Morality vs. Preference
If you spend enough time on the internet, you’ll find the phrase, “Only God can judge me,” is thrown around quite a bit. While there is a certain amount of truth in this, Christians are also called to tell their brothers and sisters when they are stumbling in Christ, making sure to do this in love, knowing all have sinned. It’s an important part of any Christian community to aid other believers in their fight to turn from the ways of the world to the ways of Christ.
But morality is not always informed exclusively by the Bible and Christian faith, even among Christians. The morality of a Christian can be informed by upbringing, culture or personal experience. This isn’t evil or wrong either. In fact, extra-biblical rules can be beneficial to the spiritual and physical health of a Christian. For example, if a Christian struggles with alcoholism, forbidding alcohol in the house could be a good way to distance themselves from that stronghold. Other examples include many extra-biblical rules upheld by Catholics. Catholicism has Canon Law, a series of laws meant to help the large organization govern itself. There’s nothing wrong with these extra laws or rules as long as they don’t contradict the Bible or interfere with showing others God’s love.
However, there are Christians who become over zealous when they try to enforce their own extra-biblical laws. One such example of this is vegetarianism.
At the beginning of this school year, I began a vegetarian diet. Many seemed to disapprove of this choice, feeling it was wasteful or fearing I wouldn’t get enough to eat. I was surprised by this, but what was even more surprising was the Christian backlash to vegetarianism and veganism. While not all that common, after talking to several vegetarian and vegan friends of mine, I discovered that most of them had experienced religious backlash for their diet choices at least once.
The strangest part of this backlash is that God originally gave man plants as food, not animals. It wasn’t until after the fall of man, and definitively after the flood, when God explicitly said eating animals was okay. Isaiah 11:6 prophesies that the wolf will lie down with the lamb, indicating the new Heaven and new Earth may have no place for meat eating.
But that’s just the past and an interpretation of a prophecy of the future. Jesus says in Mark that food is not what defiles someone, but evil actions coming out of them. He also says when someone enters a town, they should eat what is given to them. These words, directly spoken by Jesus, shed light on why there are Christians who believe it is unbiblical to be a vegetarian.
There’s another side, though. There are actually Christians who believe it is ungodly, or, at least, detrimental to eat meat. The Christian Vegetarian Association states its mission is “to show the world that plant-based diets represent good, responsible Christian stewardship for all God’s Creation.” While this movement isn’t large, it isn’t new either. There have been Christian vegetarians since at least the 4th century.
These are two opposite viewpoints which seem incompatible. Someone must be wrong, right? Christianity cannot include both people who believe meat is a sin and people who think vegetarianism is a sin. Luckily, the Bible answers this question very clearly.
Romans 14:5-6, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
And there we have it. Whether you consume meat or abstain from meat, the important thing is to give thanks to God. These extra laws that Christians give themselves should not be something we argue about or treat as divisions. They should be celebrated as different parts of the Body of Christ. So no, vegetarianism is not a sin, but neither is eating meat.
Christianity is a large body and these extra-biblical rules make many distinct parts. Christ brings together so many different people in so many different ways.