Question: I've been a Christian (or so I thought) for over 33 years. By "Christian," I mean someone who rests in the blood of Christ, who trusts in the sacrifice of Christ—and that alone—for salvation. The problem is that over the last few weeks, while researching the ECM [Emerging Church Movement] and Purpose Driven movement on various apologetics websites—whether they be of an Arminian or Calvinist bent (including TBC—sometimes I can't help coming away wondering if Christians are allowed to do anything recreational without it being a sin—a lapse of devotion. I don't mean things that are [obviously] sinful like getting drunk or fornicating. I mean things like having a hobby, participating in sports, appreciating art, etc. From what I infer from articles on the sites I've checked and from many commentaries and sermons, a Christian can't do much else but pray, study the Bible, and "witness." Indeed, a truly devoted Christian supposedly wouldn't want to do anything else, or so these people seem to be saying. (Sleeping and eating seem to be ok, but just barely.) Such a requirement sounds like legalistic bondage to me. Isn't that what asceticism is all about?
Response: According to the Scriptures, if you have indeed trusted "in the sacrifice of Christ—and that alone—for salvation," you are a true Christian. Furthermore, we don't know what websites you are researching so we can't know what they are saying. We can only guess at what you may be applying to us as well. TBC is neither Arminian nor Calvinist. Our "bent" is simply to be biblical, and we hope that we are pointing our readers to the Scriptures.
The Bible declares that believers have been "called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh" (Galatians:5:13). It also says that whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans:14:23). Our understanding of these verses and others is that we are free to have a hobby, participate in sports, appreciate art, etc., as long as our involvement is consistent with God's Word and therefore with His pleasure and glory. "The just shall live by faith" ( Romans:1:17; Galatians:3:11; Hebrews:10:38).
For the true believer, there is no dichotomy between the secular and the sacred. Whether alone or with others, he or she may both glorify God in meditations of the heart and still be ready for "reasonable service" as the Spirit leads and provides opportunity "to give an answer to every man [woman, girl, and boy] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (1 Peter:3:15). The key is that we must first "sanctify the Lord God in [our] heart" and "be ready always."
It seems that your question wrestles with the judgments often leveled against the Emerging Church and Seeker-Sensitive movements, which often focus on lifestyle choices, personalities, and preferences rather than "non-negotiable" doctrines of the gospel. Unfortunately, some who rightly take issue and sound the alarm at the rise of the apostate church do not always exhibit grace nor follow the biblical admonition, "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all...apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth" (2 Timothy:2:24-25). Paul gave a similar exhortation to Titus, "Avoid foolish questions...and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain" (Titus:3:9)
There are clear, God-given guidelines that govern the behavior of Christians—especially those in leadership, who will incur a stricter judgment (James:3:1). However, what many "discerning" individuals fail to realize is that believers are also given great grace and liberty with regard to personal preferences in the practice of their faith. The Apostle Paul made this clear: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient [profitable]: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not" (1 Corinthians:10:23).
Regarding food and drink, Paul praises God, who "giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy:6:17b) and elsewhere affirms, "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof" (1 Corinthians:10:26). At the same time, "stronger" believers (those able to exercise liberty with restraint) are exhorted to not cause the "weaker" to stumble: "If thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (Romans:14:15, 21). In other words, a believer should govern himself according to his conscience and convictions, which may permit certain liberty that should not be cause for shame or guilt: "Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth" (Romans:14:22); "For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?" (1 Corinthians:10:30).
Clearly there are limits: "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come on you unawares" (Luke:21:34). In addition, there are stricter requirements for those in positions of authority within the church (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Paul sums up the bottom line well, and adds an important exhortation against selfishness: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God....not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved" (1 Corinthians:10:31-33).
Unfortunately, as many well-intentioned critics point out, leaders of the Emerging Church Movement often model or encourage the abuse of God's grace when it comes to Christian liberty. Many followers—and leaders—of the ECM appear to take pride in being "Christian rebels," thus violating God-given principles in word and deed.
May we point out that your take on Christian activities being limited to prayer, Bible study, and witnessing makes it sound as though you think these are joyless endeavors. In reality, no hobby or other activity can come close to producing the joy that results from prayer, Bible study, and sharing the love of Christ with others. Of course, these are no joy to the flesh, which continually opts for things that appeal to one's fleshly nature. You may want to check your own heart in this matter.
In conclusion, there is indeed a biblical balance that must be prayerfully and scripturally sought by the believer. Neither legalism nor the abuse of liberty is pleasing to God. Furthermore, contrary to the conflicting extremes that you encountered in your research, sleeping and eating are more than "barely okay" to our Creator, who knows exactly what we need: "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he gives his beloved sleep" (Ps:127:2).