by Pastor Eric Gabourel
“I don’t eat the flesh of animals, their by causing them pain…” wrote the man that was to become the first General Overseer of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). A.J. Tomlinson’s story of facilitating the growth of an international Pentecostal denomination begins in the lonely hamlet of Culbertson, North Carolina.
Tomlinson, a native of Indiana, was no stranger to this part of the American South. He had been on missionary journeys to rural Appalachia before. Armed with the disciplines of fasting and prayer this journey was to be one that would make a lasting impact on 20th century Christianity.
Tomlinson moved to Culbertson, N.C. on October 16, 1899 with an Edenic vision in his heart. Tomlinson referred to himself and his cohorts as Bible Missionaries Living in Common. Their goal was not only to recreate the egalitarian vision of the early church, but to also restore a reality experienced in the Garden of Eden.
His thoughts and prayers recorded in his diary reveal his desire to obtain a plot of land to start a farm. His prayer was twofold. Firstly, he prayed for the $5,000 he needed to purchase the land he was eyeing. Secondly, he writes what his intentions were for it:
My heart still cries out for the farm, where we can make a Garden of Eden, where God can come and talk with us in the cool of the day, and we will not be ashamed and hide as Adam did, but only be too glad to meet Him (April 14, 1901)(Pg. 19 vol.3).
In the Garden of Eden nonviolence was required in all facets of life. The first human diet was an expression of this nonviolence. God’s initial intention was for humans and animals to adhere to veganism. God said to Adam, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:29-30).
A.J. Tomlinson was an adherent to this nonviolence. As his writings would reveal during WWI, Tomlinson was a radical pacifist. This pacifist ethic of nonviolence transcended war, it also included opposition to capital punishment and vegetarianism. For instance during the draft in 1918 Tomlinson wrote:
We do not approve of capital punishment for criminals…War is a wholesale slaughter while hanging and electrocuting are only occasional, but the principle is the same. I would not serve in an office where I would be compelled to take a life when the law said do it. I could not take a gun and fire it at my fellow men even at the command of a military officer. I could submit to the penalty inflicted upon me for refusing, but I cannot kill. (Church of God Evangel, Days of Perplexity, January 26, 1918, vol. 9, No. 4)
As with capital punishment, Tomlinson’s vegetarianism stemmed from the ideals of non-harm to any creature. In his diary entry on April 24, 1901 at 3pm, he expressed his commitment not to cause animals pain nor to destroy them. He wrote:
In our prayer service at 9 this morning the Holy Ghost gave me new light on Romans 7:25. With my mind I serve the law of God or the law of heaven but as I am yet in this world, my flesh, that is my body is subject to the law of sin, that is, instead of living in perfect purity and eating the fruits of the garden, I am compelled to act in a large measure, as people under sin, and while I don’t eat the flesh of animals, their by causing them pain, yet my shoes are made of leather and I don’t yet see any thing to take its place. So in this and other similar things I serve the law of sin which causes destruction, but with my mind I serve the law of God and hope for the time spoken of in Isaiah 11, where nothing shall be destroyed in all Gods Holy Mountain. My heart cry’s out today, Lord Jesus come quickly, even so come Lord Jesus. —A.J. Tomlinson, Manuscript diary in five vols., Vol. 1. Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
Holiness pacifist like A. J. Tomlinson viewed Isaiah 11:6-9 as an eschatological ethic that is to break forth into human history at Jesus’ premillennial second coming. Within Isaiah’s eschatological picture of peace the plant-based Edenic diet is restored. He states that, “The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:7). The Millennium will in essence be a restoration of the Garden of Eden where, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all God’s holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9).
In the age to come the connexion with the Garden of Eden is the tree of life. After the fall God said, “Adam must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22). In the apocalypse the tree of life will reemerge as the source that assures that humanity again will live forever (Revelation 22:2). Jesus’ second coming will usher in an age of peace and Edenic restoration. There will be no death…or pain, for the present order of things will pass away (Revelation 21:4). And just as Isaiah foretold, the vegan diet in Eden will be reinstated.
