? Everybody here is discussing the biggie – alcohol. But what about everything else in life? Practical advice??

    Is the answer just to find a circle of Christian brothers and sisters whose standards and convictions more align with yours in order to alleviate some of the fear of offending? To disengage friendships with those not as like-minded? These are legit questions! But honestly I think I’m realizing this whole topic is my stumbling block!

  27. Rhonda Archibald says:

    Tara, I feel the same way about many things. I am older now and happen to be in a church which is not so legalistic as the one I grew up in due to a move. I hope you find a church where you can be you and find a group of like-minded people who encourage you and explore these questions without fear/censure.

  28. bill provenzano says:

    Hi Mark,

    Another good post. It’ astounding/sad that a brother in Christ would talk to you such a manner.

    I have a few thoughts I would like to share on this post. Admittedly, I can not claim them as my own.

    “Who [am I] to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4 ESV)

    Let us also remember Romans 15:5-7

    “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. ” (Romans 15:5-7 ESV)

    So when the one who doesn’t drink is worshiping and serving next to one who does and properly controls himself to the glory of God, both being constrained by love for their brethren, would to God that both would hold each other in their hearts as fellow partakers of the grace of Christ, that they would yearn for each other with the affection of Christ, abounding in love one for the other, with knowledge and discernment, ministering together, serving the same master, in joy. (Philippians 1:8-9)

    Godspeed.

  29. Tara says:

    See…I do think fellowship is affected. And that’s the rub for me. I will happily and gladly avoid alcohol (I don’t drink anyhow) or anything else if I know someone in my close immediate sphere of influence at this point in time in my life has expressed a deep struggle and has told me when others partake in ______ that it tempts him to enter back into it. Yes, yes, absolutely yes I agree with how that is the most loving thing to do! I agree and I practice this principle!

    But there are a couple of key words that must stand out – “close immediate”, “this point in time”, and “expressed the struggle”. If at this point in time in my immediate sphere of influence there is someone in my life who, say, is tempted to watch rated R movies if they go to a movie theater then I will probably invite them to our house for a movie night instead. But if they are not as close in my spear of influence anymore – due to a move, different stage of life, or just a general not spending as much time with them anymore for whatever reason – then it’s no longer an issue where avoiding this activity is the most loving thing. It no longer affects this individual.

    Same thing with allowing my children to go trick or treating or watch a Disney movie or breast vs. bottle feeding. Oh. my. lands. are there parenting wars out there! And people see their standards as moral issues. And this is why I am so very passionate about finding some resolve with this issue because avoidance can and does lead to dividing believers more than deepen those relationships.

    It’s so not about just wanting to do whatever I want or being selfish/insensitive and flaunting/ boastful. My difficulty is the barrier that is placed between myself and someone who sets “life standards” based on an encounter or two they had with an individual who struggles with something. To set a rule for yourself till death to never allow yourself to eat at a restaurant with a bar, or attend a movie theater, or shop at Walmart, or go to the beach, or hand out candy to trick or treaters, and the list goes on.

    Someone who, at all cost will indeed go to the grave being able to say I have never even tasted alcohol on my tongue. The deception is that it sounds so noble and right to be able to say that! There are those in my family who can and will most likely say that.

    But something didn’t seem right to me when attending a cousin’s Lutheran wedding when a relative of mine accidentally drank from the wine circle of the communion tray instead of the grape juice circle – major FREAK OUT!! – but for what? So she could no longer pridefully declare she has never tasted alcohol?? What does that say to someone like me, who would absolutely be sensitive to a struggling friend and avoid something for a season to help them – but who cooks with wine and uses rum in baking just like it were vanilla extract? It makes me look like my resolve to avoid is weak. It looks like I am selfish. It looks like I am a reverse legalist!

    Going further, it puts pressure on me to not necessarily heighten my standard but at least to look like them when in their company and most of the time, Christian circle. The pressure to never dare mention the bottle of baking rum (which has lasted us 4+ years and it’s still a 3/4 full) nor the mean simply amazing authentic Tiramisu my husband makes! And dear me, to resolve never to serve chicken marsala to them when in our home – nor admit it’s on our dinner rotation!

    Even though this relative is not a “weaker brother” who struggles with alcohol. The principle of avoiding out of concern for someone to an absolute measure of resolve. Why are exceptions not ok? Is our personal reputation more important than relationships? I may not play Shane & Shane song when a certain former punk rocker rides with me in the car, but it’s not fair to have to hide from non-former rockers who just happen to set a life standard to never actively listen to syncopated music or live in community with those who do. Do you see how I feel like an outsider from many in Christian circles I grew up with?

