When Shepherds Walk on Sand...
And I assure you, it's not my intent to go around nitpicking at the errors (or perceived errors from my perspective) of other Christians - especially of Christian men who are such wonderful leaders, deserving of our utmost respect (1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:7, 17)!
At the same time though, when they so blatantly - all in one accord - give such a dogmatic answer that is built on such shaky ground, I don't know what else to do than to address it.
Please understand I admire these men. I look up to them greatly. I have so much respect for them, and I learn (and have learned over the years) so much from them. But when the shepherds are walking on sand themselves, it is then (and only at that point) that the sheep must not follow.
Todd Friel of Wretched Radio interviewed all six keynote speakers during a Q&A session of the Shepherd's Conference. The entire Q&A was about an hour long and discussed some important issues of the day: pop-Christian culture and its influence, gay marriage and the Christian's response, and other issues.
One of the issues discussed was marijuana use.
Now let me be clear at the outset. I have never smoked pot. I've never been offered pot. I wouldn't even know how or where to buy pot (at least in Ohio - I'm sure I could search Google in places where it is legal). And I'm pretty confident that I'll never smoke pot even if or when it becomes legal in all 50 states.
And if the Scriptures say that smoking pot is a sin, then it is surely a sin. But do they say that?
The most interesting part of this segment of the Q&A, to me, was not simply the answer that these men gave to the question but their reasoning behind it. The clip at the top of this post is what I'm talking about, and it starts with Todd asking them the following:
Historically if a teenager would approach the pastor or the youth pastor and ask if marijuana is a sin, we could simply respond: "It's illegal, so don't do it."
First of all, as much as I appreciate Todd Friel's ministry, I don't know that the set up of this question is all that helpful. Even if "historically" we could say, "It's illegal, so don't do it," I would hope that pastors would still make a differentiation between sin and civil crime regardless. Before abortion was legal, I would hope that pastors would have first and foremost addressed the sin of abortion before the legality of it.
But either way, on down the line they go, all answering: "Yes. It is a sin."
When some of them later elaborated, two comments stuck out to me: those of John MacArther and Albert Mohler.
Here is what John MacArther said:
You can drink alcohol and not have your mind altered; you can't smoke a joint without having your mind altered. That's the purpose of it. ... It has the sole purpose to alter your consciousness ... It has no other purpose. It's compared to drinking but it's not the same.
And here is what Albert Mohler said:
The Scripture just routinely, throughout, pervasively condemns intoxication. ... God didn't give us a marijuana plant and say "Roll this up and smoke it."
After the discussion spiraled into the medical vs. "medical" use of marijuana, Todd Friel was prompted then to clarify:
Let me ask this question. We were all assuming we're talking about recreational use.
To which Albert Mohler replied:
I want to suggest you shouldn't be opposed to medical marijuana anymore than you should be opposed to medical penicillin.
On the one hand, marijuana's sole purpose is to alter the mind, which is a sin.(1) On the other hand, there are legitimate medicinal uses of marijuana (contra its sole purpose being to alter the mind) for which we can make exceptions - provided that it's done in a way that is regulated, not by the Word of God but by the "medical establishment."
Is this an acceptable, Biblical answer to the question?
First of all, is using a substance to alter the mind truly a sin?
I think the Scriptures are clear that it really does depend on to what degree that you're altering the mind and for what purpose.(1)
The Bible says that wine is even to be cultivated "to gladden the heart" (Ps. 104:15). That is a statement of mind alteration to be sure. It is also permissible to be given with the specific mind altering purpose to those who are dying or in an inordinate amount of stress (Prv. 31:6-7).
However, the Bible is equally clear that the abuse of mind alteration is prohibited: Prv. 20:1, 23:20-21; Eph. 5:18. But it is clearly the abuse that is condemned over and over again in Scripture (Prv. 20:1), especially since it tends only to lead to more unrighteous behavior (Isa. 5:11-12, 22-23).
The Biblical use of mind altering substances (alcohol specifically in Scripture), however, does exist: Ps. 104:15; Prv. 31:6-7 - yes, including medicinal use: 1 Tim. 5:23.
So I think they got the answer wrong first of all.
But secondly, and more importantly, is the foundation of their answer. If you can't denounce the use of marijuana completely as a sin because you admit that there is a medicinal use of it. Where does Scripture ever give that regulative power of when, how, and how much to some third-party "medical establishment"?
As we have seen the Scripture itself governs, in principle, the regulative authority of use (and warning of abuse) of substances. It makes no appeal to a third-party of mostly (and I'm speculating here) unbelieving "professionals" of an arbitrary "establishment."
Yes, if an individual abuses a substance it is certainly a sin (Prv. 20:1, 23:20-21; Eph. 5:18). But self-control governed by the Spirit of God is the rule of the Christian life. And it is the Spirit-inspired Word of God that is the governing authority of what does and does not constitute sinful abuse.
An arbitrary "medical establishment" is not given the authority from a Scriptural standpoint. And to give them such a place of authority is to undermine the authority of Scripture itself, which is to shepherd the sheep on sand rather than the Rock of God's Word (Mt. 7:24-27).
So as much as I love, admire, and respect my brothers in Christ and rejoice in their leadership in the church. I have to disagree with them when their authority for saying what is and is not a sin does not rest in the Word of God but rather with a board of medical professionals. After all, would not this same "establishment" of medical professionals give their assent to prescribing abortive measures (whether in pill or procedural form) for the "medicinal" purposes of the mother's perceived well-being?
How does their word trump God's then, in any situation?
It is a sin to use marijuana when it is illegal. Just as there is nothing inherently wrong with drinking (though not in excess so as to abuse it) alcohol at an age earlier than 21, so long as it is illegal to do so, it's a sin to break the law (Rom. 13:1) provided those laws do not keep one from being unable to take care of his family (in a morally upright way) or to obey and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 5:8; Acts 5:29).
If marijuana use is legal, then according to Scripture it is a sin to abuse the use of it so as to lose self-control (be excessively intoxicated): Prv. 20:1, 23:20-21; Eph. 5:18 (regardless of what a medical board says).
If (and only if/when) marijuana is legal, then it is not a sin to use it, like alcohol, in a responsible manner for certain, very limited uses: such as to gladden the heart (Ps. 104:15), easing pain for a dying person or of someone who is in an inordinate amount of stress (Prv. 31:6-7); and if there is medical warrant for it using it for that purpose (1 Tim. 5:23) - all provided that none of these cause a form of drunkenness (Prv. 20:1, 23:20-21; Eph. 5:18).
But regardless, our authority for judging whether or not using marijuana is a sin must come from the Rock of God's Word and not the shaky sand of the "established medical community" that can so easily, quickly, and arbitrarily change their mind and that does not get its authority from God's Word (Mt. 7:24-27).
For those who are shepherds of God's flock, you must remember to shepherd your sheep by the authority of God's Word and not some arbitrary establishment of unbelievers (or unbeliever influence). To do so is to shepherd right into the sand. And where the shepherd walks, the sheep will follow (Jn. 10:4).
(1) We need to realize at this point that even acetaminophen is somewhat mind altering. The drug does not take the pain away from (or out of) your body. It simply tells your body (and your mind) that the pain is not there. So to denounce "mind altering" drugs categorically would mean ruling out even acetaminophen and other "pain-killers" (so called) as well.