Thursday, March 21, 2013
Christian Food Laws
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Food Laws for Christians:
Q: Do Christians have any food laws similar to the other religions of the world?
Across the religious spectrum, food seems to be a distinguishing characteristic. The Hindu religion, among others, requires vegetarianism. Buddhism encourages the same, but without making it absolutely mandatory. Islam and Judaism both have regulations regarding animals from which their meat, milk, and eggs may be eaten and from which they may not.
To give the clearest pictures of food laws in Christianity, it is necessary first to review the beginning of the story. In the beginning, we can conclude that all of creation was vegetarian, because there was no death. Some have concluded that this means God’s will is for humans to be forever vegetarian, but this is a very rare stance for Christians to take.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and brought sin into the world, that sin also brought death, and God Himself clothed them with the skins of animals to cover their shame. At the end of the flood, God explicitly permits Noah and his descendants to have “every living thing that moves” as food. This continues through the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the people of Israel through their slavery in Egypt.
After rescuing them from slavery to the Egyptians, God establishes a ritual separation between His people and the other nations of the world, and a part of that separation is the food laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which declared certain animals, their milk, and eggs, “clean” or “unclean.” In addition to ritual separation, these laws, which parallel sacrificial standards, also point forward to Jesus as their fulfillment and serve to preserve His ancestral line from being assimilated into idolatrous nations.
These laws are still followed by the Jewish people today, as well as by a very small minority of Christians who have taken about re-establishing these laws among themselves, either for ethical reasons (because they believe God desires Christians to follow them) or for practical reasons (because they see them as good practical advice, even though not morally required).
Throughout the Old Testament, God confirmed these laws as a condition of the Israelites’ privilege of inhabiting their Promised Land, and criticized the Israelites when they failed to keep them. Even though the Prophets criticize the Gentiles for their immorality and idolatry, they do not criticize them for their failure to keep these ritual standards; that they reserve only for Israel.
As Mark (Ch. 7) records the events of Jesus life in his Gospel, he includes Jesus saying, “Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him…what comes out of a person is what defiles him,” then explains that by this saying, Jesus “declared all foods clean.”
In Acts 10, Peter is given a vision by God of a sheet coming down from heaven with “every kind of animal” on it, which God invites Peter to “Get up, kill, and eat.” When Peter objects that he may not eat “unclean” creatures, God responds, “Do not call unclean what God has made clean.”
In the book of Galatians, Paul describes the laws of Israel as being like a temporary guardian or schoolmaster set in place for Israel that is now unnecessary after the coming of Jesus, therefore returning Christians to the moral standards in place at the time of Abraham and Noah, rather than the additional civil and ceremonial standards set in place by the law of Moses.
Acts 15 records a council where the Apostles meet to resolve certain issues about the observance of the Old Testament law by Gentiles. At this council, James advises Gentiles to refrain from sexual immorality, things polluted by idols, meat that has been strangled, and blood (taking for granted that they observe the Ten Commandments and other moral laws affirmed elsewhere in the New Testament).
The three restrictions on food in this proclamation, however, are not a binding declaration for Christians of all times, but rather a compromise by the apostles to keep peace between the Jewish and Gentile Christians of that time and place. We understand this because we see Paul giving both the Romans and the Corinthians more permissive advice regarding these things in his letters.
Ultimately, we see that arguments of food, drink, holidays, and such are completely foreign to the Spirit of Christianity, which emphasizes God’s forgiveness of our failure to keep His law and the free Grace delivered by the Holy Spirit to all who trust in Jesus, who on the Last Day will usher in an eternal feast of fine wine and meat without death (Isaiah 25).