In the December 31, 2004, edition of Sentry Magazine (Vol. 31 No. 4), Mr. Herb Braswell wrote an article entitled “Peace to Apostasy– Liberty to Bondage,” a discussion of Romans 14. I believe that Mr. Braswell has made some assumptions and drawn some inferences from Romans 14 that have caused him to misinterpret the Scriptures.
Mr. Braswell writes,
When the weak brother was taught that the Lord Jesus considered food (meats) to be clean (verse 14; Mk. 7:19) he would no longer judge the brother who eats, verse 3 [sic]… (p. 18).
I would challenge Mr. Braswell to find any indication from Romans 14 that what he says is so. Romans 14:3 establishes the following:
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him (ESV).
Paul presents two commands, one directed at each party, and there is no indication whatsoever that the “weak” brother would cease judging only after being taught about the cleanliness of meats. The command is made regardless of what the “weak” brother was or was not taught. And if the unity of Romans 15:5-6 comes about when the “weak” brother ceases judgment, why would Paul also issue a command to the “strong” brother? Finally, who is to say that the “weak” brother was not taught the “truth” about meats, or that he is ever expected to agree himself that all meats are clean? Romans 14 certainly never says that.
Mr. Braswell then makes a parallel between the situation of Romans 14 and the statement of Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 regarding a future apostasy that includes the forbidding of eating certain foods (p. 18). On what basis does he make this parallel? While I certainly agree with Mr. Braswell that no one ought to bind where God has not bound, and that God
has condemned in His Scriptures those who bound things upon His children that He did not (Galatians 5:1-13), the tenor of Romans 14 is starkly different from 1 Timothy 4:1-3. I fear that Mr. Braswell’s exegesis of Romans 14 would label anyone who is a “weak” brother as an apostate when Paul certainly does no such thing!
Mr. Braswell goes on to offer some suggestions about how the apostasy of 1 Timothy 4:1-3 came about:
1. the weak brother is not to remain weak, someone [sic] must teach him the truth on the subject of meats and when he learns the truth (God’s Word) he will not judge (condemn) his brother (p. 18).
I again challenge Mr. Braswell to find where Paul says that the “weak” brother must change his position. I would also challenge Mr. Braswell to prove that the “truth” necessitates that all meats are clean for all men. Mr. Braswell, as many brethren do, emphasize the first portion of Romans 14:14 yet neglect the second:
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean (ESV).
The “truth” of this matter is this: if a man believes that some form of food (as an example, pork) is unclean, for that man it is unclean. If he were to eat pork, he would sin, as Romans 14:23 clearly shows:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (ESV).
Another man, in no way different save that he believes that pork is clean, can eat pork without sinning. The entire premise of Romans 14 is that in matters of liberty, differences of opinion can exist, and as long as neither side condemns or judges the other, they can continue together in unity.
Mr. Braswell continues later with a different thought:
Many churches have come out of the battle of the past, now [sic] are made up of many young (55 and younger), who are saying that now we are at peace, (the war is over), thus–[sic] they preach on love, peace, and unity, and they would say leave [sic] the weak brother alone, he has his opinions and we have ours, don’t bother him [sic]. Many today are like Israel of old, Isa. 5:20, “those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light for darkness [sic]— Also [sic] Jer. 8:11, “saying, peace, peace, when there is no peace” (p.18).
While I do not doubt that there are many who call good evil and evil good today, and that many believe there is peace when there is none, such is not because brethren recognize what Romans 14 says! If a matter regards a valid liberty, those who are “strong” are not to judge the “weak,” nor to put a stumbling block in his way (Romans 14:13), nor, for the sake of his liberty, to “destroy him for whom Christ died,” (Romans 14:15). If someone lacks faith in a particular liberty, even after studying the issue, such a one is to be respected, and the Body of our Lord ought not be divided over a liberty (Romans 14:15)! The fact that the matter can be considered a matter of “opinion” negates our ability to establish an absolute truth about it!
I share many of the same concerns as Mr. Braswell regarding brethren falling away and anyone who would bind what God has not bound, and I certainly do not wish to convey a belief that we can compromise in matters of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17). Nevertheless, I fear that Mr. Braswell has negated the purpose of Romans 14 by attempting to assert that dogmatic truth can exist in a matter of liberty. I completely agree that all foods are clean, and therefore I can eat all manners of food. But if a brother believes a certain kind of food to be unclean, it is unclean to him, and if he were to eat that kind of food, it would be counted against him as sin (Romans 14:23)! If I were to attempt to coerce him into eating that kind of food, I have sinned against him, since I have placed a stumbling block in his way (Romans 14:13)! It is not sufficient to chastise the “weak” brother alone in Romans 14: Paul has commands and chastisements for both the “strong” and the “weak” brother. The unity of the faith that Paul desired in Romans 15:5-6 comes not from the “weak” brother being “taught out of his weakness,” but when every Christian commits to build up his fellow Christians and counts his fellow Christians of higher esteem than himself, as Paul expresses in Romans 15:1-4 and Philippians 2:1-4:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written,
“The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (ESV).
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (ESV).
Let us all continue to strive for that unity.