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Word and Weed

One of the reasons for the length of time between this post and the last is simple disobedience. I KNEW the God wanted me to write this; I simply didn’t want to because of the reactions I am almost certain I’ll get from most readers.

And, no, it wasn’t because I was afraid of offending anyone or because I was overly concerned with being taken the wrong way, or even that I would be ignored or my stand rejected without consideration. Even though the majority of conversations I’ve had on this topic (which is coming up quite often lately) gets one of those responses, my main excuse for not posting this is because, based on previous conversations, I felt it was a waste of time.

“Why, Lord,” I asked, “Should I put all this effort into something that I know will just come to nothing?”

And, of course, the answer was the same as always in these cases. “Because that is what I want you to do, and I know the outcome – you don’t. Read your Scripture and thing back on church history. Are you so arrogant to think that you are the only one I’ve asked to do something that seems silly at the time? Get on with it!”

 So, here’s the question: 

“Is it OK for a Christian to use recreational marijuana in those states that have legalized it?”

There are really two questions to be answered. You will notice that the second presupposes a “yes” answer to the first, and that a “no” answer to the first makes the second irrelevant. Here they are:“Is it OK for a Christian to use recreational marijuana in those states that have legalized it?”  and “How much of a buzz can I get without sinning?”

Before I answer, I want to make it VERY clear that I am NOT addressing the issue of medical marijuana. I am looking at the use of recreational marijuana, even if used for medical reasons but without a prescription. There are legitimate PRESCRIBED MEDICAL uses for it, most of which do not contain significant amounts of the compound primarily responsible for the psychoactive effects.

The reason I stress prescribed and supervised medical use is because over thirty years in various ministries and two decades of my wife working at a resident teen treatment center I can without reservation state that of ALL of the many acquaintances, friends, and family members that I have observed self-medicating with controlled substances (including both alcohol and marijuana), it has NEVER turned out well.

Back to recreational use. As a follower of Christ, the primary authority should be the Bible. However, Scripture does not directly mention marijuana. Therefore, we must look at what God has said in His word about similar substances, and draw a correlation from that.

There are two topics in the Bible that most directly relate to the issue: sorcery, and alcohol.   The first requires a bit more explanation, so let’s look at sorcery first.

Although Scripture does not explicitly mention narcotic and mind-altering drug use other than alcohol, extra-Biblical writings of the times as well as the writings of early church fathers and contemporary historians indicate that the use of such drugs was an integral part of many sorcerous practices. For example, sorcerers and magicians frequently used psychoactive potions to induce visions and help in divination.  The Bible very clearly forbids the practice of sorcery and occult magic in Ex. 22:18, Mal 3:5, and Gal 5:19-21

As for alcohol, we are repeatedly reminded that we are not to get drunk. A few passages that emphasize this are  Rom. 13:13,  1 Cor 6:9-10,  Eph. 5:18, and 1 Thess.5:7-8.

So, the obviously most valid conclusion from these and other passages is that we are forbidden by God to purposely become intoxicated. In other words, getting high is equally sinful as getting drunk.

But, I’ve been asked, since we aren’t forbidden from the use of alcohol as long as we don’t get drunk, doesn’t the same apply to recreational use of other drugs?

That’s a good question, but when the effects and common uses of non-prescribed mind-altering drugs such as cannabis are examined, it becomes clear that the real questions is “Can I use marijuana anyway?”.

Here’s the BIG difference: while for the average adult it takes about two to 4 servings of an alcoholic beverage to become intoxicated, for cannabis clinical studies have concluded that in order to become intoxicated to the point of impaired judgement and reflexes takes on average 4 – 6 puffs. In other words, most adults will get a buzz from less than one joint, and a full one can get you flat out high unless you are using it frequently enough to build up a tolerance.

Coupled with the fact that no one I have interviewed or read accounts from uses cannabis in cooking (brownies or cookies, y’all?) does it as a flavor enhancer or for any reason other than to get high, it is safe to conclude that there is no safe, legitimate, or Biblically sound use for recreational marijuana. Remember, as I said before – self medicating with controlled substances has, in my observation, never turned out well.

But there are other reasons to refrain from recreational use. First of all,  in Romans 13:1-2 Paul reminds us that we are to obey the laws of the land. While Scripture does give us the obligation to break this general rule when obeying the law forces us to violate GOD’S commands, this practice clearly does not fall under that exception. So, since use of recreational use of marijuana is still prohibited under Federal law anytime you use cannabis without a prescription you are willingly disobeying the law.

