I’ve been thinking lately about how Christians deal with civil laws. The New Testament makes it crystal clear that insofar as they do not violate our consciences or scripture, we are to be obedient to them. (1 Pet. 2:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7). The main reason for this is to set an example for a watching world, but this isn’t an issue when we are not in “mixed” company. Christians have the Bible as their first (and only truly necessary) authority, and beyond that, I’m quite opposed to the government’s telling me what I can or can’t do within the privacy of my own home. Of course, I’m presupposing that Christians don’t leave their faith on the front doorstep, but aside from that, the government isn’t capable of being Big Brother to a whole country (nor could they be an effective moral compass). Christians sometimes take this submission too far when they refuse to question leaders or laws, or worse – when they stick their heads in the sand concerning all civil authority. In America, we have the distinct privilege of representation in government, and to remain ignorant of important political issues is paramount to rejecting this blessing from God. Although we are commanded to submit to civil laws, we are also told to be involved in keeping them on a biblical track! (1 Tim. 2:1-4). If you have a voice in whether private Christian prayer becomes a criminal activity, wouldn’t you speak out? That is an extreme example, but we mustn’t make the mistake of “classifying” political issues as relevant or irrelevant to the life of the Church. Like it or not, we live in this world, and therefore every issue should taken into consideration.
I was raised in a tee-totaling Baptist family, and I don’t have a problem with that. What I do (now) disagree with is how my family dealt with issues of alcohol, tobacco, etc. The Bible tells us that in Christ, everything is lawful, yet not everything is profitable. It also says that if our consciences are convicted that something is a sin, for us, it is a sin; but be careful not to overlook the key words there: for us. Many Christians have somehow “written in” drinking and smoking (even in moderation) as straight-up S-I-N. Adding to scripture is a deadly thing to do, folks! While my family never (in my memory) blatantly stated it this way, neither did they explain to me that their abstinence was based on personal choice rather than Biblical mandate. Thus as a young adult, I was torn between wanting to have the occasional drink and not wanting to look like a “drinker.” As I grew in grace, I realized that drinking, smoking, etc., are Christian freedoms – that is, we are perfectly free to enjoy them while exercising self-control. The same can be said for chocolate cake, but while there are no civil laws dealing with the latter (in the works, no doubt), there are laws dealing with alcohol, tobacco, and other various “drugs.” And here is where I begin to rock the boat.
We have many great friends, and our friends are particularly spectacular in their roles as parents. Seriously, if these people could give the world a few lessons on how to raise children, our culture would soon be unrecognizable – in a beautiful way. These are people whose offspring sparkle like diamonds in a pile of ugly rocks, and believe me: you notice it. After seeing this kind of finished product, you’d respect their methods even if they told you they used carrots and string. Wisdom is proven by results (Luke 7:35) and no one should make a habit of questioning it simply because one doesn’t understand it. Having laid that groundwork, I’ll now tell you that our friends allow their kids to drink and smoke.
Intermission [for readers to collect themselves]
It did cause us to raise our eyebrows at first, but as I said, everything else about their families reflects wisdom and prudence, so we watched and learned before passing judgment. Our friends submit to civil authority, and that authority obviously prohibits people under 21 from drinking alcohol. So how do they reconcile their actions with the law? They aren’t abdicating their parental responsibility to public schools or leaving their kids to be raised by daycares, nannies and the almighty television: they do it themselves. They know their children – their level of maturity and self control – and they have decided to remove the “taboo” from things like alcohol and tobacco, and therefore the kids will never reach the “candy store” point and go buck-wild. They allow these things only in the privacy of theirs or another believer’s home, and always under their supervision. Even young children are permitted a small sip from whatever mom or dad is drinking, and surprisingly enough, the world doesn’t end! The children are still healthy and strong, obedient and wise at early ages, and they still grow up to be the diamonds I described above. Yes, these parents choose to ignore some civil laws in private, but such laws were created for people who don’t actively raise their kids.
Readers may or may not still be reeling from the shock that Christian parents might actually teach their children self-control instead of expecting the government to regulate it, but I’m not done offending yet. (To be fair, I haven’t yet dropped this next bombshell on any of my friends so I can’t say how they will react.) Alcohol and tobacco smoking (mainly pipes or cigars, because cigarettes don’t lend themselves well to “occasional” use) are acceptable in our circles, but what if I were to mention the dirty word “marijuana?” I suspect that even some of my otherwise “smoke-friendly” companions might cringe in horror, and that would lead me to ask them why. We’ve established that many “substances” (not all substances – I’m not lobbying for cocaine or heroine use) may be enjoyed in limited amounts without harming the body or creating an addiction. We’ve also defended the position that within the confines of Biblical authority, Christians have wiggle room concerning what they do or allow while not on display for unbelievers. Not only has marijuana been proven to have medicinal properties, it calms nerves and brings relaxation – both pleasant effects. It can be used discriminately just like alcohol or tobacco products, so why all the fuss over its private growth and consumption? Again, the government has decided for us what we are allowed to possess and use in our own homes, and again, I say they don’t have that right. Certainly, Christians should respect the laws and the subjects thereof, but we should not rush to call something “bad” merely because civil laws have prohibited it – no more than we would deem anything “good” based on the fact that it isn’t a crime (abortion anyone?). We respect the laws because we are told to demonstrate submission to a heathen culture; those laws were never meant to define our sense of ultimate right and wrong. In fact, that fosters a dependence upon our government to inform our morality, and that will always render soft, ill-informed Christians – even if they don’t drink, smoke or chew.
Final disclaimer: I am not suggesting that anyone go out and plant a “pot” garden or take up smoking joints after dinner. I am asking that Christians dig a bit deeper in terms of what activities we embrace or shun, and why we do so. I will also freely admit that if I had access to marijuana (without indefensibly breaking other laws), I would enjoy it from time to time. The Bible says it’s ok, so who else’s business is it what I do behind closed doors? Ok, my verbal crucifixion may commence, but don’t hate me for being honest.