Is It Right To Fire a Church Planter for Drinking Beer?

Scott has the first notice and the Christian Post has the details.

Very few things take church planter Charles Hill by surprise.   But when a group that agreed to support his new ministry work in the middle of a predominantly Mormon community suddenly pulled its financial backing and gave him the boot, he was totally caught off guard.  Hill had just begun to host Bible studies and reach out to the unchurched and those who were seeking something outside of the dominant religious preference in Utah – where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered – when he got fired.  He was allegedly let go because he drank half a beer in public during the new “Beer and Bible” meeting he started last month.  While he was told that was the main issue, he doesn’t have all the details because he didn’t receive a phone call or e-mail from the decision makers, he said. His boss, whom he respects and who had given him permission to conduct “Beer and Bible,” broke the news to him a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s the situation, as I see it.  First, is the beer drinking the central issue or are there other things going on that we aren’t told of?  Second, was he drinking the beer just to ‘fit in’?  Third, is his theology ’emergent’? (because if it is, that’s plenty of reason to let him go in and of itself).  Fourth, was he unaware of the culture in which he was ministering and if so, why?  Mormon country is conservative country.   How many people who are of a conservative bent could tolerate seeing a Pastor boozing it up?  Fifth, and to me most importantly, there is Scriptural precedence for cultural sensitivity: 1 Corinthians 8.  Simply change ‘food sacrificed to idols’ to any other issue of adiaphora, and voila, a theology of behavior every Christian and certainly every missionary should live by-

1 Now about food which has been dedicated to false gods. We are well aware that all of us have knowledge; but while knowledge puffs up, love is what builds up. 2 Someone may think that he has full knowledge of something and yet not know it as well as he should; 3 but someone who loves God is known by God. 4 On the subject of eating foods dedicated to false gods, we are well aware that none of the false gods exists in reality and that there is no God other than the One. 5 Though there are so-called gods, in the heavens or on earth — and there are plenty of gods and plenty of lords- 6 yet for us there is only one God, the Father from whom all things come and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things come and through whom we exist. 7 However, not everybody has this knowledge. There are some in whose consciences false gods still play such a part that they take the food as though it had been dedicated to a god; then their conscience, being vulnerable, is defiled, 8 But of course food cannot make us acceptable to God; we lose nothing by not eating it, we gain nothing by eating it. 9 Only be careful that this freedom of yours does not in any way turn into an obstacle to trip those who are vulnerable. 10 Suppose someone sees you, who have the knowledge, sitting eating in the temple of some false god, do you not think that his conscience, vulnerable as it is, may be encouraged to eat foods dedicated to false gods? 11 And then it would be through your knowledge that this brother for whom Christ died, vulnerable as he is, has been lost. 12 So, sinning against your brothers and wounding their vulnerable consciences, you would be sinning against Christ. 13 That is why, if food can be the cause of a brother’s downfall, I will never eat meat any more, rather than cause my brother’s downfall.

Vv 10ff are particularly relevant, mutatis mutandis.

In answer, then, to the question, yes- it is right to fire a church planter- if he disregards clear scriptural teaching. If Mr Hill wanted to drink beer, he could do it in the privacy of his own home, where it remains between him and God.

9 thoughts on “Is It Right To Fire a Church Planter for Drinking Beer?

  1. Fr. Robert (Anglican) 28 Apr 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I almost bit down on this one, i.e. ..subject. lol But as an Irishman, and an Anglican I will say nothing but what St. Paul said: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10: 31, ESV)

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  2. Rev Tony Buglass 28 Apr 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Jesus wasn’t teetotal, neither am I. Jesus didn’t get drunk, neither do it. Jesus met with people where they are – when I can escape church meetings, I like to do the same. I had a long and deep conversation with a man in a bar a few years ago, at the end of which he said “I reckoned I could talk to you men to man ‘cos you’ve got a pint in your hand. If it had been a fruit juice or a sherry, I wouldn’t have come near you.” Yes, that might be something culturally relative to Britain which isn’t the same as Utah -but I bet there are bars in downtown Salt Lake City full of sinners who’d appreciate someone getting alongside them with the gospel, and if that meant having a beer with them so be it.

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    • Jim 28 Apr 2010 at 4:08 pm

      you dont know utah. your ‘openness’ to drinking may play in yorkshire but it wont in utah. it couldnt.

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  3. Phil H. 28 Apr 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Hey Jim,

    1 Cor 8-10 doesn’t work so well in regard to having a drink of beer in the presence of overly up tight Christians. Paul was concerned with perceptions of idolatry, of worshipping the Greek and Roman gods (a major issue, not just a matter of eating or drinking what you like or refraining because someone else doesn’t like), when he advocated abstention from food sacrificed to idols in the presence of other followers of Jesus whose “weakness” might lead them to see such actions as idolatry. So the analogy doesn’t work on many levels, although I agree that it is nice to consider the feelings of others regardless of what we are doing (you don’t need a specific verse or passage to suggest that that is good). So I would very much question whether firing the guy was right. BTW, emerging out of miry conservatism isn’t quite as bad as you imply.

    Phil

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    • Jim 28 Apr 2010 at 5:02 pm

      but phil, paul’s central concern (whatever the cultural conditions) was that the action of one christian should not drive a wedge between believers in matters that are, essentially, indifferent. beer isn’t the issue now any more than meat was then. the issue is putting others first and not self.

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  4. bobcargill 28 Apr 2010 at 5:13 pm

    jim,

    is there even a protestant reformation if there is no beer??

    bc

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    • Jim 28 Apr 2010 at 5:28 pm

      sure. probably. maybe. i dont know. anyway, everyone in wittenberg, zurich, and geneva drank like fish. so none of their compatriots would have been bothered by it at all.

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  5. Emerson 28 Apr 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Even more odd, the Mennonites of the not-so-distant past were quite the beer-drinkers themselves. They even developed a reputation in southern Manitoba for being skillful brewers. Nowadays we play off as “ultra-conservative” legalists, a real ferment for some good jokes.

    Jim, what about the “smarten-up and get over it” factor that plays a part in Paul’s behavior theology? “The man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.” Rom. 14:3b. This verse implies that the “man who does not eat everything” is quite aware of the practices of the man who does. In other words, the strong brother is doing this in public (certainly couldn’t be a secret thing); and Paul is rebuking the weaker brother for getting angry about it. The situation works vice versa obviously.

    Paul also got ripping angry with Peter for drawing away from table-fellowship with Gentiles when the “weaker” men from James came around. It would have been more appropriate for Peter to offend the Jerusalem brothers’ consciences than to act as if the Jewish conscience still takes precedent over how we interact with Gentiles.

    I really doubt Paul would have us take 1 Cor.8 and Rom.14 to the extreme of “closetifying” everything in our life that might offend someone else.

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  6. Emerson 28 Apr 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Also,

    We haven’t really established that this church-planting fella was booted for reasons of offending local conservatives. It could equally be that his employers were just offended that one of their staff would drink beer. I have seen this attitude alot as I have grown up in the church. Oh so many of the clergy and the laity still think that drinking beer is a sinful thing for Christians to do. They take action against it.

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