This oasis of nonviolence was yearned for in Tomlinson’s plea for the speedy return of our Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave him insight that the present order is laden with contradictions, ambiguities, and obstacles as outlined in Romans 7:25. For even though he adhered to a plant-based diet he saw that he still served the law of sin which causes destruction because he wore leather shoes. Secluded to the foothills of the Appalachians, he didn’t see any alternative to take their place.
This does not pose an obstacle to vegans today. We have an array of choices when it comes to vegan footwear…there are even vegan bicycle shoes. In fact, one can easily assemble an entire vegan wardrobe with little effort. There are other obstacles and ambiguities that vegans face today. For example, take the perplexity of sugar. Without giving it much thought, one would think that all sugar is vegan, but it isn’t so. While there is vegan sugar on the market, most of the sugar produced today is refined using bone char from cows.
Tomlinson was wrestling with the realities of living in a fallen world. In his mind there would be times when his vegetarianism would be challenged. Yet, he said that, “…with my mind I serve the law of God and hope for the time spoken of in Isaiah 11, where nothing shall be destroyed in all Gods Holy Mountain. My heart cry’s out today, Lord Jesus come quickly, even so come Lord Jesus.” We await this age of complete nonviolence to be restored during the millennial reign of Jesus on Earth. Tomlinson realized that, though there will be glitches, we need to make every effort to manifest God’s Kingdom in the present.
This signifies to us, as Tomlinson observed in regard to Romans 7:25, that we should seek to adhere to non-harm in diet even though it has it’s hurdles. (The usage of the word non-harm is presently being used as a short form of Isaiah 11:9 where he states that we should not harm nor destroy). But Pentecostals, like many Christians, view veganism with suspicion. Given close observation we will see that veganism has been a Christian diet from the time the New Testament was written.
Though Paul claims that those who only eat vegetables have weak faith (Romans 14:2), these early Christians are not deterred for holding a vegan diet. To the contrary, Paul exhorts meat eaters that, “It is better not to eat meat or…to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (Romans 14:21). This is reenforced in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians where he wrote, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13).
COVENANT WITH THE ANIMALS
Both the apostle Paul and Peter make usage of the Old Covenant prophet Hosea. In Paul’s thesis concerning “election” in regard to Jews and Gentiles he argues that the Gentiles are also “God’s chosen people” through faith in Jesus the Messiah (Romans 9:24-26). Paul’s proof text in the framework of Gentiles being accepted into God’s election in the New Covenant is Hosea 1:10, “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ” Paul also quotes Hosea 2:23, “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ”
Likewise Peter, who addresses his first epistle to God’s elect, refers to the church with titles that were once used to identify Israel. In doing so he also references Hosea 2:23. In 1 Peter 2:10 Peter writes that, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” Crunched in between Hosea 1:10 and Hosea 2:23, passages regarding Gentiles being grafted into God’s election in the New Covenant, we read that part of this covenant included animals. Hosea 2:18 states that:
In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.
This passage echoes the Messianic peace and veganism of Isaiah 11:9 which will be realized during the Millennium. Only, within the context of how the New Testament writers treat Hosea chapters 1 and 2 this passage should apply to the present New Covenant era. The New Covenant writers do not make direct reference to this prophecy. Could it be that the Holy Spirit would guide the church to embrace this part of the covenant through progressive revelation? Could it be that some early Christians did embrace Hosea 2:18 but just as nonviolence declined after the rise of Constantine that the development of veganism also declined? We can certainly point to a vegan witness in the early church that could help us draw a conclusion.
ANTE-NICEAN CHURCH FATHERS
When the apostle Paul was addressing vegans as having weak faith in the early church he was speaking about both laity and clergy. Clement of Alexandria recorded that the apostle Matthew was a vegan. He wrote that, “Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, and nuts, and vegetables, without flesh (Clement of Alexandria, Instructor Book 2, Chapter 1). The apostle Matthew who ate fish with Jesus, became a vegan after the gift of the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Could his veganism have been inspired by the Holy Spirit as a witness of the initiation of God’s future nonviolent kingdom breaking forth in the present? Could the principles of progressive revelation have been at work?
