Q: Is it proper to eat meat? Why do many of our Adventist pastors eat meat? It is very discouraging to members who are trying to follow the health message. — from Bastap in the Philippines, and Danny in Australia
A: Numerous scientific studies have shown that a vegetarian diet, particularly one emphasizing whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, and grains, is the best for the human body. As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19), and that we are to take care of it in the best way possible by living a healthy lifestyle — including getting proper exercise and enough rest, drinking plenty of water, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, staying away from harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, getting proper nutrition, and trusting in divine power.
We base all of our beliefs on the Bible, and while we encourage a vegetarian diet, the Bible does make some allowances for eating certain types of meat (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). However, God’s preferred diet for us is a plant-based diet as expressed in the Bible as our original diet (Genesis 1:29; Genesis 3:18) and fully explained in the Spirit of Prophecy which we will look at below.
In a short article titled, “Do Christians have to be vegetarian?” Angel Manuel Rodriguez addresses this question by looking at vegetarianism in the Bible, restricted meat consumption, and God’s ideal for His people. I encourage you to read the article “Do Christians have to be vegetarian?” on the Biblical Research Institute website.
While I cannot answer your question regarding why some people (including pastors) choose to eat meat, we do have a wealth of counsel on diet and health through the writings of Ellen White, which we would all do well to follow. “Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20).
Let us be clear: We are saved by Christ’s grace and His righteousness, not our own works. We do not earn our way to heaven by being vegetarians or eating the proper diet. But then again, what we eat and how we live is very much tied into our spiritual lives and is a product of our connection with Jesus. There is an enormous connection with what you eat and your physical and spiritual health.
In 3 John 2 we read, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” Health reform and leaning on Jesus for all things (including diet and lifestyle) is very much a part of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 which we are to proclaim to the world and live out in our own lives as well.
We are to allow Christ to control our lives and not allow the world to influence our thinking. Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (J.B. Phillips translation).
Of course, biblical instruction is for Seventh-day Adventists around the world and not just in a particular place, and absolutely the same principle applies for Spirit of Prophecy counsel — it is for Seventh-day Adventists everywhere on every continent and in every country, and I would urge you to read “Counsels on Diet and Foods,” pages 373-416 in a section titled, “Flesh Meats.”
I have lived in various international places and visited many locations all over the world. In almost every place, it is rather easy to obtain a vegetarian diet. I have been a vegetarian all my life, having grown up in a home where vegetarianism was practiced. Nancy and I have continued that wonderful, life-giving health practice in our home and have passed it on to our three daughters and their families. I am thoroughly convinced that a simple, plant-based diet is the best that God has given us.
This is not an effort to work your way to heaven nor is it some type of extremist, fanatical approach to diet. It is God’s direct instruction to all of us for the best way to live, eating a balanced and appropriate plant-based diet along with all the other instructions about healthful living. This is part of Comprehensive Health Ministry and how best to share with others the marvelous biblical and Spirit of Prophecy health principles provided to us from heaven.
Let’s remember that at the very core of our growing spiritual life under God’s guidance is Christ and His righteousness. We are to lean completely upon His power, His merits, and His grace to work in our lives through justification and sanctification, becoming more and more like Him including what we eat and how we act. As you read below, listen carefully and humbly to God’s Spirit of Prophecy counsel to us as a remnant people, His Seventh-day Adventist Church members, living everywhere in every country of this vast globe. These counsels are not forced on people but come as instruction from heaven itself through the pen of inspiration. What a privilege to acknowledge its heavenly origin and to practice its instructions through the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In “Testimonies for the Church,” Vol. 9, we read:
“We do not mark out any precise line to be followed in diet; but we do say that in countries where there are fruits, grains, and nuts in abundance, flesh food is not the right food for God’s people. I have been instructed that flesh food has a tendency to animalize the nature, to rob men and women of that love and sympathy which they should feel for everyone, and to give the lower passions control over the higher powers of the being. If meat eating was ever healthful, it is not safe now. Cancers, tumors, and pulmonary diseases are largely caused by meat eating.
