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Christian Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth

God’s command against Vegetarianism?
By: Neville Fowler

The apostles and all the first Christians were Jews. They believed that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah who had come to liberate the Jews and re-establish their national independence. The crucifixion seemed to dash all hopes of that. But then came the resurrection and the risen Christ reminded them that first it was necessary for him to die and go to heaven. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” He told the ones He met on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:25). Later, just before His ascension, the disciples asked him whether the time had now come when he would “restore the kingdom to Israel.” (Acts 1:6). Jesus told them that it was not for them to know the date when this would occur. His promise to them was that he would come again (John 14:3). That promise was repeated at his ascension by two angels who said to the disciples “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven.” Thus it continued to be the hope of the believers that the Messiah would come again to establish God’s kingdom. Jesus had taught them to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Matthew 6:9,10. Their ancestors had always looked for the setting up in Israel of just such an everlasting kingdom, yet the Jews had been without a proper king on David’s throne for over 500 years, ever since the captivity in Babylon. Almost 2000 years later, Jews and Christians eagerly await the coming of the Messiah in power and glory.

The Kingdom: Jewish or Universal?

The hope of the early Christians, who were all Jews, was altogether centred on their own nation and race. Though Jesus had told them they must preach the good news of the coming kingdom in all the world, they still thought this meant merely to all the Jews of the Diaspora, scattered in all the nations. Even on the day of Pentecost at the wonderful inauguration of the Christian Church the apostles preached only to devout Jews from all the nations who had come up to Jerusalem for the festival (see Acts 2:5). They did not imagine that God could mean to give non-Jews a part to play in His work. For a Jew it was not permissible to enter a Gentile home, still less to eat with Gentiles. These early Christians were a long way from grasping that God’s plan embraces people from all the nations, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. An unambiguous demonstration was needed to convince them that this was indeed the will of our Father in Heaven. God had a dramatic event planned to do just that when the time was ripe for it! You can read all about it in the book of Acts, chapter 10.

The good soldier

In Caesarea lived a Roman soldier, a centurion of the Italian Regiment, named Cornelius. He had been stationed in Palestine for a considerable time and had a family and many friends. He had learned a lot about the Jewish religion and had come to believe in Jehovah, the true God. He was a devout and generous man, well thought of in the local community. There was only one thing wrong with him in the eyes of the Jews: he was not a Jew. He was a Gentile.

One day, in the middle of the afternoon, Cornelius had a vision. God spoke to him and told him quite specifically that He had heard his prayers and that he must send messengers to Joppa, to a man called Simon Peter who was lodging with another Simon, a tanner, whose house was by the seashore. It seems that Cornelius must have been praying that God would enlighten him concerning the claims of the Christians, whether they were true or false. And God knew just the man to put him straight.

The good Jew

Joppa was a score or more miles further down the Mediterranean coast from Caesaria so Cornelius’s two servants, accompanied by a soldier, set off very early the next morning. Simon Peter had no idea they were on their way but at about mid-day he went up onto the flat roof of the house to pray, just as Cornelius’s men were approaching the city. He also began to get very hungry for the lunch that was being prepared downstairs but he fell into a trance. He had a vision of a great white sheet like a sail-cloth, its corners gathered and tied together, coming down out of the sky. When it reached the ground it opened and in it were all kinds of animals – mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. And a voice spoke saying “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And the voice spoke again: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This conversation was repeated three times and then the bundle of animals was withdrawn back up into the sky. Even as Simon was pondering the meaning of the vision, the three messengers were at the gate asking for him. He went down to meet them and soon learned the purpose of their mission. When he heard how Cornelius had been instructed by God to send for him he readily agreed to set off back with them the next morning. The meaning of his own vision had now become crystal clear to him. As he said to Cornelius as soon as he met him the next day: “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (verse 28).

God unlocks the door of the Church to Gentiles

Cornelius and his household were all gathered together to hear Peter explain the wonderful news that men and women can receive forgiveness of all their sins through faith in Jesus of Nazareth who has been ordained by God to be the judge of all when he comes again to this earth. Having heard it, they believed it and were baptised, the first non-Jews to be accepted into the Christian church. Peter had used a key given him by Christ to unlock the door of the kingdom for the Gentiles. A new era had dawned. Praise God!

Questions

Was the vision, which God gave to Peter, intended to show him that Christians must eat every kind of “animal and bird and creeping thing”? Some Christians allege that this is the obvious meaning of this vision and use it against vegetarian Christians, accusing them of dishonouring God by refusing to eat anything and everything He has created! But if their supposed interpretation is correct, why did Peter have to “wonder within himself what this vision which he had seen meant.” (verse 17)? If the superficial meaning of the mixed bag of animals and the command “rise, Peter, kill and eat” is the meaning God intended, what ‘wondering’ was there left for him to do? And if God did not intend Peter to understand literally the message ‘kill and eat any kind of living creature’, are not some people guilty of wresting and subverting scripture in their attempts to attack vegetarianism and to justify their own uncompassionate eating habits? In any case are they themselves prepared to eat anything that moves, like scorpions or blowflies? If not, do they dishonour God? But if it was not the ‘unclean’ animals, what was it that the voice referred to when it said,  “What God has cleansed . . . ”?

