addressing legalism in the Adventist Church: Veganism/Vegetarianism
Updated: Jan 9
I have held off on posting this for a long time because I was afraid. I was afraid of how people would react and I didn't want to deal with the backlash that my view might cause. I have reached a point in my spiritual journey, where I just can't hold this in anymore. My strength and my peace no longer come from people or even from a church body, instead, I find my purpose in Christ and in the truths of the Bible. I believe that the way we are handling the following topics in our church denomination today is doing more harm than good- especially for young people such as myself.
I realize my ideas might be radical to some readers, but instead of trying to argue with me or debate each other I encourage you to simply go to the Bible and draw your own conclusions for yourself. Sometimes we rely far too heavily on popular opinion or on "being right". The world is not such a black and white place. It's time to let it go and let some issues work themselves out privately between you and God.
For the sake of clarity, I am defining legalism as dependence on personal moral law rather than on religious faith.
When you visit an Adventist church there is often a "potluck" or "fellowship lunch" that takes place after the church service ends. If you have attended one of these meals you will quickly realize that SDA churches rarely serve meat at any of their functions. Is this a moral issue? What does the Bible say about what we should eat?
"Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it." Genesis 9:3-4
"And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you."
"However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse"
1 Corinthians 8:7-8
"And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
"Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person's faith allows them to eat anything but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one does, for God has accepted them...whoever eats meat does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God, whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God."
I will be honest, after reading the Bible alone, this topic/study did stump me for some time, and I referenced this article to further my understanding: https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/what-does-the-bible-teach-about-clean-and-unclean-meats/does-the-new-testament-abolish-meat-distinctions
For a long time, I had no idea people were judging others or making someone's eating habits a moral issue. I personally was raised a vegetarian as a kid because it was "the right thing to do". I didn't really question it because nearly everyone in my church was also a vegetarian. At one point, my family explored the idea of being Vegan (the diet of Eden, as some people say) but ultimately we kept eggs and cheese in our diet. It wasn't until I was in high school that I discovered many SDA families ate "clean" meats and were not vegetarian like I was.
In college, I spent my first year studying Biology, and I also started doing my own research about the best diet based on science. It was from my study of secular science that I actually started to advocate a Vegan lifestyle. When it comes to this particular topic of what to eat, I would encourage you, aside from studying God's word, to also look into the studies that have been done on the meat industry and how meat (especially red meat) affects your body.
The standards listed in Genesis and Leviticus are pretty straight forward and specific when it comes to what Christians are supposed to eat, but many people argue that this is "old law" teaching and we are no longer accountable to this standard. With that in mind, lets look at some New Testament texts. The verses that really puzzled me for a long time were found in Romans 14, where Paul seemingly tells us to eat whatever we want. It wasn't until I read Peter's insight on the matter (in Acts) that I felt myself find clarity.
While it is true that the sheet of animals actually had nothing to do with what we eat or don't eat (instead it was foretelling that the Gentiles Peter was going to meet were not unclean in God's eyes), Peter's reaction spoke to me. You will notice he said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." This implies that even after Jesus died on the cross, abolishing sacrificial Jewish law and custom, Peter still thought believers should not eat unclean foods. Maybe you read this and you say, "Well couldn't Peter be confused?"
Sure. So let's return to Romans 14 and see what is really going on in there. In Romans 14, I do not think Paul is necessarily saying you should or shouldn't eat any and every meat. That isn't the real point. Instead, I think he is pointing out that whatever you do, should be based on your own convictions and beliefs regarding your personal relationship with Christ.
For me personally, I feel that the data we see in science and Peter's comment is pointing out that the Leviticus law is still reasonable for me to adhere to. I am choosing to limit myself even further when it comes to my eating habits because I want to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. However, I fully understand that just because those are my own personal feelings and convictions, doesn't mean that others have to be vegan like me. They don't even have to be vegetarian.
The more I analyze these topics which we relate to legalism and judgment, the more I am reminded that I am really only responsible for myself. I really can't look over at someone else's sandwich and know if it has pork in it or not. Honestly, I don't really care if it does or doesn't. What I do care about is that people are reading the Bible for themselves and making personal decisions on their own discoveries.
So what about church potluck? Should all SDA potlucks be vegan or vegetarian? Should they include meat? Honestly, I think this is a question for each individual congregation. If the majority of the members are vegan, then host a vegan meal. If the majority of the congregation eats meat, I think including meat in a potluck is fine as well.
My point is, once again we are seeing that this isn't a salvation issue... and even if it was, we are not the ones giving out salvation. People sometimes like to point out that Jesus ate meat, and while I don't plan on eating meat just because he did- it is true that he ate it!
Will we eat meat in heaven? I kind of doubt it considering meat comes from a dead thing... but God is pretty powerful. There might be a new plant there that tastes like chicken!
Recent studies on the benefits and drawback of meat: