I don’t want to steal Matches’s thunder because he recently posted on the same topic. But I observed a situation this week that prompted me to think a little bit more (reminds me of a recent Budweiser commercial) about this. Let me set it up for you.
I am privy to a conversation that just happened to take place between a mid 30-something fairly mature adult with at least a bit of life experience and a early 20-something college senior who is also fairly mature but of course shorter on life experience. They had not seen each other for some time and found themselves meeting unexpectedly as they were visiting other friends whom they share in common. The conversation was light and pleasant and flowed from topic to topic as the evening progressed. In the course of their talking they began to discuss books they had read and whether those books were good or not. The book, Blue Like Jazz, came up. The 30-something stated how great of a book 30 had found it to be. The 20-something stated that 20 had to stop when 20 got to the part where the author talks about having a beer. 20-something said that 20 could just not go further.
At this point, the conversation became not light and pleasant. When asked why this was a problem for 20-something, 20 quoted scripture about “not causing your brother to stumble” and stated how important it was for “Christians” to hold each other accountable. At that, 20 left the room and avoided further conversation for the remainder of the time 20 and 30 were in the same location.
Now this opens up a HUGE can of worms. It may actually be worms and snakes. Big worms and poisonous snakes. There may even be a few lizards in there. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a dragon in there. Not the dragon from Shrek or Aragorn but the dragon from Beowulf (haven’t seen it, just have read it, but not recently). And I am not even going to begin to attempt to deal with all of the stuff that can come out of that can. It ranges from what is wrong with the institutional church to what is wrong with Christianity, from shame to grace, from love to hate, from holiness to hypocrisy, from mercy to judgment. I want to just deal with one side of the judgment piece. But please feel free to leave comments about any of the critters that can weasel its way out of that can including but not exclusive to what I have to say.
I think holding each other accountable and not causing others to stumble is really meant to be applied to a rather narrow window. That window is when an individual who claims to be devoted to and a follower of Christ and is invested in relationships within such a community, when that individual is walking an un-Christlike path and at the same time claiming it to be a Christlike path, that MAY BE the time to hold an individual accountable. Such a situation has the volatility to cause significant spiritual abuse to other Christ followers, especially those who may be newer to this faith. And I emphasize “MAY BE” because I think we need to take pause before we begin holding anyone accountable. I know for myself that I will never be the one who is worthy or able to “cast the first stone.” This is not something to be approached casually and lightly. It is a very serious matter and should taken as such.
So I found it surprising that 20-something would be so quick to jump to this position. I guess I may have stereotyped that generation a bit in thinking that those following me were going to be more open-minded and more about grace and more about love and more about joining God in bringing more of heaven and less of hell to the here and now as he advances his kingdom and redeems the entirety of all he has created than they are about keeping track of sins and who commits them and what they are and how many of them are committed. And I am further surprised that 20-something focussed so intensely on the “stumbling” piece. When Paul speaks of that in Romans it is within a discussion about how followers of Christ are supposed to act when they are living in community. We don’t really exist very intimately in community in our churches these days. And how do you even keep track of that? Are we all subject to everyone else’s experience as to whether they stumbled or not? What if me eating a coney with chili causes someone to stumble? What if my occasional 2$ coffee from Starbucks causes stumbling? What if my Japanese made car causes a stumble? What if my tattoo causes someone to stumble? What if me growing out my hair causes someone to stumble? And so I get it cut and then that causes someone to stumble because of the reason I got it cut?
Now 20 may say these examples are ridiculous. But are they really? 20 may say that these are not moral questions like alcohol consumption is. But is alcohol consumption really a moral issue? Jesus drank wine and the only instruction I know of about alcohol in the scripture is not to get drunk. Certainly drinking a beer is not going to make anyone drunk. So I don’t think that it is any more of a moral issue than my hair is. And what about the fact that a drink a day lowers your risk of heart disease by nearly 50%. Maybe Jesus knows a little thing or two about the benefits of alcohol.
So 20 then may say that it certainly can become a moral issue so we should just avoid it altogether. Maybe 20 would say that alcohol kills so many people. And I cannot disagree with the fact that alcohol can become a moral issue, but I would have to point out that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING can become a moral issue if taken to the extreme, and that maybe just all out avoidance is neither the best nor the healthiest way for us to approach this sort of problem. For instance I would point out the elephant in the room of Christianity, food. Food kills a great many more people each year than alcohol. And in churches (at least those which seem to be more focussed on avoiding sin than loving each other and others) this elephant isn’t discussed much if at all. And I don’t think that anyone is about to suggest that we avoid food because of the moral issue that it has become for 60-70% of Americans who are addicted. Could food be causing some to stumble? It looks to me like it is.
Before I get too ridiculous I will stop. My point is that these claims that we should hold each other accountable and not cause each other to stumble can very quickly become a super slipperly slope when they are taken away from the narrow window in which I believe they are to be applied. And again I will say that I think this is real hot potato to be handled very delicately by very mature Christ followers when there is the rare cause for it under appropriate circumstances.
As I was running I also thought of another angle on this “stumbling” issue. 20 is very offended by a beer, but I know for a fact that 20 has grown up going to movies. Maybe 20 doesn’t realize that the denomination of which 20 is a part and with which 20’s university is affiliated, has historically been very outspoken about this industry and has preached for decades, until very recently, that it was to be avoided. There are still many in that denomination who would view someone from their church going to movies as just the kind of stumble 20 is talking about. So would 20 feel like 20 ought to cut out movies? Maybe 20 would. And I think that would be sad. And I think 20 is thinking about this in a naive way which is probably just due to 20 being 20-something. And I think 20 is not applying those passages of scripture to the proper situation. And I think getting in a scripture shouting argument where people beat each other with differing interpretations of verses that are often taken out of context is dangerous, very dangerous. And 20 will learn. And I do love the passion that 20 shows. And I do love that 20 has an ideal that 20 wants to meet.
But it also helps me realize that there is value in the heritage that I have and that I do not want to forget this. A lot of good work has been done by those before me. I am 30-something, and those that are 50-something and 60-something and 70-something have a lot more life experience than me. A lot of good thinking has been done by them. And while they thought themselves into a box in some ways that I don’t like, not everything in the box is oppressive. And while I have worked and continue to work to get out of the box, I want to be willing to keep what was good about the box. And I don’t want to judge. And I don’t want to throw stones. And I do want to love. And I do want to show grace. And I do want to show mercy. And I do not want to misapply scripture. And I do want to become more like Christ (which is holiness).
And I don’t want to find someday that I have just built a different box.
Thanks for reading.