Lawful, But Not Expedient
Vol: 146 Issue: 27 Wednesday, November 27, 2013
If a Christian knows that his Butterball turkey has been slaughtered in such a way as to qualify as having been “sacrificed unto idols” should he eat it?
Yesterday’s OL set off an unintended firestorm of controversy and I want to make sure to set the record straight.
I chose Acts 10:14-15 to explain why Christians are not subject to the Old Testament dietary laws because it is such a simple and direct statement. I didn’t expect it to be such a controversial choice.
Peter sees something like a tablecloth filled with all manner of unclean beasts. Peter hears a voice, saying, “Rise, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:14-15)
More than a few of you emailed me to explain that I had misinterpreted that verse and that it really referred to whether or not Peter, a Jew, could enter the home of a Gentile, specifically, Cornelius.
That is an interesting observation, although in terms of Christian doctrine, a bit confusing.
It’s a bit like the interpretation of the Second Amendment that says the right to bear arms is granted to the militia and by extension, reserved for the government. Nobody ever discusses why a government created by armed revolution would feel the need to retroactively grant ITSELF the right to bear arms.
Why would the (primarily) Gentile Church need a lesson in Judaism? It is hard to see the lasting doctrinal value to the Church exemplified by a Jew entering the home of a believing Gentile such as Cornelius.
Especially at the expense of ignoring what actually WAS a doctrinal controversy, to wit; whether or not the Church is subject to Mosaic Law.
The passage DIRECTLY references unclean foods and only obliquely links to Peter’s meeting with Cornelius;
“And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
This is a lesson applicable to devout Jews that come to Christ. But I was born a Gentile. An entire chapter of Scripture devoted to the lesson that Jews won’t be defiled by coming to my house seems a bit, ummm, unnecessary?
Even before Peter had this vision, Peter said he had been chosen specifically to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles.
“And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.” (Acts 15:7)
It therefore seems probable that Peter expected to encounter some.
We need to address the question of the halal Butterballs first. I think the question was articulated best in a post in our members-only forum;
“If I’m served a butterball turkey on Thanksgiving day will a prayer breaking the curse placed on this food and then giving thanks to God for his provision be acceptable to my Lord? Or must I refrain from eating food sacrificed to this false god? In other words will the power of the spoken word by a child of the King remove the curse and cleanse the food?”
Absolutely. The point is not that Butterball turkeys have some spiritual power because they were butchered as an offering to Allah — unless one sees Allah as something more than a false god.
“As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.” (1 Corinthians 8:4)
So for a blood-bought, born-again Christian, eating a Butterball is not a sin. No faux blessing by a false god can have any significance to food blessed by the God of Heaven. “What God hath cleansed, call thou not common.”
“Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” (1 Corinthians 8:7-8)
Whether or not we eat a Butterball turkey makes no difference to God, either for the better or for the worse, Scripture says. So what’s the big deal?
“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of your’s become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” (1 Corinthians 8:9-11)
What it means is that there is no sin in your eating a Butterball turkey, or any other halal-certified food, UNLESS doing so might be seen as endorsing halal as having spiritual significance by someone who is weak in the faith.
The point is not that Christians cannot or should not eat a Butterball turkey. We have the liberty in Christ to eat whatever we choose. But if eating a Butterball turkey validates halal as spiritually significant in the eyes of someone else, THEN it is sin.
“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (1 Corinthians 8:12-13)
And THAT is the beef with Butterball (pun intended.) When it was just a turkey, it didn’t matter to me who blessed it before it got to my table. I blessed it in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Name above every Name.
But now that I know that it was first sacrificed to idols, I won’t ever eat one again because everybody else knows that I know that it was first sacrificed to idols. It doesn’t mean anything to ME — but it might mean something to them.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)
“Lawful” means “unrestricted by law.” “Expedient” means, “advantageous for practical rather than moral reasons“.
For example, it is “lawful” for a Christian to smoke — there is no law forbidding it.
But if you are preaching the power of Christ to change lives while still chained to a tobacco addiction yourself, well, I think you can see where that would not be advantageous to your effort.
It is lawful for a Christian to eat anything, but if you are preaching the power of Christ to change lives while unable to bring your own weight under control, then it would not be expedient to make your case while downing your third ice-cream sundae.
So, it is lawful to eat foods that have been sacrificed to idols, but it may not always be expedient. Because you know that idols have no spiritual power and so their blessing is equally powerless, however, doesn’t mean that others understand your liberty in Christ.
In this particular instance, appearances are important. The question isn’t what it looks like to God — God knows the heart. But let’s look at it from the human perspective.
Here you are, Joe Christian, sitting down to your Butterball turkey which you bought to symbolize the generosity of God and also as a symbol of your dependence upon His provision and gratitude for His bounty.
But you choose as your symbol, a turkey butchered in the name of a different ‘god’ because you like that brand better.
What does that say to a new Christian, or someone contemplating that first step of faith, about how seriously you take your faith?
So this year, we’re still having roast turkey with all the trimmings. But it won’t be a Butterball. Eating a turkey sacrificed to Allah is certainly lawful.
But under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be expedient.
Note: This OL caused quite a stir for Jack back in 2011. Tonight begins Hanukkah which rarely coincides with Thanksgiving so it seems appropriate to update the fellowship with this Letter. Although Butterball claims they no longer practice Halal, there may have been consequences. Is this just another conspiracy theory? Pete Garcia’s column today, “Conspiracy Theory” shows us that often times the truth is stranger than fiction.