Answers

The truth is that this incident had nothing whatever to do with food. It is quite certain that Peter realised that. It is equally certain that as a Jew he did not himself begin to eat pigs, or hares, or vultures, or owls, or bats or any of the other creatures that God had given strict instructions should not be eaten. (See Leviticus 11). There is not a shred of evidence that he did. If he had understood that to be its meaning he would have been obliged to pass that teaching on to the other apostles and they too would have had to start breaking the Jewish dietary laws. The subsequent books of the New Testament would be replete with accounts of controversy between Christians and Jews over this matter. Yet many years later, when appearing before the Roman Governor Festus, Paul could claim to be absolutely blameless when it came to his strict adherence to the ‘Law of the Jews’. “Neither against the Law of the Jews . . . . have I offended anything at all.” (Acts 25:8). The real meaning of the vision is not that which these people invent for it but that which Peter understood and the bible plainly records: “God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” (verse 28). What God has declared clean through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit is ALL MEN AND WOMEN be they Jew or Gentile, people of all races, nations and tribes. Any person who interprets this event in the book of Acts as referring to the eating of animals is sadly lacking in spiritual sight.

God knows best

It is true that Christians are not bound to follow all the religious rules God gave to the Jews. The laws of ceremonies and festivals simply foreshadowed their fulfilment in Christ. Even so an understanding of those laws helps us to understand and appreciate what Jesus did for us and it is wise for us to have serious regard to all of God’s revelation in the bible and unwise to lightly dismiss any of it as having no meaning for us. Quite apart from the ‘religious’ aspect of much of Leviticus it is apparent that many of its provisions were intended to be beneficial from a health point of view, the caring instructions of a wise Creator Who knew, and still knows, what is best for His children. If humans have to eat animals it is safer for them to eat herbivorous ones rather than omnivorous and carnivorous ones. Whilst His original plan was for mankind to consume only plant foods direct and firsthand (Genesis 1:29), because of the changed earth conditions following the Great Flood He had permitted the eating of animal flesh, but had narrowed this down to exclude the flesh of carnivores and scavenging omnivores. Second hand protein was thus allowed, but not third hand! If Christendom had not so denigrated these Hebrew scriptures would anyone have been so stupid as to create the BSE catastrophe by forcing herbivorous cattle to be carnivores – and then eating them?! Most Christians are so dismissive of God’s revelation in the Old Testament scriptures that they even ignore the Noachic covenant which is mandatory for all of mankind descended from Noah. That covenant, whilst permitting the eating of the flesh of animals out of necessity, forbade the consumption of flesh with the blood. “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Genesis 9:4). They discount this command because it is in the Old Testament but they also ignore the clear record that when the elders of the early church met to consider, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what were to be the minimum requirements for Gentile Christians, they excluded circumcision, as being mandatory only for Jews, but included the prohibition on blood. This was because they recognised that this is God’s minimum requirement for all men, which all men should recognise and obey. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain . . from blood. .” (Acts 15:28,29). This is a matter in which many professed Christians are singularly careless. The result is that there is a loss of respect for life “For the life of the flesh is in the blood …therefore I said to the children of Israel, No-one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.” (Leviticus 17:11,12).  The prohibition was to apply also to the stranger, the alien, the Gentile. “For it is the life of all flesh. Blood sustains life.” (Leviticus 17:14). . It was not a mere superstitious regard for blood that God wanted to inculcate in mankind when He first gave Noah the instruction not to eat blood. It was a re-inforcement of His teaching on the sanctity of life. He had just destroyed a world so full of the violence that He regretted having made it. Even so, the new start with Noah and his family necessitated a permission to kill for food. Man must be taught, and must always remember, that this permission to kill for food does not signify a devaluation of life on God’s part. God knew that the regular and routine killing of animals for food might induce in men a callous disregard for life itself that could lead to a revival of all the horrors of the ante-diluvian world yet again. That is why he hedged around His permission to kill with these specific and strict requirements.

Salvation does not depend on the observance of outward rules and rituals or abstinence from particular foods. It is the gift of God through faith. But true faith is trust in God. It involves discipleship. God’s love for us in Jesus evokes our love for Him. Love is worked out in obedience, made possible by the working of God’s Holy Spirit. “If you love me, keep My commandments.”  (John 14:15). It behoves us to take the trouble to know what God’s commandments are by studying His Word in the bible and listening to His Word in our hearts and minds. “Walk as children of the light finding out what is acceptable to the Lord . . . redeeming the time because the days are evil . . . Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:8,10,16,17. Some who call themselves Christians seem to think that all that is required is to be able to quote, and often misquote and misapply, texts of scripture, and sing choruses or choral works and recite liturgies. If they imagine that the implications of being a Christian do not reach into every aspect of our lives they are gravely mistaken. For one thing, as Christians we believe that God does not dwell in temples made with hands but that each of us is called to be a part of the spiritual temple, the habitation of the Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians 6:16).

Laws of health not suspended for Christians!