For an example of what progressive revelation is, lets continue to elaborate on election. In the age when Israel was the elect they viewed God as a tribal deity. As time progressed God would later reveal through the prophets that He also longed for the Gentiles to be a part of His covenant. Jonah, who was one of those prophets, resisted the idea when God called him to go to Nineveh (present day Iraq) to call its Gentile inhabitants to repentance. Others, however, embraced this revelation. The Spirit speaking through Amos stated that Israel was not the only people to have an exodus experience, “Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the Lord. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? (Amos 9:7) This was a revelation that Israel was not aware of beforehand. God was preparing Israel to include Jews and Gentiles. This was accomplished through the New Covenant that Jeremiah spoke of and that was fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). James the Bishop of Jerusalem would elaborate on Amos chapter 9 in regard to Gentiles being a part of God reestablishing the Davidic dynasty (Acts 15:15-18).
We also witness progressive revelation regarding violence and war from the Old Covenant to the New. Jesus, who was a pacifist, taught his disciples nonviolence. When a certain village rejected Jesus some of his disciples wanted to bring fire down on it. Jesus rebuked them and told them that they didn’t know what manner of spirit they were of (Luke 9:51-56). He taught them a new way as opposed to the old…when religious violence was sanctioned. Jesus’ teachings of loving enemies, putting down the sword, and reconciliation are scattered throughout the gospels.
The principle of nonviolence was to be a clear practice of the church up to the time of Constantine. The Ante-Nicene church father Tertillian wrote, “Albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier. No dress (fatigues) is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action (Tertillian, On Idolatry, First Part, Section II, Chapter XIX—Concerning Military Service).
As nonviolence was progressively revealed through Jesus could the same principle of progressive revelation concerning veganism be at work post-Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4)? Could the Holy Spirit have been active in the post-ascension church moving the believers towards a vegan position? It certainly seems this way being that Paul addressed early Christians who were spiritual vegans based on their commitment to the Messiah.
Like Jonah, the same sentiments towards Gentiles were still persisting after the birth of the Church. To help Peter along with welcoming Gentiles into the elect God gave him a vision involving eating unclean animals. He was told, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). Of course Peter resisted and the Lord had to repeat this three times. Beyond this account it is no were recorded that Peter killed any type of animal for consumption. In fact there is an early Jewish Christian source that claims that Peter was a vegan. Though unorthodox, the Clementine Homilies allege that Peter only ate olives, bread, and vegetables (Clementine Homilies 12:6).
As Peter was wondering about this vision men sent by the centurion Cornelius beckoned him to go to Caesarea to share the faith. Upon entering Cornelius’ house Peter said to them, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
Peters interpretation of the vision wasn’t about killing animals and eating flesh, it was concerning who he perceived as impure or unclean human beings (Gentiles). The emphasis being on judging Gentile and non-Christian customs and practices. They were to introduce them to the Jewish Messiah, then emphasis discipleship. For instance Peter never told Cornelius he should immediately abandon the military, even though Peter was a teacher of nonviolence (1 Peter 3:9-11; 1 Peter 2:21).
We find the issue of Gentile Christianity arise again in the account of the Jerusalem church council (Acts 15). The Jewish church issued a limitation regarding the Gentiles diet. James, the half-brother of Jesus, who was the bishop of the Jerusalem church concluded that, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you (Gentiles) with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29).
It’s interesting that the majority of the address to the Gentiles concerned diet. (Strangled animals for instance is the cruel act where game is caught in a snare and the animal suffocates to death.) Was it possible that the issue of veganism came up in the debate regarding how to welcome Gentiles into the elect? Were the Jewish Christians issuing this letter (Acts 15:23-29) with the hope that the Gentiles would later embrace veganism through their example? Was Paul pushing the issue of allowing Gentiles to continue to eat flesh so as to retain them in the faith? We shall never know for sure.
