Disputable matters

Elise got me thinking about an interesting topic based on my last post – the discussion of what is a sin for you is not a sin for me – i.e. disputable matters within Christianity. Even though the apostle Paul clearly stated how to deal with them, religious institutions have a hard time with them because they want to codify the sin lists into “doctrinal statements” – unfortunately including the issues that are disputable. This is just more religion piled onto otherwise healthy Christianity. By doing so, they are in violation of Paul’s command (and thus sin): to not “pass judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). I will not attend a church that has disputable matters in their doctrinal statements for this reason.

However, there might be some argument as to if a “disputable matters”-focused church is good. Could there be a church of weaker believers who can keep each other accountable in a common area of weakness?

I would say this is bad. While it will help them while they are weak, how is God going to help them grow into stronger believers to embrace their freedom from such non-sin rules? Furthermore, these churches will turn off potential already mature believers by telling them that the disputable matter they believe is ok is actually a sin (and thus, according to Paul, sin themselves in doing so.) This church will always have spiritually immature believers and can never grow spiritually in their area of weakness. However, all this intellectualizing about a spiritually weak church doesn’t seem to match up to the real world. In my experience, non-drinking, non-card playing churches are not filled with people overcoming alcohol addictions and gambling. They are filled with people who have no problem with those issues at all, but have grown up with these non-biblical religious/traditional beliefs and will refuse to open it up to scrutiny, plus they like it because it gives them a feeling of self-righteousness. The few that did struggle with alcohol or gambling did so maybe 50 years ago when they were teenagers for a couple of years. Why did they never grow up and learn how to do these things the mature way? Because man-made religion, when practiced, kills authentic spiritual maturity. Self-righteousness and an intellectually dishonest clinging to non-biblical, man-made traditions are earmarks of a church that is playing religion, not one engaging its members in a real spiritual Christian life.

In Romans 14, Paul seems to be suggesting that both mature and weak believers should co-exist. I believe that may be the formula for helping them become stronger in the long run. The ground rules are to give each other a break. In my experience, the weaker believer often criticizes and looks down on the stronger one (as in Romans 14:3 mentions happens). This is actually the real sin going on (Paul explicitly says so), not eating or drinking or playing cards. However, they probably have not read Romans to know this since they are just getting started, so the stronger among us must give them even more of a break.

Also in Romans, Paul says that weaker believers pile additional sin rules on themselves because their faith is weak. Weaker meaning they will fall into real sin if they dabble in these disputable areas, not that they intellectually think they are wrong. The idea is that what the weaker believer calls a sin is not really a sin at all, but they have decided to make it one between God and themselves, and I believe God is moving them towards a place of freedom in their life, but because they are weak, this freedom must be gained slowly with maturity.

My biggest problem is not with weaker Christians, the ones who by dabbling in an area such as drinking because they can easily return to a worse state, such as alcoholism. My problem is mostly with outspoken Christians who are not weak (i.e. do not struggle with alcoholism and never have) who continually criticize others at any opportunity for taking a stance opposite of them on a disputable matter. These things can be discussed, and are often fun to do so in peaceful, non-confrontational conversation, but to aggressively debate others who disagree with you, Paul has only one thing to say:

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, they must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

Some other quotes:

Romans 14

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11It is written:
” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’ “[a] 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food[b] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.

19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Corinthians 10:23-31

23″Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

25Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”[c]

27If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake[d]— 29the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

    5 Responses to “Disputable matters”

    1. Elise
      1

      Thank you for the thoughtful response. I keep meaning to reply in detail and haven’t got a chance yet. But, excuses aside, I really appreciated the scripture references and your post got the wheels turning. As always, I really relate to the way you approach your faith.

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      2
      Author Comment

      Thanks Elise!
      It’s good to have you stop by to keep these thoughts and conversations going!

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