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What does Christian liberty mean?


Listen to the 10 min audio

Read the transcript:

EXAMINING CHRISTIAN LIBERTY

TOM LAMPRECHT:  Harry, I want to take you to an article written recently by Sinclair Ferguson entitled “Four Principles for the Exercise of Christian Liberty.”

— Christian liberty must never be flaunted.
— Christian liberty does not mean that you welcome fellow Christians only when you have sorted out their views.
— Christian liberty ought never be used in such a way that you become a stumbling block to another Christian.
— Christian liberty requires grasping the principle that will produce this true Biblical balance. We ought to not please ourselves, for even Christ did not please Himself.

DR. REEDER: Tom, as you think about Christian liberty — and I’m very grateful to Sinclair Ferguson for producing this — it is an issue that needs to be thought through. Christian liberty is a doctrine that says no to legalism, and that is the traditions of men and the notion that law-keeping is what saves us, that law-keeping keeps us safe or that law-keeping positions us so that God can save us.

The fact is, Christian liberty says that we’re saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. However, that does not mean that Christian liberty gives us an insensitivity to sin; on the contrary, it gives us the right motivation to deal with sin. We deal with sin because of its sinfulness. We deal with sin because of its destructiveness and we want to kill it in our life and we want to see it being eradicated all around us because we love our neighbor.

ALL CREATED THINGS ARE AMORAL, IT’S HOW WE USE THEM THAT LEADS TO SIN

But how is it that I am to live my Christian liberty? Paul says that all things are lawful. Now, clearly, he is not speaking to anything against the law that the law forbids as lawful and, by definition, would not be lawful, but things are lawful — things are amoral.

A tobacco plant is not evil, a grape is not evil from which you make an alcoholic beverage, a meal is not evil in and of itself. Food is not evil and drink is not evil. Therefore, all things are lawful but then he says not the use of all things is lawful. We can use things unlawfully when we begin to fall into self-absorption and self-promotion with things and when we begin to make an idol of the things, even those things that are good and blessed.

For instance, it is good to enjoy food, it is good to enjoy a meal, it is good to enjoy a drink because, by doing so, we enjoy the one who has provided it. However, if we take those good things and we put them in place of the Lord and they become the focus of our life, now they’ve become idols in our lives.

NOT ALL THINGS ARE BENEFICIAL TO ALL PEOPLE

Therefore, while all things are lawful, not all things are beneficial, not all things are edifying, not all things are good. Some things are destructive in our life if they become idolatry and some things can be destructive in other people’s lives if we don’t thoughtfully love those people around us. That’s why Paul says, “If food or drink makes my brother stumble” — and he was referring to eating those things that had been sacrificed to idols. His point is that there is no such thing as an idol and, you sacrifice that animal to an idol, it’s okay for me to eat the steak because there’s no idol and all of that was a fabrication anyway but, if people stumble because I eat that which had been sacrificed to an idol, I just won’t eat the meat because the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking. I’m willing to give that up for the sake of others.

That’s why, when they sent out the decree from the first general assembly of the church in Acts 15, they said, “There are Jews everywhere you’re going so it might be a good idea, for the sake of evangelism, not to eat things that are in violation of the ceremonial law. By doing so, it may cut off your opportunity to communicate but, by not doing so, you may be able to minister to them.”

The apostle Paul, when he has someone like Timothy who needs to be circumcised and he sees why because he’s got a parent who’s Jewish. Titus, his parents are Jewish, so he will not let them touch him for circumcision — there is no reason to claim it. Even though he knows circumcision is fulfilled and done away with, in that generational change, where all of that’s being worked out, he can argue for a proper understanding of circumcision fulfilled in Christ.

SOME THINGS CAN LEAD TO SIN DUE TO OUR OWN TEMPERAMENT

Therefore, we’re constantly dealing with it so here’s the things that I consider and I’ll just build on what Sinclair Ferguson has said. There may be something that’s lawful for me to do, but it’s not helpful for me to do.

