This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.
Gambling is another behavior on which the Church and the State are in agreement, at least somewhat. Until recently in this country it was considered to be the case that the practice of gambling was, at best, a weakness that needed to be discouraged. However, just like in the case of the history of drug laws in the United States, we have seen how the state has now changed the social understanding of gambling and, thereby, changed the rules. Gambling is now only a sin if it is either not operated or regulated by the State. In other words, the only sinful gambling that takes place, according to the State, is the gambling that they are not able to tax. When gambling is done in State approved casinos and under the supervision of State licensed examiners, it is a panacea for many of societies ills. The revenues that are produced are utilized to bring about all manner of allegedly beneficial social programs.
The Church has been at the front of the charge to limit or eliminate gambling. In the last election cycle in the state of Colorado there was a ballot initiative that would have slightly increased the number of slot machines that are currently operating in the state. I received letters and phone calls from numerous Christian organizations informing me that this was the first horrible step in the short walk to certain destruction. Several of the communiques made the point that this was the most significant social issue in several years and that it would set the moral barometer of the state for years to come.
What does the Bible say about gambling? Absolutely nothing that I am aware of. I can think of no verse that speaks directly to the topic of gambling. Why, then, is it deemed a sin? Every argument I have heard is that gambling is a sin because of the effects that it creates in a small number of people who gamble compulsively. That is the same argument as saying that alcohol is a sin because of the drunkenness that it causes in the small percentage of people who over consume. Both arguments confuse the cause with the effect and both arguments are wrong. Christian liberty applies to the issue of gambling just like it does to drug use. All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. If you are compelled to gamble, then don’t do it. If you are not, you are free to gamble, if you want to. You certainly do not have to gamble if you do not want to.
Hypocrisy About Gambling
Another reason frequently given for why gambling is a sin is that it is an unwarranted use of money. This is somewhat similar to the “Temple of God” argument used against smoking. Just like in the case of smoking, the Church has once again “strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel”. The theory goes something like this. Work is a sacred activity that is compensated by money. A Christian who works is exercising dominion as God ordered him to do. To take a part of the compensation from the sacred activity of work and give it to gambling is almost a type of prostitution. Money, so it is said, should simply not be squandered in an offhand fashion in an attempt to get additional money by chance. In fact, the motivation to get “rich quick” via the route of gambling is nothing short of a repudiation of the dominion mandate.
Just like the “Temple of God” argument against smoking, there is some truth to this argument. However it also suffers from the same hypocrisy. The Bible clearly states that God expects His people to tithe. The tithe is 10% of income. All Christians are ordered to give 10% of their income to their local church (I am not going to make the biblical argument for the tithe here). The reprehensible reality is that only about 10% of Evangelicals tithe and the total giving to the church is about 2.5% of the income of the average church member. Now God does have a clear statement in the Bible about this reality. He calls the failure to deliver the tithe to Him a case of theft (Malachi 3). Stealing is a clear sin against God and should be grounds for church discipline. Yet, how many churches discipline for failure to tithe? None that I am aware of. It seems to be nothing less than hypocrisy to assert that gambling is a sinful waste of funds when Christians are publicly robbing God every week!
In light of the fact that there are no prohibitions against the activity of gambling, just as there are no prohibitions against spending money on any other recreational activities, it makes sense to assign gambling to the category of Christian liberty and subject it to the rule of moderation.
What has been shown is this: the Church has been assimilated to the culture of the US in that it has adopted the position that behaviors that are rightly in the realm of Christian liberty are actually considered to be sinful. The State is happy to agree with the Church that these behaviors are sinful, as long as they get their cut when they “regulate” the odious activities. The Church plays the willing pawn of the State by providing the moral indignation against activities that are not, according to the Bible, in any way sinful. Earlier I said, “…if smoking, drinking and gambling are really examples of assimilation to worldly values and if believers are generally engaging in the practice of smoking, drinking and gambling, then it is logical to conclude that the Church in the US has been assimilated to local culture.” Believers are not generally participating in the activities of smoking, drinking and gambling. That fact, however, does not prove that the Church has not been assimilated. Why? Because smoking, drinking and gambling are not examples of assimilation to worldly values.
Earlier I also said, “However, if smoking, drinking and gambling are not really examples of assimilation to worldly values but the Church nevertheless considers them to be, then it is logical to conclude that the Church is again assimilated to local culture…” That is where we find ourselves. Smoking, drinking and gambling are not sins. Nevertheless, the Church agrees with the worldly definition of what a sin is and engages in a strong campaign against behaviors that are really a matter of Christian liberty. We find that, in this area, the Church is fully assimilated to the world.