Summary: Is it possible to be technically correct but biblically wrong?
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
February 1, 2009
Series: The Church in Crisis
The seminary environment is one that fosters discussion as part of the learning process. Part of the reason I recall my seminary days with such fondness is in large part due to the lively discourse we had over points of doctrine and practice. But there is one debate I remember better than all the others I was involved in - I think it was during North American missions. The topic was alcohol – really it was about worldly amusements, but at this point in the discussion we had zeroed in on alcohol.
Now before we get too much further, you should know that my seminary class was for predominantly Canadian and Canada has a very different view on alcohol than does the United States. Canada’s view of adult beverages is very similar to Europe’s, so there is little stigma attached to it. For some of my Canadian brethren, the beer after work was sacrosanct – it was unthinkable to them that any home should be “beerless.”
Another thing you should know is that I grew up predominantly in the southern United States. In the South, church folk don’t drink; pastors, especially do not drink. For a pastor to be caught drinking even socially compromised his ability to speak truth to others. The casual beer seen in the hand of a pastor was cause to question his character, to question whether or not the pastor could be trusted to handle the Word of God correctly.
As the discussion turned to whether or not alcohol should be found in the home of a pastor, the Canadian’s all agreed that it was fine. What the Bible prohibits is the excessive use of alcohol; not the moderate consumption. There are even health benefits to using alcohol in moderation, so it should be perfectly acceptable for the pastor to have beer in the house.
I knew the minute I opened my mouth I was going to be shouted down – I knew I would meet stiff resistance, but what was being said needed to be challenged. The position my brethren were taking, while technically correct – the question of morality hinged upon how one uses alcohol, not whether one uses it or not. So while their answer was technically correct, it was biblically wrong.
Now, I know that sounds a little odd – how can something be technically correct but biblically wrong? Well, this is exactly the kind of scenario that Paul was addressing in our text for today – really our texts for both this week and last week.
Like me, you have probably heard a number of sermons on this passage – messages about how to evangelize and how to persevere in the faith. I became all things to all people that I might win some…. Run in such a way as to win the prize…. With phrases like these, it is easy to see how we can come up with the themes of evangelism and perseverance. But one thing troubles me – these two verses are right next to one another and are part of a larger argument that Paul is making. So how is it that we get two very different messages from texts so close to one another? Shouldn’t they have something to do with one another, especially since they are part of the same argument?
As is so often the case when this sort of thing happens, the reason two texts that are so close in proximity can have messages that seem to have little to do with one another is because the context for the passage is ignored. There are few things as important for understanding God’s Word as keeping things in context. In other words, don’t tease out isolated blocks of text for dissection; always take the time to read a chapter or two before the passage and don’t stop until you get to the next natural break after the text. Try to get the whole story so that you can better understand the particulars.
When you get right down to it, chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians is really a continuation of Paul’s discussion on eating meat sacrificed to idols, which we talked about last week, so it behooves us to recall chapter 8.
You will remember from last week that Paul was dealing with a question the Corinthians asked about meat sacrificed to idols. There were those in the Corinthian church who saw no problem with eating meat that had been dedicated to an idol of Apollo or Aphrodite or whatever god the locals worshipped. Since, the Corinthians argued, we know the truth that there is only one God, meat sacrificed at the altar of a false god was okay to eat because the idol wasn’t really a god. Christians, they said, are free of such superstitions.