There are some things in my life — I’ve mentioned this before — such as I am an intense person with an addictive and obsessing personality and alcohol is something that I enjoyed to an extraordinary sinful capacity prior to my conversion. Therefore, when I was converted, I just decided, because of my problems with the third and the fourth drink, I wasn’t going to have the second drink and the best way for me not to have the second drink is not to have the first drink so, if I’m out with people, you’ll see a club soda with a lime in my hand.

SELF-KNOWLEDGE IS KEY

Therefore, I don’t have to make a big deal out of it, but I don’t have to participate and one of my reasons is there are just certain things I need to flee — cut off right hands and pluck out right eyes. There are certain things that I know in my life I can’t handle so I am at liberty — Christian liberty — not to participate. Christian liberty doesn’t demand my participation in everything; it says I have the power to participate to the glory of God. I also have the power to say no for the glory of God so I can eat and drink to the glory of God, but there may be some things I decide not to eat and drink so that I can maintain my course to live for the glory of God.

TOM LAMPRECHT: It’s interesting to see on Facebook and other social media how evangelical Christians will post a picture of a beer they’re consuming at some bar, in a sense, flaunting Christian liberty.

DR. REEDER: My problem is not so much that they had the beer, but there was no thought to the people — the weaker brother — who may be having a problem with that. I not only have the liberty to give up things for my own personal progress in the Gospel, as well as the liberty to use things for the glory of God, but I also have the liberty to set things aside that would cause my brother to stumble.

ABSTAINING FROM FOOD AND DRINK CAN BE DONE FOR OTHERS’ SAKE, TOO

There have been many things in my life I have the freedom to do, I have the right to do and I have the liberty to do but I also have the liberty not to do because I know my brother would stumble and it’s more important to me to minister to my brother. Not having to defend what I’ve done — I’ve already given that up — but I can strengthen my brother so he’s no longer a weaker brother, by not first making him stumble.

That’s why Paul says, “If meat causes my brother to stumble, well, I’ll never eat meat again. I don’t need to eat meat.” The apostle Paul was more concerned about the brother than his right and, therefore, his Christian liberty became something he gave up for the edification of a weaker brother.

Maybe they’ll say to you, “Hey, why do you drink that beer? I thought you were a Christian.” Then you can explain to them, “Well, it’s not eating or drinking that makes you a Christian and a Christian can drink in moderation.” For me, that’s gotten me off. I want to talk with people about their relationship with the Lord Who delivers them from their sin.

I don’t want the whole discussion to be, “Come to Jesus so that you can do this, or that or the other,” but I want them to know to come to Jesus because of the relationship they can have with Jesus, Who cleanses you from your sin, who empowers you to walk in and for Jesus Christ. And, to get sidetracked, “If you come to Jesus, you can do this,” instead, let’s talk about, when you come to Jesus, what He will do in you.

TEMPERANCE AND MODERATION ARE HALLMARKS OF CHRISTIAN LIFE

The Christian life is one that is noted for temperance and moderation in all things. Now, there are some things I may want to abstain from for personal edification, for the sake of evangelism, or for the sake of not causing my weaker brother to stumble and I’m at liberty to do that. I’m also at liberty to have periods of feasting in my life and so I can embrace the feasting in my life as well as the fasting in my life.

However, the rule of my life in Christian liberty is not to be noted for anything other than Jesus. I want to be known as a person of moderation, a person of temperance, and that is the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That tells you, where the Spirit of God is, there is not the reputation of excess or the reputation of abstention, although there may be a time to feast and a time to abstain. The reputation is, “There is a man of moderation. The only thing that consumes him is Jesus.”

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.

2 hours ago

A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club breaks ground on $7.2 million clubhouse at Birmingham CrossPlex

A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club is building a $7.2 million Walter Howlett Jr. Clubhouse at Birmingham CrossPlex, but if history is any indication, it’s also building future leaders. Leaders like Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who is a self-proclaimed “club kid” having grown up in Boys & Girls Clubs.

