Does the doctrine of meats apply to standards?

Firing Up the Grill: Background

Imagine yourself in first century Corinth. You are grocery shopping for your family, and you would like to bring home some meat. You notice that some high-grade meat is being sold at a low price; it was meat that had been offered to idols earlier. You want to provide for your family but also to please God--should you buy this meat or not?

Such was the difficult decision faced by first-century Christians in Corinth, which prompted Paul to discuss the topic in depth. In essence, he said that it was a matter of personal conscience, liberty, and the law of love. It would not necessarily be wrong to eat the meat if it did not offend your conscience or the conscience of fellow Christians (or even unbelievers).

Most people today believes that this passage applies to nearly all standards. The movies a person chooses to watch, the music they prefer, the TV shows they permit in the home, where they go and what they do on vacation, etc., are all a matter of personal conscience, liberty, and the law of love in their view, since they do not believe any Bible verses specifically address these issues. But is this actually biblical?

Good Hamburgers: Correct Applications

Paul is talking about good things with bad association. However, he is not talking about things that are "bad to the bone," so to speak. If a first-century Christian father purchased five pounds of idol meat and removed the packaging and brought it home, no one would know the difference; it was perfectly good meat. So imagine how wrong it is to use this argument to justify watching an evil movie. The evil movie is bad through and through. It doesn't matter what it's associated with, or what "packaging" it comes in: remove all of that, and it's still bad.

What are some situations where the doctrine applies? I believe one example could be whether it is okay to go into a movie theatre to watch a wholesome movie, like Winnie the Pooh. Even though you want to see something innocent, you still must walk into a theatre past rooms where they're playing bad movies before you see the stuffed bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Another example is playing a good song by a bad group; the song may be good in itself, but it is associated with evil. In these cases, I believe personal conscience, liberty, and the law of love apply.

Bad Hamburgers: Incorrect Applications

However, I've heard people use the passage in situations where the doctrine does not apply. For instance, some people use it to say they have the freedom to watch bad TV shows. They say they have the freedom to watch evil movies in their own home if it doesn't offend their conscience. They say that all music styles are a matter of personal preference and conscience. But in all of these cases, the issues aren't with the association; the TV shows, movies, and music are bad on their own, no matter what association or "packaging" they come in.

Take Harry Potter, for instance. To avoid offending anyone, you decide to watch it in your own home instead of at the theatre. This would still be an issue because of the dark content. Even if you told me that it was produced by a godly, conservative church, I would still be concerned (and I wouldn't believe it). Even if you told me all the actors claimed to be Christians, I would still be concerned. The problem that others and I have with Harry Potter is with the actual movies and books themselves--the content, the "meat." It isn't with the "packaging."

As another example, take Christian rock music. For most of us who believe Christian rock is sinful, it's not a question of association; we believe the music is, in itself, harmful. We may also have problems with the associations, but that aside, the music still has issues on its own, such as a spirit of rebellion or depression or restlessness. You may disagree that rock music has these problems, but in any case, it's not a debate about meats offered to idols; it's a question about the nature of the "meat" itself.

If we want to use the doctrine of meats in these situations, then we would need to assume that Paul was giving permission for the first century Christians to eat bloody, maggot-infested, diseased meat. That is a better analogy, since now both items have intrinsic problems rather than merely problems by association. Obviously, Paul would not encourage this, and so the doctrine of meats does not apply.

Cleaning the Grill: Conclusion

In summary, the doctrine of meats applies to good things (with bad associations), not bad things. Suppose you walk by a rose bush and see a rose among thorns. By analogy, Paul is basically saying that you can pluck off the rose and leave the thorns. But how foolish it would be to pluck off the thorns and leave the rose! I am convinced Paul would be shocked at how his argument is being twisted around today. No, Paul never meant you could watch filthy entertainment or be entertained by sin. Let's avoid this popular and unhealthy trap, and in so doing, keep our hearts with all diligence.


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