Finally, Paul spend a large portion of his letter to the  Romans (Rom. 14) giving instructions about how just because we CAN do something it is often the case that we SHOULDN’T.  He emphasized that if indulging in something that is pleasurable or even possibly personally beneficial in some way is likely to cause a sibling in Christ to stumble in their relationship with God WE SHOULD NOT DO IT. 

Additionally, we must keep in mind that Jesus, in Luke 9, talks about the necessity of personal sacrifice even to the point of death and torture in order to be an authentic disciple. If we as Warriors of Faith are not willing to sacrifice even in relatively small ways by refraining from what is clearly not in keeping with God’s will or commands, then are we truly ‘warriors’ at all? I think not.

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For those who either dispute my assessment of the physiological effects of cannabis, or are unfamiliar with the research, here are a couple of sites to take a look at:

Here is a link to a clinical study discussing average amount needed for intoxication as well as some other information to think about.

Lifehacker has a fairly comprehensive article on the physiological effects of weed

Is History Written By Those Who Believe Their Writings Reliable?

Recently, I was surprised by an assertion that I had read about, but had not given much thought to since I’d never heard it before in personal conversation. After some inquiry, I found out that it is becoming a popular objection to the trustworthiness of the Gospel records.

The main premise of the argument is this: The New Testament accounts are unreliable simply because the authors of the books were followers of Jesus, and because of that were prone to exaggeration and fabrication.

Now, the person who presented this to me was quite convinced that this was not only a valid argument, but a powerful one as well. After all, if you can’t trust the authors to be accurate, you can’t reasonably believe what they write to be true. Therefore, the argument goes, Christianity cannot be true.

By the strict rules of logic, this argument is valid, but only if the premise is true. Show that to be false, and the conclusion becomes not only irrelevant but rather silly.

The premise (the text is unreliable because the authors believed the unique claims about the subject) is obviously false once you apply it to other works of nonfiction. If it is true, it is also true that all of the following are unreliable simply because the authors believed the facts presented are true:

* All history texts, both modern and ancient
* Any published scientific texts
* Any owner or service manual for a mechanical device
* All biographies
*Any courtroom testimony

… and the list goes on. My point is that just because the presenter of an implausible fact or historical event believes it to be true, it does not follow as a necessity that what he is relating is untrue. So, with the premise being shown false, the argument falls apart.

But the logical fallacy is not the only problem with this argument. It presupposes that the Gospel writers were purposely making up their writings in order to deceive people into believing that Jesus is the Christ when in fact he was not.

I’ve dealt with that idea before here and here if you want more detail and many resource links. Briefly, it is highly unlikely that the writers could have gotten away with it if that was their goal – there were scores (if not hundreds) of witness to the activities of Jesus alive at the time of publication who could easily refute their claims. The only Gospel account that is disputed by any available contemporary writings is the resurrection of Christ, and those few texts offer no evidence other than speculation to support the allegation. No body was ever found or said to have been found by contemporary writers.

It should also be noted that three of the Gospel writers did not start out as ‘true believers’, and not enough is known about Mark to be able to tell when he became a follower of the Christ. Two of the authors (Matthew and John) were disciples of Jesus, but even they admit that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that they realized that He was God. Luke was an historian (and probably a doctor); according to the introduction to the Gospel he wrote, his intent in writing it was to provide an orderly and factual account of the Christ. That many archaeological finds and ancient text corroborate formerly disputed passages and none have contradicted him is testimony to the truth of Luke’s Gospel.

So, because the Gospel accounts agree with known history on every point in which they can be verified AND there are no contemporary historical accounts that give any verified evidence to contradict them, the argument that the Gospels are untrustworthy because the authors believed that Jesus was the Christ falls apart on historical as well as logical grounds.

Why Apologetics?

One attitude that I’m often confronted with from other Christians is, in my opinion not only nonBiblical but nonsensical. It is usually stated with the conviction that stating the truth excludes further discussion along with an air of smug ‘piety’. It can most easily be summed up with a statement that I heard last night (paraphrased for clarity):

“There is no need for apologetics; only the Spirit can convince (Mormons, atheists, etc – fill in the blank). You can’t reason with those people or argue them into the Kingdom. Besides, we’re supposed to be Christlike, and Jesus never argued with people, nor are we told to in Scripture.”

Let’s examine the statement against apologetics one assertion at a time, but first some groundwork by way of defining terms. For a definition of just what Christian apologetics is, take a look here. The most common definition of an argument is ‘reasons presented in order to persuade”. Here’s a link to a collection of dictionary definitions of the term. Notice that for practical purposes, an a apologetic and an argument (in this technical sense) are one and the same. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!

