Cafeteria Christianity is a non-scriptural colloquialism that refers to the practice of deciding for oneself which parts of the Bible to accept, as one might select certain foods in a cafeteria while rejecting others, as opposed to a Methuselized decision to accept what is in front of them. This implies that the person is a Christian in name only and, while believing in a deity, does not adhere to scripture. Other terms include "salad-bar Christianity" and "cherry-picking Christianity." Cafeteria Christianity is an example of self-generated Christianity, i.e., "Christianity" developed to meet one's own demand profile. It is a form of confirmation bias.
This practice is particularly common in order to deny the existence of Hell and the necessity of faith for redemption. Matt. 7:1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" is sometimes quoted out of context particularly often for this purpose. When read in context, this verse is part of a condemnation of hypocrisy, not judgment in general. Likewise, some selectively ignore passages which refute evolution, condemn abortion, make statements about the role of women that refute modern feminist dogmas, condemn homosexuality, adultery, and remarriage after an un-Biblical divorce, and conflict with other liberal views. Liberal Christians are also fond of citing Scripture selectively in order to rebuke only someone else's sins or to explain away the sins of liberal political allies.
If Christians do not take the entire Bible seriously, unbelievers may assume that they need not do so, either. Cafeteria Christians are often referred to as "carnal Christians". A cafeteria Christian can endanger the faith of others by spreading false doctrine as though it were genuine Christianity.
What the Bible teaches
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4 (KJV)
Note: "every word," not "some words." The counterargument of many cafeteria Christians is to assert, typically without evidence, that the word of the authors of certain parts of the Bible is not necessarily the word of God. However, absent evidence that a certain passage of the Bible is not God's Word (e.g., Paul's explicit statement that he is expressing a personal view), that counterargument is circular, as it assumes the propriety of cherry-picking the Bible in order to justify cherry-picking the Bible.
Few would argue, for example, with the statement: 'However, the bible cannot be interpreted literally'. Jesus statement, "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee", or "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple", are not biblical commands. Jesus's words, "judge not lest ye be judged" is similarly echoed in "let he among you without sin cast the first stone." It is an admonition against pride, thinking you are smarter or morally superior to someone else because you hide your sin better.
So while Christians are admonished not to judge, we are at the same time instructed to learn how to exercise discernment. We are to learn to try the spirits, whether they are of God. Not only will we learn how to have fellowship with other believers, discernment teaches us how to avoid dangerous situations, falling into bad behavior, habits, and sin. This same discernment applies not only to judging ourselves, or our relations with others, it applies to our reading and understanding of scripture.
The bible is not a collection of dogmatic and strict rules, it is a book where God reveals the true nature of Himself and a path of reconciliation with Him.
Condemnation of carnality
Paul says in Romans 8:6-7:
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
What does the scripture mean by death? Let's discern the meaning from two verses. In Genesis God told Adam and Eve, In the day you of it ye shall surely die, and Jesus told a young man who wanted to bury his father first before following Jesus, Let the dead bury the dead. In both cases we discern that God is not talking about physical of fleshly death; he talking about separation, or spiritual death. In Genesis God is warning in the day that Adam and Eve reject God's word, they shall surely become separated from God. In Jesús's statement, Jesus is saying let those who are spiritually separated from God bury the physical corpse of another person who likely also was spiritually separated from God.
Jesus told the woman at the well,
God is spirit...
These words I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
It is the spirit that gives life. Hence you must be born of the spirit. This is the second birth Jesus discusses with Nicodemus in John chapter 3, ye must be born again. It is the spirit that gives life.
In the beginning was the word....
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
The words that come out of you mouth is your spirit, and it's either a clean or unclean spirit. It is not what goes into a man that defiles him, it's what comes out.
God spoke the world into existence with the words of his mouth. He didn't make it with his hands.
Serving in newness of spirit
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
Elsewhere Paul says:
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
- Cafeteria Catholic
- Christian In Name Only
- Fast Food Christianity
- Fluffy bunny
- Liberal Christianity
- Situational ethics
- Specious reasoning
- Confirmation bias
- "Cafeteria Christianity," from the Church of God - DFW
- (2006) The Marketplace of Christianity. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262050821.
- Judging Others: A Closer Look at Matthew 7:1, from Crosswalk.com
- How to Spot a Cafeteria Christian
- Romans 7:4=6
- 2 Corinthians 3:2-6 (ESV)