“We are not to make the use of flesh food a test of fellowship, but we should consider the influence that professed believers who use flesh foods have over others. As God’s messengers, shall we not say to the people: ‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God’? (1 Corinthians 10:31). Shall we not bear a decided testimony against the indulgence of perverted appetite?
“Will any who are ministers of the gospel, proclaiming the most solemn truth ever given to mortals, set an example in returning to the fleshpots of Egypt? Will those who are supported by the tithe from God’s storehouse permit themselves by self-indulgence to poison the life-giving current flowing through their veins? Will they disregard the light and warnings that God has given them?
“The health of the body is to be regarded as essential for growth in grace and the acquirement of an even temper. If the stomach is not properly cared for, the formation of an upright, moral character will be hindered. The brain and nerves are in sympathy with the stomach. Erroneous eating and drinking result in erroneous thinking and acting.
“All are now being tested and proved. We have been baptized into Christ, and if we will act our part by separating from everything that would drag us down and make us what we ought not to be, there will be given us strength to grow up into Christ, who is our living head, and we shall see the salvation of God” (pp. 159, 160).
And in “Counsels on Diet and Foods,” pages 380-381, we read:
“Again and again I have been shown that God is trying to lead us back, step by step, to His original design — that man should subsist upon the natural products of the earth.
“Vegetables, fruits, and grains should compose our diet. Not an ounce of flesh meat should enter our stomachs. The eating of flesh is unnatural. We are to return to God’s original purpose in the creation of man.
“Is it not time that all should aim to dispense with flesh foods? How can those who are seeking to become pure, refined, and holy, that they may have the companionship of heavenly angels, continue to use as food anything that has so harmful an effect on soul and body? How can they take the life of God’s creatures that they may consume the flesh as a luxury? Let them, rather, return to the wholesome and delicious food given to man in the beginning, and themselves practice, and teach their children to practice, mercy toward the dumb creatures that God has made and has placed under our dominion.
“Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet. We should ever keep this end in view, and endeavor to work steadily toward it. I cannot think that in the practice of flesh eating we are in harmony with the light which God has been pleased to give us. All who are connected with our health institutions especially should be educating themselves to subsist on fruits, grains, and vegetables. If we move from principle in these things, if we as Christian reformers educate our own taste, and bring our diet to God’s plan, then we may exert an influence upon others in this matter, which will be pleasing to God.
“It is not the chief end of man to gratify his appetite. There are physical wants to be supplied; but because of this is it necessary that man shall be controlled by appetite? Will the people who are seeking to become holy, pure, refined, that they may be introduced into the society of heavenly angels, continue to take the life of God’s creatures, and enjoy their flesh as a luxury? From what the Lord has shown me, this order of things will be changed, and God’s peculiar people will exercise temperance in all things.
“Those who have received instruction regarding the evils of the use of flesh foods, tea, and coffee, and rich and unhealthful food preparations, and who are determined to make a covenant with God by sacrifice, will not continue to indulge their appetite for food that they know to be unhealthful. God demands that the appetite be cleansed, and that self-denial be practiced in regard to those things which are not good. This is a work that will have to be done before His people can stand before Him a perfected people.
“It is for their own good that the Lord counsels the remnant church to discard the use of flesh meats, tea, and coffee, and other harmful foods. There are plenty of other things on which we can subsist that are wholesome and good.”
As you have read the above counsel from the Spirit of Prophecy, which is meant for all Seventh-day Adventists around the globe, allow the Holy Spirit to convict your heart about what is best as instructed from heaven itself. Pray to the Lord to show you how to live a life fully led by the Holy Spirit so you can be a healthy witness and blessing to all those around you as you engage in Total Member Involvement — everyone doing something for Jesus — including living as healthfully as possible in your particular country and setting. God will open the way for you to know how best to accomplish that to His glory. Everything we do, including our diet, is to give God glory through His power.
May the Lord bless you with good health and good eating habits in the new year as we come closer to Christ’s soon second advent!