Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Is it OK for Christians to be vegetarians/vegans?

I receive questions from time to time and usually answer them via email. This was on a topic not often raised (in my sphere) so I thought I'd answer it here as well as having answered the person individually.

Q. I have a question.

Lately I have been reading about health benefits of eating primarily vegetables and eliminating or reducing meats and dairy from a person's diet. I listened to one of John Macarthur's sermons on seducing spirits from 1 Timothy 4, and it does say everything God created is good.

Meat and dairy seem to be linked to many of the diseases we have in this country and western civilization. For health reasons is it ok for a Christian to refrain from certain foods?

I would think we are free to choose based on health reasons, but 1 Tim 4 says everything God created is good. So I wonder.

A. Thank you for your question and for your long readership of my blog! I appreciate both so much.


The 1 Timothy 4 verse mentioned above is in verse 1-5,

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

The false teachers were forcing an asceticism on the Ephesians that the Bible doesn't command or even suggest. The John MacArthur Study Bible note says,
The false teachers' asceticism contradicted scripture, which teaches that since God created both marriage and food, (Genesis 1:28-31, 2:18-24, 9:3) they are intrinsically good (Genesis 1:31). and to be enjoyed with gratitude by believers. Obviously food and marriage are essential to life and procreation.
The point was, no one has the right to force an asceticism on anyone, and all foods should be gratefully received because when God made them, they were good.

In Acts 10:10-15 God declared all foods clean, meaning the dietary restrictions placed on the Israelites was lifted.

On the more practical side of things, everything God created was good. Key detail: was. In the original creation, everything was perfect. When Man sinned and fell from grace, pollution and death entered the world. Botulism, salmonella, e coli, and other diseases cause us to select and prepare food very carefully. Our compromised human immune systems and tendency toward disease means we have to watch what we eat, especially if we have been diagnosed with celiac disease, diabetes, or other food-related conditions.

It falls to an individual's Christian conscience as to what foods you would like to consume and how clean the conditions are when you prepare it.

I myself refrain from eating meat for both financial and taste reasons. I'm also a celiac and so for health reasons have to restrict gluten from my diet. There are many reasons one may want to restrict certain foods from their diet.

Because food restrictions are not prohibited nor commanded in the New Testament for NT believers, it falls in the gray area of Christian liberty. Even within these matters where there are no details, the Bible gives guidance.

Paul wrote about the law of Liberty in Romans 14 and one of his examples was food. See the verses below.

For one man has faith to eat all things, while another, who is weak, eats only vegetables. 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. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Rom 14:2-4.

In his example of those who eat only vegetables being 'weak', don't worry, he is not saying vegetarianism is a character flaw, lol. The context is one where the Christian who was refraining from eating meat was afraid to get involved in eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. That's no longer an issue since even the last remnants of the sacrificial system have dwindled away.

1 Timothy 4:3 says, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

Here we see that food only becomes an issue when someone holding to some kind of authority imposes restrictions upon another. This is wrong, for God declared all foods clean. (Acts 10:15-16).

So if the question is one of personal conscience, health, or desire, and is not biblically forbidden, then not eating meat becomes a question of individual liberty, i.e. individual choice. As long as we're not doing something that might cause a weaker brother to stumble, or judging someone by what they do/don't eat, and we're not violating a biblical prescription, one may eat or not eat as one feels is physically wise and spiritually acceptable.

It's worth noting that in the original creation, man was a vegetarian. He will be again in the future Millennial Kingdom.

Here is a resource John MacArthur recommended on the topic of dietary restrictions for the Israelites,
There's an excellent paperback book called None of These Diseases, a little paperback by Dr. S.I. McMillen. Some of you may have read it. It's very helpful in telling you why God gave Israel many of their laws regarding communicable diseases and dietary laws and what they could eat and so forth and so on.
Here is Ligonier Ministry with an essay on Christian Liberty guiding the believer when it comes to gray areas-

4 Principles for the Exercise of Christian Liberty

Friends, weigh in. What has been your experience with eating or not eating certain foods? (a different topic from the spiritual discipline of fasting)

Comments welcome below.

3 comments:

  1. "Friends, weigh in." Funny way of phrasing it given the topic is food. LOL!

    Anyhow, I think you covered this topic quite well. This is certainly an area where believers should not lord it over one another, nor take personal pride.

    There are some foods I do not eat because they do not agree with me, and some I avoid because I just don't like them. And I am always happy to adjust whatever I cook to accommodate my guests health issues and/or personal preferences.

    -Carolyn

    ReplyDelete
  2. ""Friends, weigh in." Funny way of phrasing it given the topic is food. LOL!
    "

    LOL you saw what I did there. I'm punny, ain't I ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Elizabeth, I really appreciate you addressing this topic. This has been a concern of mine for some time. Like you, I have come to that scripture in 1 Timothy 4 and wondered how it fit the current fads in our society. Sadly even sincere Christians have bought into much of the food hysteria in our day.

    I have three adult children, all unbelievers. Two of them have bought into the "clean eating/gluten-free/non-gmo" fad at least during the week and then they will "splurge" on the weekend or on vacation. They are very strict with this diet and also try to force it on their elementary age children. They are so militant about it that it truly seems like a religion to them , and they are very legalistic.

    My Christian friend has a grown son who is also into this and since he lives at home his food focus has influenced his parents. My friend limits what she eats as well and is probably about 20 pounds underweight. She and her husband were once out to eat without their son and ate something he would disapprove of. They actually felt guilty for doing so!

    Last year my husband and I traveled overseas to visit some Christian friends. At that time, I was looking forward to getting away from what I call food hysteria in the US. Sadly, my Christian friend in UK was avoiding all milk products!! She had become convinced that they cause breast cancer. Ironically, in January of this year she had a stroke (she is in her 80's). Thankfully, it was rather mild and the Lord has restored her to health, though with a limp. Doesn't this just go to show that much of this is just hysteria?

    All of this has put me in a very difficult place for hospitality, as between them all the only things we can safely consume are fresh salmon, organic greens and expensive bottled water. Please understand that I am not talking about food sensitivity or allergy as those are certainly real and I have some myself. What I am talking about is otherwise healthy people who have been taught to avoid certain food and in some cases have become afraid of foods, as though food itself is somehow out to get them. The world of course, has its ideas, but for Christians to buy into this is really concerning to me. Also, there is a certain self-righteousness and preachiness that come with these convictions. Not to mention fear. No one seems to be able to keep their own peace about it but they set out to convince everybody else that they ought to act likewise. I began to wonder what the early Christians would have thought of all of this? What food could they afford, indeed, what would the majority of people throughout history think of this? Most people (I would guess) are thankful for what they can get, even if it is "unclean" by the standards of some. What was the Apostle Paul given to eat while in prison? And yet later he was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to write: ...everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

    When I pointed my Christian friends to the scripture they waved it away. These ladies would be adherents to "sola scriptura" but when it hits home they don't want scripture but the world's wisdom. One of them said to me that God also gave us a brain and expects us to use it (?). The other one pointed out Romans 14 where it says that we have freedom to eat or not eat. I had to wonder though where was Romans 14 when she was trying to convince me that certain foods were not good?

    Here is what I say, and I am in my 60's. Moderation in all things. Be sensible. Don't be afraid of food. Instead be thankful. Trust our sovereign God - every day that is appointed to you is granted by Him and He sets the beginning and end of life.

    Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
    And in Your book were all written
    The days that were ordained for me,
    When as yet there was not one of them. Psalm 139:16

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