“I can personally speak to the power of the Boys & Girls Club,” Woodfin said. “I spent some formative years here as a club kid.”

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Woodfin said it was on the sports practice fields in downtown Birmingham where he learned the value of teamwork.

“The greatest lesson I learned from the club … is the importance of teamwork in this city,” he said. “I learned that no matter how great the individual players were as part of the club or on the team, it’s the unity that ensures victory.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Birmingham native Condoleezza Rice has made mentoring and youth programs like Boys & Girls Club a pet project nationally. She praised the possibilities the new clubhouse in Birmingham holds.

“This great, new clubhouse for the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club is just going to be full of possibilities,” she said. “It’s not just programs that they deliver on. They deliver on caring and compassion for our young people.”

Rice co-chaired the campaign to build a new clubhouse for the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club along with Altec CEO Lee Styslinger III and Regions Financial Corp.Chairman Grayson Hall.

She said those who contributed to the new clubhouse initiative have demonstrated they make children a priority.

“This is about the possibilities when a community comes together,” Rice said. “It’s absolutely the case that when the corporate community and private citizens like the McWanes and people from across the city come together and say, ‘We’re going to do something special for our kids,’ something magnificent happens.”

Frank Adams, CEO of A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club, said the new facility will include a new gym, a music room, a game room, a new café able to serve hot meals and STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math) labs. The two-story facility will have a floor dedicated to teens and will be able to serve twice as many children as the Kirkwood R. Balton facility it is replacing.

Adams said the clubhouse will be a great addition to the CrossPlex campus.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to help revitalize this area while serving our kids at a higher level,” he said.

Walter Howlett Jr. was a prominent member of the business community in Birmingham and served as the chairman of the board at A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club for more than 20 years. Adams said it’s a worthy tribute to name the new facility after him.

The CrossPlex campus and the new facility are in Birmingham City Councilman Steven Hoyt’s district. He said the new clubhouse will be a welcomed addition.

“Today is very much about an orchestrated optimism and the future of our young people,” he said. “This new club is a symbol of hope.”

Rice said that hope has been realized again and again through Boys & Girls Clubs.

“The Boys & Girls Clubs talk about building great futures,” she said. “Well, you can only get a great future if you have a great start and that is what this is really all about.

“The best in us believes that every life is worthy, and every life is worthy of greatness,” she added.

Who knows, maybe the next mayor or the next secretary of state will come from there.

“I believe in the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club because I know it’s power,” Woodfin said. “It’s a training ground to guide our young people in the right direction. It’s where they will make lasting friendships, make community connections and acquire life lessons that will serve them well when they become the next leaders of our city.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Exceptional Foundation carolers bring holiday spirit to Alabama businesses

What the Exceptional Foundation carolers may lack in perfect pitch and rhythm they more than make up for with enthusiasm and sheer joy.

The result is exactly what is intended: delivering the Christmas spirit to businesses around Birmingham.

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That delivery is clear by the smiles produced among the audiences.

This is the fifth year the Exceptional Foundation carolers have visited corporations to thank them for their support. CEO Tricia Kirk said the number of performances has grown from less than a handful of businesses in the first season to five or six a day this year.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

Alabama Power works to save threatened snails on Coosa River

While many property owners used this fall’s Coosa River drawdown to make repairs to boathouses, piers and other structures along the water’s edge, Alabama Power biologists were on another mission.

APC Environmental Affairs employees worked with members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to protect rare snails on Lay and Mitchell lakes.

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The first step involved surveying threatened species — literally by counting the number of snails in a given area.

Two species of freshwater aquatic snails listed under the Endangered Species Act, the rough hornsnail and Tulotoma snail, call the Coosa River home. Both are native to Alabama and are found nowhere else in the world.

