The church is capable of including any number of subcultural groups within her pale, and can do so without great difficulty. Ham radio operators, rodeo riders, surfers, and rock climbers are all welcome. And what they all do the Saturday before worship does not disrupt the reality of their worship together.
But food subcultures are a different matter. Food scruples are the deathly enemy of church unity. Every pastor is called by the Lord to hate food divisions, and every pastor who does not hate them is an enemy of his own peace. I don’t want church splits, even if they come in a reusable bag.
The central pastoral issue of the New Testament was a dietary one — whether Jews and Gentiles could eat together. And if the apostle Paul fought so long and hard on this one — to keep the body of Christ from being divided this way — when the issue really was created by the laws of the Old Testament, how much more would he be militant about food divisions that resulted from an article that somebody read on the Internet?
I am not talking about genuine allergies. Everybody should know what those are. You serve your guest ground up peanuts in that Thai dish you’ve been wanting to try out, and forty five minutes later he looks like the Michelin tire boy, and the dinner party concludes late that evening in the ER. That’s an allergy, and the apostle would not mind if we accommodated such food restrictions in charity. That is a beautiful opportunity to exercise charity — checking with those you invite about food restrictions.
But charity is called for on the other end also, and it has been abandoned by those who are afflicted with trendy allergies. Just as Paul tagged those unstable women who are always learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth, so he would have identified the woman who became allergic to gluten because all her friends had recently become allergic to gluten, and she didn’t want to be left out. This preserves the unity of that little group, but it plays havoc with the unity of the larger body. She and her friends are no fun to have over any more because she is always allergic to something, and it is always something new, and the last two times she was invited over, she brought her own food anyway.
This brazen rudeness is not called out for what it is because the people perpetrating it have a cover story created for them by the guy who is allergic to the Thai peanut thingy. You don’t want him to die, do you?
Here is a rule of thumb. If you have ever showed up to a dinner party (not a potluck) unannounced with your own food, then you are an enemy of church unity. The Holy Spirit is working to unify the whole body in sweet table fellowship, and you are underfoot.
Here is another rule of thumb. If you are allergic to an ever-shifting list of the latest things to be allergic to, then you are actually allergic to charity. This is a bad condition to be in — if you are allergic to charity, then you are actually allergic to other people, church peace, and the Holy Spirit.
Last rule of thumb. If you think that every cook in the body has a bounden obligation to drop every other ingredient from her recipes if you are coming over, then perhaps you are waiting for the wrong person to make the sacrifice. Why don’t you make the sacrifice, and just eat it? You might reply that this means that later in the evening you will have to deal with the icky angsty feelings that always accompany your consumption of your allergenic de jour. Well, isn’t that a small price to pay because you love the brethren? Eat what is set before you — there’s a strategy you could try (Luke 10:8). Better to get an imaginary rash on your body than to be a real rash on the body.
Originally posted on December 6, 2010.