Christians and Coke
When I visited Switzerland I discovered that some Swiss Christians were upset because American Christians drank Coke. We can use this as an illustration to help us understand the various responses Christians have to exercising freedom in “doubtful” areas.
One response is that of the professional weaker brother. He usually has been a Christian for years. He is not in danger of stumbling. His spiritual identity—his place in the spiritual pecking order—is centered around the kinds of things he doesn’t do, and he is proud he doesn’t do them.
The professional weaker brother says, “Coke is out for me. I’m proud of the fact I don’t drink Coke.” He also says, “Coke is out for everybody else. And I am a self-appointed inspector.”
I believe people like this have crippled the evangelistic enterprise of the church. They need to be confronted in love and challenged with the wrong they are doing. They have assumed that only one lifestyle should exist in the body of Christ, and they demand that the church polarize around this carefully prescribed lifestyle rather than recognize what the Bible teaches.
Paul said in Romans 14 that both those who cannot eat meat offered to idols and those who have freedom before the Lord to do so are authentic members of Christ’s body. Paul does not reject either of them, but instead gives guidelines for their mutual acceptance.
Many in our churches, however, have come to the false conclusion that the lifestyle of those who don’t eat meat is the spiritual lifestyle. But that is not what the passage teaches. It is not either-or, but both-and. Both these kinds of people need to be affirmed within the church. Neither is to judge the other.
You’ll discover that the meat eater is always more effective in evangelism and discipleship. He has a greater ability to draw near. I’m speaking, of course, about exercising freedom in spiritually neutral areas. The Lord was a friend of sinners, but he did not sin in the process.
Another response to these issues is that of genuine weaker brothers who could actually stumble. If they don’t have freedom before the Lord to drink Coke but are persuaded (against their conscience) to drink one, they sin.
I believe we cripple ourselves by trying too hard to protect this weaker brother rather than educating him. Without proper teaching this brother moves easily into the camp of the professional weaker brother.
So we have weaker brothers, both professional and genuine, who because of weakness or immaturity do not participate in certain practices. A third response is that of the mature nonparticipating brother. He does have freedom before the Lord to drink Coke but chooses to limit his liberty, something I hope we’re all mature enough to do when it’s necessary.
But there is also a mature participating brother. He has no problem with drinking Coke. And though he drinks Coke, he is mature first of all in that he is not a champion of his liberty, which would be an error. Second, he is sensitive to the weaker brother. Generally, this brother has the greatest potential for evangelism because he has a broader base for effective contact and cultivation.
Evangelism and discipleship are risky. Emerson said he once heard the counsel, “Always do what you’re afraid to do,” and I think there is some truth to that. We should not limit God’s penetration into his world, but instead allow his Spirit to blow into the sails of our lives and drive us into unchartered waters—and not disappoint God by taking down those sails.
Another mark of our prince or princess is freedom from legalism. We are legalists by nature, and it is much easier to live legalistically than to enjoy the risk of the freedom Christ calls us into. Legalism is a spiritual lobotomy that leaves people alive but not living. Our churches are full of it.
These are the qualities our prince or princess should have: an all-consuming purpose, a sacrificial spirit, cultural sensitivity, the ability to handle criticism, and freedom from legalism. This is the kind of disciple we want to deploy into the world.
We can now consider another critical question.