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Scripture: Romans 14:1-4


There was community outrage this past week concerning animal cruelty at a Hawkesbury abattoir. Undercover video footage apparently taken by a worker at the abattoir was screened on national television news. This led to work at a Sydney slaughterhouse being suspended after horrific footage of workers mistreating animals.


Workers were shown mistreating sheep, cattle, pigs and goats with sheep being hung up and skinned while apparently still conscious, and a man repeatedly belting live pigs over the head with a metal bar. The authority, the RSPCA and the Department of Primary Industries will investigate the abattoir for breaches of food regulations and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. There are fines of up to $110,000 or two years imprisonment applies for acts of aggravated acts of cruelty to animals, according to the prevention of cruelty act.


Last year Animals Australia recorded images of cattle being mistreated at an Indonesian abattoir, which resulted in the temporary halt of live animal exports. This week it was announced that all abattoirs in NSW will have their operations reviewed by the state inspectors.

This event led to letters and commentary from many citizens urging people to become vegetarians. I suggest that if people only knew what I have seen in both city and country abattoirs while in my role as a parole and probation officer visiting offenders at their place of work, they would not eat meat at all from any abattoir. And that includes chicken.


But there are other reasons why people choose not to eat meat. McDonalds sells 140 hamburgers every second through its restaurants around the world. That’s a lot of beef! That requires a lot of land to produce that much beef. And that much beef causes health problems for many people. Increasing numbers of people are moving away from eating meat, which has resulted in advertising encouraging people to “Feed the Man Meat”, and “Get some Pork on your fork!” and Sam Kekovich’s take off of the Prime Minister’s 2012 Australia Day address urging his fellow citizens to use Lamb on the barbie.


I am a convinced meat-eater interested in the benefits of vegetarian life-style. A Gallup Poll indicates one third of the population thinks that vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters. In my observation there has been a huge increase in young women becoming vegetarians. Why do a significant number of people not eat meat?


1. One reason why people become vegetarians has to do with economic and environmental concerns. It is cheaper to purchase vegetables and fruit than meat. It is cheaper and more efficient to grow vegetables instead of meat. For every 3000 calories fed to cattle only 120 calories are returned as meat. Each acre can return ten times the proteins in vegetables than can be produced in meat. Yet millions of acres in the third world are destroyed to farm cattle for Western countries. I applaud McDonalds commitment not to buy meat from former rain forest areas. The most economical way to feed the world is with vegetables.


2. A second reason why people become vegetarians has to do with health and disease prevention. Dietetic studies have shown scientific support that vegetarians tend to have less heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and other diseases. Part of this concern lies in the reports of how many chemical substances those of us who eat meat, ingest through our chickens, beef and pork who are chemically treated to promote growth. Vegetables seem to be healthier.


In Sydney, we have had the example of a remarkable program of caring for children that held a no-meat diet as integral to its care. The benefactor was Leslie Owen Bailey and the story of “The Hopewood Family” as the group were called, has been recorded by Madge Cockburn, O.B.E., who served alongside Mr Bailey. She writes: “When based in London at the end of World War 1, Mr Bailey had taken courses in the methods of Madam Montessori in child psychology. He added a special diet for the children. He purchased the Hopewood mansion set in spacious grounds at Bowral and fitted it out for a large number of children. Outdoor playgrounds, swings and similar facilities were later provided. Mr Bailey wanted the children to grow up in the best surroundings possible. He insisted that the family was not to be institutionalised in any way. In those days natural health methods were unknown in Australia, or held in derision by those who were aware of them. But the children’s outstanding good health more and more defied criticism. At a time when great pressure was being applied to have children immunised, Mr Bailey wanted to demonstrate that a natural, healthy lifestyle could enable a child to build its own immunity. The children’s health inheritance was poor to say the least. Many had defects that would have presented problems physically and emotionally if not carefully dealt with. Born of destitute mothers who often had a history of ill health and malnutrition, with fathers of whom no records were provided, the children certainly did not enjoy the benefits of a happy pre-natal background and the security of two parents. None of the babies was breastfed and none had the bonding of mother to child, yet they were growing into sturdy, self-reliant children and responding well to the regime. No Hopewood child received injections of any kind, and no drug therapies or other medical treatments were applied – or needed. A healthy diet, routine exercise and overall care in lifestyle helped the children develop immunity. The Hopewood diet was based on food combining which meant that a variety of nutritious food had to be ingested each day with starchy foods and protein-rich foods being eaten separately rather than mixed at each meal, and balanced by an abundance of alkali-forming foods, namely fresh fruits, salads and vegetables. Such a diet is provided today at the Hopewood Health Centre at Wallacia NSW.”