    I guess that’s why I got defensive about the word another commenter called vulgar, because I don’t know everyone’s life standards and so I rightly or wrongly assume certain extremes. I feel weary always having to dance (horrible pun on this thread!) around what I am saying in case someone finds out I do this or that. Or believes this or that. Or attends this or that. This is what I am talking about when I say it’s not living. It’s not coexisting in grace. Not hiding is a prerequisite to fellowship.

    Even if widely acceptable for everyone to set their own standards, if your life looks somewhat different than the majority of those you go to church and attempt to fellowship with, you get snubbed, directly or indirectly. You don’t feel like you can be yourself, and when you express that you’re simply told you have a heart issue. You are selfish and are trading what you want to do for loving people. But it’s not, it’s a desire to find true fellowship without feeling lesser of a Christian if you look a little bit different. To be able to comfortably attend a denomination of a church you most agree with theologically instead of attending something more liberal or modern or both because you otherwise feel and, if you’re openly honest about your life, often treated like an outsider. Does that not sit right with anyone else?

    I don’t know why nobody in conservative Christian circles have addressed this problem but if someone here has any ideas or insight please share. My comments and questions are genuine, not meant to stir up.

  30. Tara says:

    It’s funny when commenting on a thread discussed by people who do not know you, after hitting reply you often wonder what in your comment could be taken as too general or in a way you do not intend.

    So to clarify, when I said “Is our personal reputation more important than relationships?” I mean within the context of non-struggling believers. How avoidance generated from love of a struggling friend becoming a standard which measures resolve can hurt those who do not hold as high a standard – how maybe we are treated differently unless we hide our lesser standards from being known.

    It is in this way did I ask if reputation ought to trump relationship. Because it has in my experience. I still have visions of my mom turning around VHS tapes before certain people from church would visit. Really, mom?? For Bambi and Aladdin?? People can see through anything. They know when we’re being fake and when we’re honest.

  31. Daniel Carpenter says:

    Tara, I really appreciate everything you wrote and deeply relate to what you are stating and the conflict you feel. I also went to a school like the one you described in your first post (maybe it’s the same one) and while in seminary there began to intentionally (and quietly :) ) explore GRACE and all that it is and means. In conservative Christian circles I’ve seen these passages (Rom. 14, I Cor. 8,10) wrongly leveraged to create universal prohibitions instead of referring to specific situations as they are intended – see I Cor 10: in one situation you eat meat, in one you don’t but you certainly do not allow your God given liberty to be hijacked by another believer’s conscience (“For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” v.29). Injunctions to demonstrate loving sensitivity are misread and misapplied to enforce constant lifestyle expectations (you should never go to movies because you might offend a ‘weaker brother’, etc.) The more I understand and experience the grace Jesus gives the freer I am from other Christian’s well meaning but culturally conditioned expectations – my acceptance and identity and relational SECURITY is all in Christ. If other Christian’s misunderstand my personal choices, that’s ok. It’s not a testimony issue – it’s a personal conscience issue (Romans 14:2-12)and I can extend grace and love back and acceptance back. We all have such a nasty tendency to complicate something that is so simple and basic. (“For freedom Christ has set us free…” Gal. 5:1.)
    Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I think your comments are ‘spot on’ and the tension you feel is really healthy and I’m sure it will be resolved as his Spirit leads you.
    Could I recommend a book I just finished reading by Charles Swindoll? It’s called “The Grace Awakening” and it is very illuminating and presented in a very kind and humble way. He graciously addresses the legalistic culture and attitude in so much of the church and I think it would be a big help to anyone wanting to biblically think through these issues.

  32. Jan says:

    Well said– thank-you. However, it’s interesting that you were in a conversation with someone about this. I have been deeply knit into both camps of Christians who live life on the opposing spectrums of this particular issues for 15 years. I have never had a conversation like that with anyone. Obviously, it’s important that you don’t use a broad brush to paint a negative picture of reformed and baptist Christians whose consciences allow them to drink alcohol… which you (and M. Horton?) might be on the verge of doing here. But the larger issue is that as Christians, we are called to forbear and show much grace to those who live differently on peripheral matters of the Christian life. Whether we encounter someone like this individual who did not show you grace, or we encounter an individual who is truly legalistic (i.e. believes Christians are further from God’s saving grace if they partake in alcohol), grace, gentleness and perhaps even quietness are in order. It does take supernatural grace to be silent when we are offended, but we are children of a very generous God who provides just that. Grace! The pulpit is the best venue for this kind of teaching.

  33. Jan says:

    not gracious at all, Kevin.