In recent weeks, God has really been teaching me lots of things about myself primarily and about our culture secondarily. One area about which He has spoken to me is that of what some would call Christian liberty. I’m referring to those gray areas that are not inherently wrong or sinful, but that Christians disagree about. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 are the chapters in Scripture that I have recently read in my devotional times that have sparked these thoughts, and you may want to read them after reading this.
Oddly enough, this journey in my thoughts began with the Harry Potter books. When the Harry Potter craze first began, I worked in a bookstore, and quite frankly, was completely turned off of these books due to all the people that went absolutely nuts over them. After shelving and straightening them over and over every day and answering countless Harry Potter questions, I wanted nothing more to do with them. My disinterest had nothing to do with all the supposed witchcraft and evil that were in the books, I just didn’t want to read them. However, this summer, after the final book came out and hearing about the rumors that there were actually elements of Christianity in there, I decided to read through them and decide for myself which side of the controversy to side with. Well, I read all seven books in about three weeks, and I absolutely loved them! I then read an excellent book called What’s a Christian to do with Harry Potter? The author of this book made a point that has struck me several times since then on this issue of Christian liberty: Make your decision where you stand on this issue according to your own conscience, and then do not judge anyone else for their decision according to their conscience. If you honestly feel that the Harry Potter books are harmless fiction and even can be used to point someone to Christ, wonderful! Read them, enjoy them, talk about them with your kids (please note that while I personally believe most kids could read these books without harm, I firmly recommend that the parent or another grown-up read with the child and teach them to discern fantasy from reality). However, do not look down on those Christians who, in their own conscience, believe that the books are in some way wrong for Christians to enjoy. If someone believes that a “gray area” (an issue not inherently wrong and not specifically addressed in Scripture) is wrong for them, then for them, it is indeed wrong, and they are being consistent with their beliefs to stay away from it. It is just like the meat that had been sacrificed to idols. (See the Scripture.) However, neither Christian should assume that he is more spiritually mature than the other because of his particular view on the subject. This is where I was having trouble. Once I came to my conclusion, I had the attitude that all those Christians that were creating all the uproar about these books were just more immature and my pride and self-righteousness puffed up rather quickly. But this is the wrong attitude. I can’t help but mention that a lot of people holding the opposite view on these books have been sinful in their loud, vocal, and often misinformed slamming of them, but their view is not actually wrong-for them.
Another example of this principle that has come up in my life is that of drinking alcohol. Lots of Christians feel free to exercise their Christian liberty and drink wine or other drinks and even the occasional beer, without getting drunk. I cannot point out Scripture that says that drinking alcoholic beverages is wrong at all times. However, in my house, we’ve decided that, for various reasons, we will not exercise any freedom to drink alcohol of any kind. That’s fine, and it’s also fine that some of our friends have decided otherwise for themselves. The problem comes when one side of the issue becomes a stumbling block to the other. If you choose to drink, please do not be “in your face” about it. You have the freedom to make that choice, but Scripture is plain when it says that sometimes, exercising your freedom can be sinful. Some Christian writers, speakers, and pastors have, in my opinion, made stumbling blocks of themselves with their drinking, cussing, and other activities. Sure, Scripture does not specifically prohibit them from drinking wine or using a word our culture has deemed inappropriate, but when they start doing so in public or making a big deal about their freedom to do so, then they have crossed the line.
The final example that is personal to me is the whole debate about worship style. Either worship style, traditional or contemporary, is okay and neither is right or wrong. Both sides would probably agree with that, and in my following argument, it will probably become apparent which side of the debate I lean toward. If some people believe that hymns with a piano and organ are old-fashioned and “out”, that’s fine. If some believe that drums and electric guitars and praise choruses are not reverent enough, or if it’s just not what they enjoy listening and singing with, that is also fine. Again, the problem comes with how you exercise your freedom. Too often, some on the contemporary side will be blatant in their loudness, in wearing their shorts and flip flops to worship, in coming in late with coffee and doughnuts to worship. To be fair, some on the traditional side will often be blatant in their slow tempo, their refusal to ever learn any new songs, and their quick judgment of the other side as wrong and irreverent. Both sides are wrong at times in their freedom. Worship how you feel comfortable, remembering that worship is not about your comfort. Number one, worship is about God, and any style you use needs to be biblical. If, in any given body of believers, the worship style is a stumbling block to part of that body, whether it’s traditional or contemporary, then that worship is not biblical. You are not better than another Christian because you feel free to worship in a certain way and they don’t. Exercise your freedom, but limit it for the good of others.
I know this is quite the long post, but this has been stewing in my mind for quite some time. I feel free to read the Harry Potter books. If you don’t, that’s fine. Let me know and I will not insist on reading them to your kids and you will not tell my kids that they are evil. I don’t feel free to drink. If you do, that’s fine. Drink at your house, but don’t bring wine with you when you come to dinner at my house, and I will not preach to you for your choice. I prefer a more traditional style of worship. If you don’t, that’s fine. Raise your hands, wear jeans, drink coffee, and worship to loud praise choruses played with drums and electric guitars. That is truly okay, but don’t insinuate that I’m not as mature as you when I choose to dress up for worship and sing hymns with a piano, and I will not say you’re wrong for your choice.
My point basically is this: Exercise your Christian liberty as your conscience dictates, and let others do the same. However, know that there are times and situations that you will need to place restrictions on your freedom for the good of others. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” (Romans 12:3) and “…in humility count others as more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
As I stated, I write this to share God has convicted me about, not simply to preach to someone else. Since He’s been speaking to me about this, I’ve noticed this wrong attitude creeping in so many times, that I’m a better Christian than someone else because of my view on a particular issue. In sharing my convictions, maybe you, too, will see this kind of sin in your own heart and begin to work at loving instead of judging other Christians who disagree with you on some issue.