I have met many adults who grew up as children among the Hopewood Family as vegetarians. I know there were other deficiencies in their care. I also oppose the philosophy of experimenting on children the various philosophies of education, diet and life style. I also support immunity inoculations for children and adults. But there was much contemporary evidence about the children’s’ good physical and dental health.


3. A third reason why people become vegetarians is ethical. Experimenting on animals for research, breeding them in battery cages or feed lots, then killing them for meat, seems to be cruel and unnecessary. Most vegetarians agree on this.


4. A fourth reason why people become vegetarians is spiritual. Some Christians, like Seventh Day Adventists consciously chose not to eat meat because of Biblical teaching. They point out that in the Garden of Eden there was no killing. “God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” (Gen 1:29). The Jews were given rules to refrain from eating blood, scavenger animals, pork, shellfish and sucker fish. Their diet was to reflect that their bodies were God’s temple and nothing unclean was to be taken into it. These dietary laws are found in the Old Testament, and most Christians will say that while they are obligatory for Orthodox Jews, they do not apply to Christians. The Seventh Day Adventists however, accept the Old Testament guidelines.


So a vegetarian lifestyle involves environmental and economic issues, public health and disease prevention, ethical and animal rights issues, and spiritual and Biblical understandings. Yet Christians have differences of opinions over whether they should eat meat. How shall we discuss and debate such matters without becoming divisive and derisive?


The early Church faced this issue of vegetarianism. They debated out of their background as believers. Those Christians, who had been Jews, came from a strict legalistic background difficult to forget. The Gentiles or non-Jews never had to worry about keeping special diets and days, so the question of vegetarianism and Sabbath keeping was not an issue for them. The first church Council in history debated the issue of the relationship of the Christian to the Law (Acts 15) on these matters of vegetarianism and Sabbath keeping.


The believers in Rome were divided over special diets and special days. Some of the members thought it was a sin to eat meat, so they ate only vegetables. Other members thought it a sin not to observe the Jewish holy days. Those converted to Christianity in the first century did not come with empty minds. They had years of living in Judaism and in the process had acquired deeply rooted habits and attitudes. They did some things but avoided others. When they became Christians, all this did not drop away from them. Jewish converts had kept the Law of Moses, had observed the food restrictions and kept the Sabbath. When they became Christians they maintained such habits. Paul is speaking to such people in his letter to the Romans.


Some Roman Christians held certain actions as things they must do and others as things they must not do. And there have been others who have felt no compulsion either way; their faith has made them strong. If each Christian had kept his convictions to himself, there would have been no problem, but they began to criticise and judge others. The one group was sure the other group was not at all spiritual. The vegetarians were sure the meat eaters should have been obeying the Old Testament injunctions, and the meat-eaters stressed they were saved by grace through their faith and were free from such legalisms. It is this division (which is still with us) of which Paul writes.


Paul gave two principles in how believers could disagree on non-essentials and still maintain unity in the church. He gave his readers an important admonition: we should welcome believers whose views are different from ours and respect them. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:1-4)


There are two basic attitudes Christians must have to others who different on life-style habits:




Paul taught we are made right with God through our faith alone. Nothing else was required. Yet some thought that being vegetarian and keeping the Sabbath were also required. Others differed saying that faith alone was necessary. Paul calls one group “weak” and another “strong”, but he never explains who each were. The other Roman Christians knew, so there was no need to go into the question. Some think the weak were Jewish Christians and the strong were Gentile believers. Those “strong in the faith,” understood their spiritual liberty in Christ and were not enslaved to diets or holy days. The “weak in faith” he called immature believers because they felt obligated to obey rules concerning what they ate and when they worshiped.


