“Sleepless Vegetarians”?

This article on the MetaLutheran blog is for all of you who like to look to the Bible for support of your own position on whatever happen to be the hot issues of the day.

This article takes us all the way back to the first four centuries of church history. At that time, one of the hot issues of the day was vegetarianism. Many in the Church at that time believed that if you were truly serious about the things of God, you would be vegetarian.

This idea came from the book of Daniel, where Daniel and his friends refused to eat the foods served in the Babylonian court, and instead stuck to a strictly vegetarian diet. After a week of this, Daniel and his friends were healthier than the others who were eating the choice food of the Babylonian court. Nowadays, we would understand this as resulting from Daniel’s obedience to the law of God, and God’s faithfulness to bless him for it. But in this era of Church history people believed that it was not just Daniel’s obedience, but some special health benefit resulting from an all-vegetarian diet, which produced this result.

Another reason for the emphasis on vegetarianism was that the meat which was sold in the markets in those days was commonly used in pagan sacrifices. It was forbidden for Christians to eat such meat (Acts 15:29). It was very difficult to find “legal” meat in the markets, so many Christians just abstained from meat altogether. Over time, this grew into the idea of vegetarianism as a required discipline of the Christian life, which was prevalent throughout the first four centuries of Church history. The Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent is a holdover from this era.

Another hot issue in the Church at that time was sleep. Many saw sleep as a parallel to death and an overcoming by sin. It was believed that night was the time for evil spirits to come out and play, but that they would all be scattered by the coming of day. It was believed that if you spent much time in sleep, then sin would creep in and build up in your soul. Thus a slothful life was looked upon with revulsion. Much of the spiritual preparation for Easter that was done in those days focused upon remaining awake in vigil, the dissipation of sloth and slumber.

These are issues which Christians in the first four centuries of Church history considered to be of utmost importance to the Christian life. Yet we almost never say anything about these issues nowadays. I think that those of us who spend so much time and energy debating about whether dinosaurs were on the ark with Noah, whether Jesus and his disciples drank nonalcoholic wine, or whether the Rapture will take place before or after the Tribulation, would do well to read this article and remember that the issues which we consider important are not the same issues which people living fifteen hundred years before us considered important.

We are not the end-all, be-all of what God is doing in the world. We stand at the end of a long procession of faithful believers down through history. Many of these believers struggled with issues completely different from the ones which seem so important to us nowadays. I wonder what Christians living fifteen hundred years after us (assuming that Christ has not returned by that time) will think of us and of the issues which we consider to be so urgent.