First point: “only the Spirit can convince (fill in the blank).” This statement is irrelevant to the question of whether the Christian should engage in presenting apologetics, for two reasons:

First, the primary purpose of an apologetic is to offer a reasoned DEFENSE of the Christian faith – to show that it is a reasonable belief. The primary purpose is not to prove the opposing world view false (that is a polemic). If God uses that defense to convince the nonChristian that his position is untenable, great!

Second (and I believe this is the case), if Christ and the apostles modeled and encouraged the use of apologetic reasoning, it is my duty as a Christian to follow that example and directive regardless of the outcome. God is in charge of the results; I am responsible to obey.

Second point: “You can’t either reason with these people or argue them into the Kingdom.”

I contend that not only is it possible to effectively present an argument with non-Christians, but, in many cases that is the method by which God confronts them with the truth of the Gospel and their need to become a disciple of the Christ.

My case is twofold; Biblical example and personal observation. Let’s look at examples of where the Bible shows the presenting of an argument in order to bring someone to Salvation.

Carefully read Acts 8:29 – 38. It tells the story of Philip presenting the Gospel to an Ethiopian. Notice that he presented reasons (an argument) for the deity of Jesus, giving the reasons from the book of Isaiah.

Next, look at Acts 2:5 – 41. This is the account of Peter’s first recorded public speech after the resurrection. The populace had accused the the Apostles of being drunk. Peter gives an eloquent argument demonstrating that not only are the Apostles not drunk, but that Jesus is the Messiah. The result of this ‘ineffective and unnecessary’ argument? THREE THOUSAND souls were saved as a direct result!

There are many more examples of the use of argument and apologetics in Scripture; I’ll present a few more examples when we look at the last anti-apologetic point.

My other refutation of the ‘you can’t argue people into the Kingdom’ assertion is personal observation. While in the sense that a ‘I’m right and you’re wrong” exchange is rarely effective, I have yet to meet a single former Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness who has become a Christian that has been presented a reasoned argument for the supremacy of Biblical truth over their doctrines.

So now we come to the final point, summarized as  ” Christ didn’t do apologetics, and the Bible tells us to be loving, not argumentative.”

I’ll grant that the Bible does instruct us to be loving, but there is a great difference between presenting an argument and being argumentative. The difference is in attitude; an argumentative attitude almost always results in anger and a failure to examine the argument presented, while a calm, friendly presentation of an argument MAY result in angering the person you are presenting an apologetic to – but it is an anger about the argument, not an response to an aggressive attitude. Besides, isn’t refusing to present the need truthfulness and need for the Gospel essentially telling the person you are talking to to ‘go to hell’? How loving is that??

But back to the point: there are many examples in Scripture that show that not only did Jesus engage in presenting apologetics, but that we as His followers are expected and instructed to do the same. I’ll give you a few examples, with those of our Lord first:

-) John 5:16 – 47
In this passage, Jesus is giving an apologetic for both His deity and the acceptability of healing on the Sabbath.

-) John 7:14 – 24
Here Jesus gives another argument for the propriety of healing on the Sabbath.

-) Luke 5:20 – 26
Jesus is accused of blasphemy for forgiving a man’s sins. He heals the man, and clearly states that He did so as a demonstration of his authority to do so.

There are many more examples of Jesus using apologetic arguments in the Gospels, but I think the point has been made.

The book of Acts has many examples of the Apostles presenting arguments to defend the Gospel or a position of faith; I’ve already mentioned Peter’s first public speech. Acts 6:15 – 7:53, 8:30 – 36, 15:5 – 21, and 17:16 – 31 are a few of these many examples. Additionally, most of the Epistles (especially Romans) are writings that are apologetic in nature.

And finally, we are instructed in the Bible to engage in apologetics, and in Jude 3, specifically to present a reasoned defense of the Gospel to those (like the Mormons and other heretic groups) who spread false doctrine:

“Beloved, while I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I was constrained to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

1 Peter 3:14-16 commands us to “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you”. The word translated ‘answer’ is apologia – so it can be said that we are commanded in Scripture to give an apologetic to everyone who asks for a reason for our hope in Christ.

Doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?

For more information about this topic, here are some additional thoughts by well-known apologists:

Stand To Reason has a LOT of information; here’s a short article by Alan Shlemon

CARM lists Eight Reasons Why We Need Apologetics

Icthus77 has a lengthy article on this topic, with many links to related information