Over the past months I have had several posts dealing with Christian liberty and the use of wine, particularly in the Lord’s Supper. Those were edited snippets from an article which has now been published in Ordained Servant, “Wine or Grape Juice: Theological and Pastoral Reflections on the Fruit of the Vine in Communion”: here. In it I reference a crucially important article on Christian liberty, John Murray’s “The Weak and the Strong.” Since writing the article I have discovered an online source for Murray’s article, and I commend it for your reading, found here. It is my prayer that this discussion will help the church take seriously the sacraments, without falling into the error of thinking that they work mechanically or apart from faith. A Biblical balance is crucial!
Christian liberty, what does God require?
Although the focus of Paul’s teaching in Rom. 14 is on how the church is to treat the weaker brother, the apostle’s concerns go both directions: “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” Rom. 14:3.
If, as we have seen, God has given wine to man for his use but never for its abuse, if sin lies not in the thing itself but in the heart and actions of people, then the focus of our concern ought not to be on the thing itself, but on how what we do affects our relationship with God, our impact on and attitude towards others, and Continue reading “Christian liberty, what does God require?”
The teaching of Christian liberty abused
Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 has sometimes been distorted to encourage or even require believers to take a position of total abstinence. In “The Weak and the Strong” (see the link here) John Murray writes:
In our modern context this passage is often applied to the situation that arises from excess in the use of certain kinds of food or drink. It is particularly in connection with intemperance in the matter of fermented beverages Continue reading “The teaching of Christian liberty abused”
Christian liberty includes concern for others
As those who belong to Christ our goal is to be well-pleasing to him. That includes being careful not to cause those who may be weaker in the faith to sin.
In Romans 14:14 Paul makes clear that what we eat or drink is not sinful in itself: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (ESV). Nevertheless, for a Christian to do something he believes is wrong is a grievous sin. Thus he warns, “Do not, for the sake of food, Continue reading “Christian liberty includes concern for others”
The fruit of the vine: Christian liberty — Where are we going?
Why am I taking the time and space to reflect on the subject of Christian liberty? It may be helpful to repeat what I pointed out at the beginning, that although the subject arose in the context of questions about the character of the fruit of the vine in the communion service, the session has not made a decisions on that matter (except to wait for a time before considering the subject). However, in studying the issue, it appeared to me that as a congregation we would do well to give attention not only to the sacramental issue (what is the most appropriate and Biblical way to observe the Lord’s Supper), but also to the question of Christian liberty, which is a separate, but related issue. I intend to preach on Romans 14 when we get to that point in our current Sunday morning series on Romans. However, I also wanted to do some bite-sized reflections over a period of time (thus these blog entries, which also appear as bulletin inserts). Continue reading “The fruit of the vine: Christian liberty — Where are we going?”