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.