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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Where to draw our red line

Red lines are important and so we need to draw them with care and humility.


Over Christmas I received a rather sad email from a pastor of a church in central Paris.  I will let Google translate: “Note this time the unexpected departure of a family, who left for a doctrinal disagreement on eschatology. Thank God, I had the support of colleagues, and the members of the church reacted well.”


Doctrinal disagreement on eschatology!  That took me back 60 years to the era when as a new Christian I was asked whether I was a post millennialist or a pre millennialist.  At the time I had no idea what this meant – and I still don’t. 


In that far-away era it was an important question for some earnest Christians – and clearly is for at least one family of believers in Paris.  However, their departure weakens God’s mission in a strategic location and disheartens the saints. 


I’m currently reading the book of Daniel, a strange book including the fact that much of it – in contrast to the entire Old Testament - is written not in Hebrew but in Aramaic. 


One of the main themes, in the words of Psalm 137, is “How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?” 


So the book begins with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, all members of the Judean royal family and nobility exiled to faraway Babylon following the sacking of Jerusalem in 587 BC..  They are to be trained over a period of three years to serve in their conqueror’s court. 


I assume they could have said NO but at the cost of their lives.  However, it is essential that the people of Judah are not to be wiped out of history:  they need to survive for the sake of their nation.


So they agree to serve and they also agree to their new names - Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  The meaning of these names is unclear but they probably extol Babylonian gods.  Furthermore they agree to immerse themselves in Babylonian language, culture and religion.  So far, complete compromise. 


But they do have a red line, over which they are not prepared to cross whatever the consequences – and (strange to us) it is over their food.  We are told that “the king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table.” (1:5)


Daniel, to the consternation of the court official, refuses.  So they plan a test run of just eating vegetables and water over ten days.  “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.” (1:15)  So they start their training


It’s not easy drawing red lines, those areas we are not prepared to compromise. So much depends on context.  The apostle Paul fought hard to make sure that circumcision was not required for new Christians and yet “he circumcised Timothy because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:3)


For drawing red lines is always a problem, sometimes agonizingly so.  But if the church is not to be fractured, we need to be sensitive and loving.  At the very least, after much thought and prayer.  And with humility – there is always the possibility, however remote, that we may be wrong. 


And sadly some seem to enjoy drawing red lines so as to demonstrate that they are people of principle, eager to make a stand for their beliefs. Strangely, those Christians who refused to eat meat because it would have been offered as a sacrifice to pagan God's, the apostle Paul called them “weak in faith!” (Romans 14:1).  


Compromise in itself is not a sign of weakness.  As I know only too well, even choosing music for a church service is an act of compromise.


So going back to Daniel, why the food?  It’s not necessarily the Mosaic food laws because they do not cover wine. And clearly for Daniel, wine is part of the problem.


We are given a clue later in the book when the same word for the king’s rations is used.  “Those who eat from the king’s provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle.” (Daniel 11:26).  It seems particularly reprehensible for anyone who eats the king’s rations to rebel against him.


In other words in a culture where sharing meals is hugely significant, to eat the king’s rations is to make a covenantal agreement with him.  And this is the one step Daniel is not prepared to take. 


But note, even then he tries to find a way around this stipulation and he succeeds thanks to the connivance of the royal officer who himself is prepared to take a big risk and compromise his master’s intentions. 


So the apostle Peter may address us “as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) and yet two verses later he urges “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors. (1 Peter 2:13f)


May God’s Holy Spirit grant us that same wisdom and courage which enabled Daniel to honour God while serving a foreign Emperor.


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