What we are sure of is that the bishop, James, was a vegan. Eusebius quotes Hegesippus as stating, “He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no strong drink, nor did he eat flesh (The Church History of Eusebius, book 2, chapter 23). Is it possible that Paul was critiquing the Jerusalem church as being weak in faith because they only ate vegetables? There was a strong Jewish Christian tradition of veganism that persisted beyond James. While it can’t be ascertained for sure it is a possibility.
THE PRESENCE OF THE FUTURE
In light of the observations above we can ultimately conclude that eating flesh is not a sin. Yet A.J. Tomlinson in his diary entry certainly seems to view it that way, while still being gracious to others who do. He stated that, “…instead of living in perfect purity and eating the fruits of the garden, I am compelled to act in a large measure, as people under sin.” Those under sin referring to carnivores and those who use animal produces. Some may find themselves in circumstances that only allow them to eat flesh. But if one has an option, maybe one should challenge her or his self to consider the vegan option. The purpose of this post is not to argue whether or not it’s a sin or unbiblical to eat meat, diary, eggs, or use animal products. Beyond that argument is the trajectory of the presence of God’s future nonviolent kingdom.
Pentecostals are an eschatological people. We anticipate the premillennial second coming of Jesus to earth. We believe that the modern outpouring of the Holy Spirit has been given to prepare the church to carry the gospel in anticipation of His appearance. In scripture there is a Spirit-Kingdom correlation. Scripture tells us that those who have shared in the Spirit have partaken in the powers of the coming age (Hebrews 6:4-5). Through the indwelling of the Spirit we embody the presence of the age to come, an age when there will be no harm nor destruction. An age when the vegan diet will be reinstated.
We will not be able to bring the fullness of the Kingdom into being during the present age. Despite that we are to live in optimism. The church, as it is lead by the Spirit, produces manifestations of God’s future nonviolent Kingdom on earth. The Kingdom is already, but not yet. We usher in lasting impact in the current age that will carry on into the next. This is the context in which veganism is being suggested as a Pentecostal witness. Because through the Spirit we embody the presence of the future.
Jesus’ first message was to, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). The word repent in Koine Greek is metanoia, which literally translates to have a change of mind. Our thinking is no longer directed by popular culture, but its to be aligned with the principles that Jesus laid out concerning God’s Kingdom. When Jesus taught about prayer He taught us to live lives that manifest God’s future nonviolent Kingdom. He taught us to pray for, “God’s kingdom to come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
The earth itself awaits the future consummation of the Kingdom of God. Romans 8:19-23 states that:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
In the beginning God gave humanity dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). We serve as vice-regents under God. Dominion is the task of stewardship. Some have interpreted this to mean that we are demigods that can do what we wish with animals and the earths natural resources. This clearly wasn’t a free pass to slaughter and eat animals. As stated several times above, humans were vegans in their original state and didn’t eat flesh until the time of Noah (Genesis 9:3-5).
In the apocalypse Earth will not be discarded. Heaven, which exist in another spiritual realm, is a temporal waiting place. The believers hope is the resurrection of the body and life on a paradise here on Earth. In that paradise the natural order witnessed in Eden will be restored. Given the current ecological crisis we are witnessing in the world Romans 8:19-23 urges us to reexamine our stewardship of God’s creation.
When God created the world He said that it was “good.” Just as God seeks to redeem humans from the curse of sin, God also seeks to redeem the natural order from sin. As humans our redemption in the blood of Jesus compels us to forsake our old sinful ways. The roots of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) are entrenched in Arminian-Wesleyan theology. Arminian-Wesleyan theology exhorts us to embrace a life of holiness and separation from the current sinful order due to the Holy Spirits work of sanctification. Sanctification is a work with several dimensions: personal sanctification, social sanctification, ecological sanctification, etc. None of these dimensions should be neglected.
Ecologically speaking Spirit-filled believers should not have an adverse effect that will further contribute to creations decay. Just as we as humans experience sanctification by the Holy Spirit, creation anticipates the fruit of this sanctification through proper stewardship of Spirit-led believers stewardship over animals, the environment, and natural resources.
