At the risk of unnecessarily continuing the recent “booze” discussion, I think Alan Noble has some good things to say regarding MacArthur’s post. His gracious and thoughtful comments are, I think, truly enlightening for this situation, and may help explain why so many in the YRR crowd have gotten so…bristly.
But this does get us to the heart of why MacArthur’s post was ultimately unhelpful: in his effort to exhort pastors to remember their responsibility to be servants of all, he attempts to find a universal standard where there can only be situational standards. When Paul talks about preventing a brother from stumbling in chapter 14 of Romans, it is in a specific context: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” If Paul was saying that we should do nothing which might potentially grieve someone, then he would have to say that it is never appropriate to eat meat sacrificed to idols or to drink wine since, potentially, even by purchasing these items we might encourage someone to think that it is appropriate to eat or drink them. Rather, this verse implies knowledge of the brother who is grieved. This is not some mythical, potential brother, but someone who you know would be hurt if you exercised your liberty. This kind of knowledge can only happen in a community, a church body that knows and loves and communicates so as not to entice anyone to sin or to wrongly constrain their liberty.
In other words, calling people to restrain their liberty for the sake of others or encouraging people to exercise their liberty can only be done in community. When John MacArthur tells pastors that they cannot encourage anyone to drink, he is making a command that unnecessarily restrains pastors’ Christian freedom. Only the individual pastors can decide in every specific context whether or not it is appropriate or loving to invite someone to take a drink. But contextualization works both ways. Just as it is inappropriate for MacArthur to make these universal claims, it is also inappropriate for YRR pastors to encourage large congregations or Internet communities to drink.