We have a duty to treat our bodies with respect and value health when we are blessed with it as a gift from God. Surely God does not desire that we should eat things, which are known to be injurious to health?  As a Christian I am free if I so wish to eat anything (except blood). Nothing is ritually or religiously forbidden; but I know that some things are poisonous and other things bad for health. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” 1 Corinthians 10:23. If I recklessly endanger my health by consuming unhealthy food I cannot expect God’s approval. I am free if I so wish to eat rats, even sewer rats, but I would not do so or recommend it to others. If I totally disregard the laws of health and as a result become ill, am I justified in blaming God or anyone but myself? Yet many who call themselves Christians do exactly that. Parents, especially, have a responsibility to provide their children with healthy food and to teach them to avoid what is unsuitable. A Christian parent who said to his or her children: “Its okay kids, you can go ahead and eat whatever you like because we are Christians”, would be stupid and irresponsible, failing in his or her duty to God. To suppose that our liberation as Christians from the Jewish ceremonial law also frees us from the laws of health is as ridiculous as claiming that it frees us from the Law of Gravity! Christendom’s ignorance of God’s will in these matters has sadly led to a situation where humans, even Christians, are careless of their own responsibility for safeguarding their health

Love your neighbour as yourself

Love for our neighbour requires that we should not steal food from the mouths of the poor and hungry. That too has implications for our own dietary consumption and the type of agriculture and pattern of trade that sustains it. If my chosen diet requires ten acres to produce enough food for me because I insist on eating great quantities of meat, and the world has only half an acre of cultivatable land per person, is my diet ‘Christian’? To live simply that others may simply live, is a motto that becomes a Christian. To eat regardless of others needs, or even of others feelings, is a selfish arrogance, which should be alien to the Christian life. Sadly such insensitivity is all too common amongst those professing to be Christians. Again, if we knowingly cause unnecessary cruelty to animals, that is a spiritual matter. It is a heinous sin. It is an appalling thing that Christians are willing, nay eager for no better reason than that it is cheaper, to buy food produced in factory farms which cause great suffering to animals. In some cases it is even professed Christians who run such establishments for no other motive than filthy lucre. Can it be believed that such persons are opening their lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

“The weak eat only vegetables”!

In their efforts to oblige us to be carnivores like themselves some quote Paul at us from Romans 14:2: “For one believes that he might eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables”. How obtuse to imagine that Paul would describe someone who follows his conscience for ethical reasons as weak! Of course what Paul is talking about here has nothing whatever to do with ethical vegetarianism – a practice approved and widely followed amongst the early church fathers. He is writing to the Christians in Rome. Some had scruples about buying their meat in the public meat market because it might have been from animals sacrificed to pagan idols. Others did not think this scruple so important since the idols are really nothing but the work of men’s hands anyway. What was sad in Paul’s eyes was that the issue was causing argument between Christians. A similar situation arose in Corinth where Christians again had to live in a pagan society. Says Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 8)  “Concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but One. . . . However there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”  If we are willing to read the scriptures with understanding we will have to admit that these passages in Romans and Corinthians have nothing to do with abstaining from meat for moral, ethical, health, humanitarian, economic or ecological reasons. They refer only to religious, ritualistic, considerations.

Love in word and deed

It will be noted that Paul’s advice to those Christians who felt free to eat meat in Corinth was: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13). That is, Paul says, “I will refrain from eating meat permanently rather than offend fellow Christians who think it is wrong to eat it.” Have you ever heard this text quoted in church?  Paul expresses the kind of love, which we rarely find in the churches towards vegetarians. Often there is an arrogance of attitude, at best a condescension, from meat-eating Christians, which shows little respect for the convictions of the ethical vegetarian. As a result, many conscientious and tenderhearted people are alienated from the churches or even more sadly from the Christian faith itself. Meat-eating Christians should ask themselves if their love matches that of Paul. They may be strict in the performance of their religious worship, they may know the scriptures by heart, but if they lack that genuine love for God and all His Creation which is the essence of true faith, and even despise and mock those who are sensitive to issues concerning animals, the environment and world hunger, they are greatly to be pitied. They risk finding themselves on judgment day amongst the ones who say “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” and the Lord will say “I never knew you; depart from Me.” For “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21, 23).

The Coming Kingdom

Is it not sad that some Christians are still happy to rest themselves in the standards of diet permitted because of the havoc wrought by man’s sin in antediluvian times? What has happened to their vision and hope of the Peaceable Kingdom of God when “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, dust shall be the snake’s food, and they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain [Kingdom] says Jehovah.”? Isaiah 65:25. Granted, such a transformation will require more than the best efforts of human beings to accomplish, but are the principles of God’s Kingdom to remain untried until the Kingdom arrives? That is an odd sort of Christian outlook though regrettably not uncommon. If ever our determinedly carnivorous detractors find themselves in that Kingdom, will they still be hankering after the fleshpots of ‘Egypt’, regretting the loss of the factory farms and slaughterhouses of the ‘land’ they have left?  God forbid.

 Neville Heath Fowler, friends of christ, The Old Vicarage, Llangynog, Carmarthen SA33 5BS

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