“We do a manual count, which gives you an estimate of the number of that species within a certain area,” said Jason Carlee, APC Environmental Affairs supervisor. “You can then multiply that number by the area of the lake bottom affected by the drawdown to estimate how much of the population is affected.”

The work wasn’t limited to surveying. The biologists were also charged with saving snails affected by the drawdown. Snails that might have had trouble navigating to the lower lake levels were picked up along the riverbank and returned to the water.

“The primary objectives at Lay Lake and Lake Mitchell were surveying known populations of Tulotoma and rough hornsnail, searching for new populations of the species and relocating species to suitable habitat in deeper water,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power.

The snails live anywhere from one to 30 feet below the shoreline but prefer to live just below the water’s edge, according to Carlee.

“The lowering of the water forces the snails to follow the water and, as they move, they can get trapped by vegetation or stuck behind a log or rock,” Carlee said. “Our priority is to identify new populations and to salvage as many snails as we can.”

The teams focused on areas with known populations and salvaged snails when the water was at its lowest level to make the most significant positive impact. A previous survey and salvage effort was conducted during the 2013 drawdown, and additional snail surveys were done in 2009 and 2012.

“Part of our week was spent searching for new populations of rough hornsnails, and we found them,” said Fitch. “Before this week, the species was only known to occur in four different locations on Mitchell Reservoir, but we found them in three other creeks this week as well as along the shorelines in the main channel.”

Several other steps have been taken to protect the snails. For example, the timing and frequency of the fall drawdowns have been adjusted to benefit the species.

“Historically for Lay and Mitchell, there were drawdowns every year. Then they went to every other year. Since the discovery of rough hornsnails at Lake Mitchell and at Yellowleaf Creek on Lay Reservoir, drawdowns are conducted every five years to decrease impacts to the snails,” Fitch said.

Tracks left by the snails leading from the riverbank to the water indicate that the species can adjust to water level fluctuations. Lake levels are now lowered very slowly over a three-day period, to give snails more time to follow the dropping water.

Alabama Power works with USFWS and ADCNR to find ways to protect and improve habitat conditions for snails and other aquatic species as part of its license to operate dams issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. All the hard work is paying off. The Tulotoma snail was downlisted from endangered to threatened in 2011 as populations below Coosa River dams increased. It was the first time a freshwater species of mollusks, which includes clams, mussels and slugs, was downlisted. New populations of rough hornsnail provide hope for its recovery.

Results from this year’s snail survey will help regulators determine the impact of water level fluctuations on species like these snails and help provide guidance concerning future drawdowns.

This story originally appeared in Shorelines magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alexander Shunnarah gives back to the community with the first annual ‘Shunnarah Seasons of Giving’ initiative

Most people know Alexander Shunnarah for his infamous “Call me Alabama” slogan and the massive trail of billboards commonly spotted by travelers along I-65. However, what many aren’t aware of is Shunnarrah’s heart for giving back to the city he calls home.

To show his love and appreciation for Birmingham, the Alabama lawyer just launched the first ever “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” initiative and is surprising locals in the community with various acts of service throughout the month of December.

Shunnurah described this initiative as a, “…small part in giving back to the community and paying it forward.”

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To begin the month-long program, Shunnarrah stopped by Etheridge Brother and Sister Barber and Beauty Shop in downtown Birmingham last week where he gave locals an opportunity to receive a complimentary haircut.

“It’s been a great initial kickoff in the seasons of giving,” Shunarrah said.

In addition to these pop-up visits, Shunnarah’s law firm is partnering with The Shoe Clinic LLC for the clinic’s third annual ‘Saving One Sole at a Time” Sneaker, Sock and Coat Drive. The drive will take place at The Shoe Clinic LLC on Saturday, December 15th from 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Donations are accepted now through December 15th. Both organizations hope to collect 500 sneakers and coats, and 1000 pairs of socks by December 15th.

