It’s pool and beach season, and that means it is once again time for The Great Bikini Debate. Should Christians wear them or shouldn’t they? Our culture has come a long way from the days of the picture above, where a badged beach patrol measured women’s suits to make sure they were legal!
When you consider the various cultures around the world where it is the norm for women to be topless and men to be bottomless, who gets to decide what is okay? In the context of the church, this is quite a debate centering on a number of social issues.
I was at my denomination’s national conference this week, and thanks to one of my pastoral colleagues, I learned a new term: the professional weaker brother.
We were talking about how people can make unnecessary additions to the good news of Jesus. In our denomination that addition has most clearly come in the form of how people who follow Jesus are to handle the use of beverage alcohol. Historically we have been a “prohibition” or “abstinence” church, and our denomination’s book of order states that members of our churches should hold to abstinence as “the only responsible position” to the use of alcohol. In 2008, an initiative to change the “only” to “most” narrowly failed to receive the three-quarters majority vote needed to make that kind of adjustment to our book of order.
The reasons for the prohibition against the use of beverage alcohol in my denomination are varied, but the concern of the group that was discussing this yesterday around the breakfast table was that by requiring people to adhere to a standard that is not sustained by Scripture we have added an unnecessary burden to the Gospel. Why would we do this? As I ask this question, let me also be clear that I am deeply grateful for the Evangelical Congregational Church, and it’s history and theology that has been faithful to the mission of God. In commenting about this particular concern, the heart in that breakfast discussion was a grace-filled desire to see our denomination become even more faithful to the mission of God.
Lest I seem to be harping on two issues, swimwear and alcohol, I want to draw attention to the fact that the principles in play here are much larger than a couple specific issues. In Paul’s day the issue was whether or not people in the church should eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. It was a rather complex issue with few easy answers. So Paul takes some time to walk his readers through a loving response, and in so doing teaches some wonderful principles that could be helpful to us.
Paul very clearly teaches about two kinds of Christians that he saw in the churches in cities like Rome and Corinth in his day: The Weak and The Strong. He was very concerned for the weak, that their new, underdeveloped faith would be crushed by the strong. In our sermon tomorrow, we’ll look further at what he was talking about. To address this, Paul said that the strong should not be a stumbling block to the weak. Before we gather for worship tomorrow morning at Faith Church (9:30am), I want to ask you if it is possible that you have been a stumbling block? The argument that some use against the wearing of bikinis is that the bikini wearer will be a stumbling block to the men at the pool or beach. But is that what Paul was talking about?
As I prepare this sermon, I also realize that our church culture in 2014, though we have found many similarities between ourselves and the Christians at Corinth, is also different from the church culture in Corinth in 55-60 AD. I wonder if it is because some people have become Professional Weaker Brothers or Sisters. Are you a Professional Weaker Bro or Sis? If so, you may be one of those who are adding to the Good News, the Gospel. Again, please join us as we talk further about this tomorrow.