Ever googled “Is it okay for a Christian to…” and then filled in the blank with everything from watching Game of Thrones to cremation, attending a gay wedding to getting a tattoo, practicing yoga to drinking wine?
You’re not alone.
But don’t get the answer off the internet.
There’s a better way.
I sketched the following out on a whiteboard at the start of our most recent weekend series, and one of my faithful staffers polished it up a bit for better consumption. I used it as a schematic of sorts on how to walk through things that present themselves to us in our modern day.
Let me take you through it, and see what you think.
Finding out whether something is “okay” begins with the top left box, which reflects going to the Bible to see what it has to say. If you want to know whether something is okay for a Christian, then you need to start with the authoritative guide for Christ-following.
When you do, you’ll find that the Bible gives you one or more of three answers: permission, prohibition or principles.
If blanket permission is granted, your investigation is complete. You are free to partake or pursue. If there is a direct prohibition, then you are not.
But most of the time, particularly in regard to many of the issues puzzling Christians in our culture, there is neither a blanket permission or prohibition. More often than not, it’s thrown into the “freedom” box of life.
But it’s not cut-loose freedom; it’s freedom within the confines of a set of biblical principles. These principles form the boundary lines for freedom in Christ.
So is that the end of it? You simply pursue the freedom you’ve been given in light of the principles of the Bible?
There is another box, perhaps best labeled “wisdom.” While you and I may have joint freedom in Christ on a particular issue, it might be foolish for me to exercise it, but not for you. We all have backgrounds and dispositions, histories and inclinations, strengths and weaknesses.
Less sophisticated is just common-sense wisdom. Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean it’s smart.
(You may be free to get that tattoo, but having “I love Samantha” inked on your arm at 16 may not be smart when you might start dating Sarah at 17, or want to marry Sharon at 23.)
Finally, there is the consideration of living out our lives before a watching world. In this regard, the apostle Paul gives two primary guidelines: first, do not do anything that would lead the world to believe you have disavowed Christ and worship another god; and second, do not exercise your freedom in a manner that would lead a fellow believer in close proximity into sin themselves.
Let’s call these ideas “witness” and “weakness.”
This is the gauntlet you run the questions of life through.
Sounds simple enough, but knowing how to do so is one of the principle lessons of discipleship, and few invest the time and energy needed to engage its dynamics.
As mentioned, at Meck we just completed an eight-week journey through this very exercise. Here were the eight topics we explored:
Is it okay for a Christian to…
…watch Game of Thrones? (or anything rated “R”)
…drink wine or smoke marijuana?
…participate in, or even go to, a gay wedding?
…vote for _________? (many ways to fill in this blank)
…get a tattoo, be cremated or have cosmetic surgery?
…not go to church?
If you’re interested in the series, you can get it here. It has already proven to be one of the most popular series in the history of our church through various metrics we track.
People want to know what’s “okay.”
They just don’t know how to find out.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.