Disclaimer: The following blog post is written by someone who occasionally gets winded going up large flights of stairs.
In my mind, pastors are fat. If I’m honest, when I imagine going to church as a child, the people in my memories are overweight. Now, that’s not to say they all were! They weren’t. But in order to understand why my imagination might be crowded out by the larger figures you have to understand my context. I grew up in a couple of lower-middle to upper-middle class towns in Alabama. We were Baptists. Baptists like us have two ordinances and one sacrament. The ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament is a church-wide potluck.
If your background is anything like mine, you can relate. Coming home from college, hearing, “You look so skinny,” was a critique, not a compliment. It got a little bit out of hand. It’s most likely that there was more than a little bit of overeating—more than a little bit of gluttony—that was taking place.
Of course, the world has begun to change drastically over the past 30+ years in its stances on body image. Everyone has a gym membership. Astonishingly, people pay large amounts of money to wear a bracelet that guilts them about how many steps they take per day (or praises them, I suppose). Have you heard of Crossfit? Of course you have! Crossfitters are required by federal law to tell every person they know via social media about their WOD (workout of the day, for you couch-dwellers).
Again, to be fair, we have to admit that this is a good thing. Who hasn’t cringed when a conversation partner brings up gluttony in a discussion about sin? "You guys love to talk about sex," they say, "but what about where the Bible condemns gluttony?!"
Gluttony isn’t wearing mixed fibers, friends. It’s a sin. We need to call it a sin, and we need to repent where we have engaged in it. We need to take better care of our bodies. God has given us bodies to steward, and my McDonald’s intake is probably too high for me to label myself "faithful" in that regard.
I have to wonder, however, if we haven’t taken the fitness revolution a little too far in the life of the church.
Churches all over the nation have Zumba, Crossfit, jazzercise (if churches are stuck in eighties on music, they’re behind the times on this), and all other manner of fitness class. Megachurch pastors write books about dieting and health. Heck, Baptist churches who used to forbid dancing now have dance fitness classes. Priorities have changed.
What hasn’t changed is this: we are still sinners. We love to take good and helpful things and turn them into laws and burdens for ourselves and for others.
On multiple occasions, Paul points to what we teach about food as an indication of what we believe about grace. More specifically, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul warns Timothy to guard the church against insincere liars who forbid foods God created. He goes on:
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with Thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
Undoubtedly, there are many in Americans pews whose identity is far too wrapped up in food: the gluttons, the dysmorphic, the overeaters, the anorexic, or the people who watch calories far closer than they watch their hearts.
The tension of the Scriptures is that people are called to be good stewards of the body God has given them and they are called to feast. We ought to remember, as Paul says of to Timothy in that same passage, that while bodily fitness is of some value, godliness is of value in every way. In an era of rampant materialism and self-sexualization, we would do well to remember that ours is not the Christ who heaps on burdens, who gives an extra portion of guilt with every bite.
Ours is the God who sees no more inherent value in a six pack of Coca Cola than in six pack abs. Maybe it is the comfortability that has seeped so deeply into the American church that has caused us to turn our attentions to our own waistbands and the waistbands of those around us. We ought to remember that the primary word we speak at dinner is not, “How many calories does this have?” but, “thanks be to God.”