Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Is It Okay for Christians to Eat Pork?"

Kay was talking with a friend and a question came up regarding pork. Some say that Christians should abstain from it as the Old Testament commands. What should Kay say to religious friends who tell her that eating pork is wrong?

Before getting started, I ask my Jewish friends who follow Christ and my friends who grew up under Islam but who now follow Christ, to please just go with your conscience on this one. That will please God.

Paul wrote:

“. . . food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”
1 Corinthians 8:8

Here Paul is discussing meat that has been offered to idols. Some believers felt that the gods behind these idols had powers. Paul believed that there being only one true God, that if a person had faith in the Lord Jesus, then they needn't fret. Yet Paul gives room for those who cannot confidently eat such meat, and reminds mature believers to consider other believers’ consciences. People need to be confident in their actions; that they are pleasing to God.

If a brother wasn’t sure and, seeing me eating “forbidden” meat (according to his understanding) himself ate anyway, maybe to avoid a scene, his conscience would suffer,

“…because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Romans 14:23

Paul advises we simply not discuss or publicly eat such meats that are questionable for the sake of your brother or sister who has the “weaker conscience.”

Ever notice how “Christians” who try to impose dietary restrictions, present it as if they have some deeper or fuller revelation of God? Yet the scriptures say that those who are not free to eat are the ones who are actually “weaker” in their faith.

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
Romans 14:1-6

People who nay-say Porky and friends, usually site Leviticus 11. Here Moses lists foods that are either "clean" or "unclean." Only “clean” animals could be sacrificed to God. People worshiping Israel’s God, had to abstain from eating the meat of unclean animals. What animals were edible?

"You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud."
verse 5

The pig has the split hoof, but with only one stomach, it doesn't chew the cud. It was an unclean animal. (I'm guessing incumbents don't have split hooves?) Leviticus 11 goes on to list what birds, sea animals, and insects are clean or unclean. Eating anything unclean disqualified one from participation in worship until certain ceremonial cleansing took place.

God says,

"I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground."
verse 44

God's not talking about diet and health issues. He created mankind to worship Him as God. His people were coming to a land filled with pagan practices that they were not to imitate. These Israelites were to be a people obviously peculiar, and set apart for their God (holy). Their entire identity was about worshiping the one true God. They were to be a beacon to the world. If foreigners wanted to leave their false gods to worship the one true God, they had to come to Jerusalem.

Jesus came to complete the law. (Including dietary laws.) With Christ’s suffering, Leviticus became the Old Covenant. In Christ, the New Covenant between God and man was not law, but grace. The blood of the Old was sheep and bulls and etc.; specific sacrifices for specific uncleanness. The blood for the New Testament sacrifice was to be the blood of Jesus, which cleanses completely, once and for all. Even before Jesus went to the cross, He declared "all foods clean."

Once after explaining what is "clean" or "unclean," Jesus’ disciples pulled Him aside, asking Him to clarify. Jesus explained:

"Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean?' For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
Mark 7:19

This was radical! Jesus turned "clean" and "unclean" from matters of ritual and religion, into matters of the heart! Serving God was no longer a matter of rules to follow, but of a cleansed conscience (no longer defiled). Conscience became the deciding factor with diet.

People talk about bad or good consciences. We read more in scripture about “clear” or “weak," or “defiled” or “cleansed” consciences. The Holy Spirit is better heard with a clean conscience. Hebrews says of the Old Covenant:

“…the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”
Hebrews 9:9

And of the New:

"The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"
Hebrews 9:13,14

Jesus brought eternal connection with God. Christ became the ultimate sacrifice. The old regulations were no longer the requirements to serve God. Christ’s blood applied to the believer is what's required.

"They (Old Testament dietary laws) are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings-external regulations applying until the time of the new order."
Hebrews 9:10

Before Christ people had to go to Jerusalem to worship God in His Temple. Now the Holy Spirit indwells believers, and we are sent out “into all the world.” People today meet God through Jesus, and perhaps study Leviticus later.

In Acts chapter 10, Peter has a vision. God was extending his Kingdom to the world. Peter envisioned a sheet lowered with all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds inside the sheet. God said in the vision, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." Peter objected, protesting that he never ate anything unclean. But God insisted, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Peter needed that to go to a gentile home. Cornelius, the gentile, and his household were subsequently baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God was extending beyond Jerusalem. Would Jews in Christ, who observed Leviticus, make room for these people? This was no small shift in thinking!

Later in chapter 15, the Jewish believers had to decide if they were going to accept as brothers and sisters in Christ, followers of Jesus who were not compelled to adopt Judaism, along with their new faith in God. Change doesn't come easily to any of us. How much harder must this have been to see non-Jews worshiping God; yet obviously not ritually clean according to Leviticus!

Thankfully, the Jerusalem believers recognized what God was doing, and understood that through faith in Christ, God was also imparting to non-Jewish believers, His Holy Spirit. After much discussion the Jewish believers wrote a welcoming letter to the new gentile believers, recognizing them as family in Christ. They only had this to say about food:

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."
Acts 15:28,29

God loves His people. Leviticus was never meant to exclude, but to set up a city on a hill. Israel would help others find the one true God, amidst all the false gods of the world. Christ came fulfilling all the law. Thereby whosoever would enter God’s Gate (Jesus) can now do so. We now can worship God as we were created to do. It isn’t about the diet. It is about being right in our hearts with God. Then we can be free in our hearts to connect with Him always.

So Kay, as long as you aren’t chasing Arnold or Wilbur (or whatever your pig’s name is), around with a knotted rope, I think you are good to go. Maybe just don’t invite that particular friend to dinner today, (or my cardiologist).

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