Many people have the idea that the Christians who follow strict rules are the more mature, but this is not necessarily the case. In the Roman assemblies, the weak Christians were those who clung to the Law and did not enjoy their freedom in the Lord. Weak Christians were judging and condemning the strong Christians, and the strong Christians were despising the weak. Paul sides with neither the weak nor the strong; clearly he thought that unity in the church was more important.

“Accept one another!” was Paul’s first admonition. The reason was simple: “God has accepted us”. We do not decide the requirements for Christian fellowship in a church; only the Lord does this. To set up man-made restrictions on the basis of personal convictions, creeds of orthodoxy, standards of dress or behaviour or even denominational regulations is to go beyond the Word of God. Because God has accepted us, we must accept one another. We must not argue over these matters, nor must we judge or despise one another. Perhaps St. Augustine put the matter best: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity.”If the church is to dwell in unity, we must agree on what is essential, have liberty on things that are not essential, and in all things show love. But, being human, one of the first things we do is to try and ensure that all other believers think and behave just like us. So we surround them with rules.


When God sent Peter to the Gentiles, Peter would not eat with these non-Jews because they were not eating Kosher. God showed Peter he was wrong and had to mix and eat with them telling Peter in a dream: “Do not call impure anything that God has made clean.” So he accepted these new believers. But the church back in Jerusalem criticised Peter because he ate with these new Christians.” (Acts 10-11). Peter told them that God had clearly revealed His acceptance of the Gentiles by giving them the same Holy Spirit that He bestowed on the Jewish believers at Pentecost.


Peter did not obey this truth consistently, for later on he refused to fellowship with the Gentile Christians in Antioch fearing more criticism, and Paul had to rebuke him (Gal. 2:11-13). God showed both Peter and Paul that Christian fellowship was not to be based on food regulations or Sabbath keeping.


In every church there are weak and strong believers. The strong understand spiritual truth and practice it, but the weak have not yet grown into that level of maturity and liberty. The weak must not condemn the strong and call them unspiritual. The strong must not despise the weak and call them immature. God accepted both the weak and the strong; therefore, they should accept one another.


Accept him, says Paul. The verb means more than “allow to remain in the membership”; it has the notion of welcome, of taking to oneself and so taking into friendship. The weak are not to be made to feel that they are barely tolerated and seen as second-class members. They are to be received with warmth and true fellowship. Christian love demands no less. Paul adds, “without passing judgment on disputable matters”. The Greek may mean “without attempting to settle doubtful points” (NEB), or “without starting an argument” (JB), or “not to pass judgment upon his scruples” (Moffatt).


Paul is dissuading the strong from any activity that will discourage the weak. “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.”




“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” “It is encouraging to know that our success in the Christian life does not depend on the opinions or attitudes of other Christians. God is the Judge, and He is able to make us stand. The word “servant” here suggests that Christians ought to be busy working for the Lord; then they will not have the time or inclination to judge or condemn other Christians. People who are busy winning souls to Christ have more important things to do than to investigate the lives of the saints!” (“The Bible Exposition Commentary” W. Wiersbe. Victor, 1989. p559)


The church was never meant to be a cosy club of like-minded people of one race, social position or intellectual calibre. We are not clones, identical in all respects. The church includes in its membership people of all races, the rich and the poor, powerful and powerless, those from every stratum of society, the old and the young, adults and children, the conservatives and the radicals. We should have a rich variety in our brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we coexist within one church? We accept each other and respect each other!


On this issue of whether a Christian should be a vegetarian, you can make a rational decision not to eat meat based on environmental and economic issues, public health and disease prevention, ethical and animal rights issues, and some spiritual and Biblical understandings. But your decision does not depend upon Old Testament commands. For you are not Jewish but Christian, live under the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant, live in the freedom of grace and not the restriction of Law. And when you face Christians who differ, you are to accept them and respect them. Christians are people from many backgrounds who own Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who hold to salvation by our faith alone, and who then are willing to accept and respect others in things non-essential, and in everything we do to live in love with each other.

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