Veganism is one of many tools that we can use to reverse the injurious effects we are having on creation. For starters veganism alleviates the vicious abuses that animals undergo on factory farms. For example, egg laying hens spend their entire lives in cages so small that they can’t spread their wings. Turkeys, chickens, and ducks raised for meat live in such tight settings that they have to sever there beaks to keep them from pecking each other to death. Turkeys and chickens that are given excessive muscle growth can hardly stand or walk. The birds sit in their droppings which are never cleaned. They are made to live in sheds with little ventilation that result in air thick with ammonia, dust, and bacteria.
Pigs in these overcrowded settings resort to tail bitting. Instead of giving the pigs more space to curb this behavior farmers cut off their tails instead. No anesthetics are used in the process. There are times in the pigs lives when they are completely immobile. Livestock abuses are to many and detailed to cover in this essay.
The livestock industrial complex is a contributor to destroying our planet. Animals in the livestock industry produce 10 times more excrement then humans. Usually it ends up in lagoons that flood into rivers and lakes that pollute our water sources. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticides also contaminate water through runoff from fields.
Animals used for food also consume large amounts of water which puts a strain on our water sources. It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat requires only 25 gallons of water. It also takes 63 gallons of water to produce one cup of milk.
Going vegan will reduce your carbon footprint. Animals used for food release huge amount of methane when they burp or flatulate. Methane is 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Meat production also contributes to oil depletion. Producing 1 calorie of animal protein requires 11 times more fossil fuels than it does to make 1 calorie of plant protein.
Going vegan saves the rain forest. Large amounts of the world’s tropical forest cover has been lost to clear land for cattle grazing. It has also been cleared to grow soy that’s used to feed farmed animals. If we ate the soy and other plant foods ourselves we could stop decimating the rain forest.
Veganism also alleviates human suffering, because it increases water quality and allows for the production of more food to alleviate famine. Livestock eat a lot more plant-based food than they provide as meat. If we stopped consuming livestock more plant-based food would be available for human consumption.
LOVE, MERCY, AND COMPASSION
Love, mercy, and compassion are Christian attributes. We are to embody these virtues in all of our relations. Are these attributes manifest in the treatment of animals on factory farms? The name of the periodical that A.J. Tomlinson produced when he lived in Culberson, NC was entitled Samsons’ Foxes. In Vol. 1 No. 8 there is an article about the treatment of animals. The unknown author states that, “In the first place, it is certainly cruelty to take a wild creature out of its natural environment and place it in a cage where it can have little exercise, no natural companionship and often no suitable food.” (Samsons’ Foxes, Pet Animals, August 20, 1901, pg.4) This is exactly what happens to animals on factory farms. They are crammed in cages, tight living spaces, and are feed an irregular diet.
In the same article quoted above the author also states, “When one considers the number of miserable little beasts yearly trapped, captured and bred in a cage for the amusement of mankind, it seems as if some better method of amusement might be devised.” The first thing that comes to mind is the circus or seaworld. If the apocalyptic ideal is to do no harm, is it worth while to be entertained by animals that are subjected to cages or orcas in shallow pools? Often times these creatures undergo abuse and whippings in order to perform their circus tricks.
To sum things up, it should be stressed again that this essay is not saying that eating flesh is a sin. Again, some people find themselves in circumstances where they have to eat flesh. But for the majority of people in our Western culture we do have an option.
As Christians, if we are called to manifest love, mercy, justice, and compassion can we in good conscience consume animals raised in factory farms? If the transformational eschatology of the Kingdom of God is one where there will be no harm, destruction, or death shouldn’t we try to manifest that as best as possible? Though there will be limitations as A.J. Tomlinson pointed out in his diary, we should strive to live compassionate nonviolent lives as best as we can. In these last days the Holy Spirit has empowered us to be witnesses of Jesus and His glorious kingdom. As His Kingdom is continually moving towards us from the future, let us go forward from the present boldly proclaiming His salvific work. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).