To donate to the sneaker, sock and coat drive, visit one of the two drop-off locations listed here:

The Shoe Clinic
1801 11th Ave S. Birmingham, AL,

Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm
2900 1st Ave. S. Birmingham, AL.

To see where Alexander Shunurrah visits for the next “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” pop-up, visit his Instagram page at @alexander_shunnarah.

8 hours ago

Artur Davis: What the next Montgomery mayor needs

The coming mayoral race in Montgomery matters whether you live in city limits, or whether it is simply important to you or your business that Alabama’s capital thrives. The conversation on the ground is that the outcome could be the next historic milestone for the city that launched civil rights.

Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson caused a stir with a recent Montgomery Advertiser column that argues “it is time for the occupant of the mayor’s office to reflect the predominant (African-American) citizenry.” She further suggests that there is a burden on black voters and leader to “filter black candidates early,” so that the ranks be purged of those who by some test fail, in her words, to “serve the best interests of the African-American community.”

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I know the judge’s sentiments are well-intentioned but as one of the seven or eight folks who will be running for Mayor, as the only contender who has officially registered a campaign committee, I view this election through a different lens. Montgomery has challenges at every turn. The test is not the mayor’s color or gender but whether the city’s next leader is visionary and substantial enough to unlock those opportunities disguised as challenges.

Mayor is not an entry-level job, as the judge correctly observed. The mayor-to-be will have to learn and master the details of making urban policy work for ordinary people. The job demands persistence and a clear eye about the questions that threaten Montgomery’s future.

Can our schools be rescued? For a while now, the leadership of our school system has resembled its population demographically: that by itself has meant nothing to the children in our eleven failing schools, or the 37 percent of children who graduate high school without core reading and math skills. The next mayor must join forces with the new school board to extricate the schools from the state takeover, a mismanaged event that creates the kind of uncertain chain of command that makes it impossible to attract a national caliber superintendent. The next mayor will have to sell the neighborhoods whose children are in magnets or private schools on the imperative of financing traditional schools adequately. He or she will also need to overcome forces who resist innovative reforms or stricter accountability.

Can we make a real dent in Montgomery’s poverty problem? West and North Montgomery are statistically identical to the chronically poor Black Belt. The southern boulevard is one long patch of neglect and collapsed businesses. Too many of our working people are still poor and trapped in dead-end jobs. For decades, the struggling parts of our city have had representation that “looks like them.” That fact has not yet stopped the decline.

Can we roll back crime and the root causes of crime? An overwhelming majority of criminal defendants are drop-outs. Our city has yet to fashion a comprehensive plan to identify and engage students who have encounters with the law or are chronic disciplinary problems. At the same time, if a city as complex as New York can reduce its rates of gun violence and murder, the next mayor of Montgomery should be expected to devise an anti-crime plan more robust than empathy and short-term anger management courses.

I could go on. We have reached new heights in corporate investment in the city but more of that newly infused wealth must be targeted toward creating jobs that pay high wages. Promoting minority investment is an urgent, consistently unmet need that takes more than conferences at the Renaissance to solve. Our municipal government structure has not been reorganized since the time when smartphones had not been invented and the internet in this city was limited to government offices.

The record of the mayor who is leaving, Todd Strange, will loom over this election. I ran against him but will grant him this: in an era when national politics has degenerated into all or nothing partisanship and what the experts call tribalism, Mayor Strange has kept the volume temperate and moderate in Montgomery. The next mayor should emulate that decency. He or she must match it with a boldness and a capacity to challenge old assumptions and challenge 21st Century problems.

I do agree that this city is on the edge of making history. But the test for candidates is not how well we represent one community or satisfy that community’s insiders and gatekeepers. It is whether any of us has what it takes to make Montgomery a trendsetter in repairing failing schools and blighted neighborhoods and in forging a more prosperous, more equitable future.

If you live in Montgomery, vote for the guy or lady you think just might know how to get us there.

Artur Davis is a former four-term congressman from Montgomery running for mayor.