There are many in “Christendom” and even within churches of Christ who over-extend Romans 14 by placing within its jurisdiction issues of direct commands and specific examples. Let us now examine their argumentation and seek to reach a harmonious understanding of the Scriptures.
Arguments and Answers
Argument: Romans 14:4-12 establishes that we are not to judge the servant of another. We, therefore, have no right to judge our brethren regarding any issue.
Answer: Let us look at Romans 14:4-12:
Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God. For it is written,
“‘As I live,’ saith the Lord, ‘to me every knee shall bow, And every tongue shall confess to God.'”
So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
This passage, out of context, certainly appears to establish that we have no right to judge one another. As good Bible students, however, we must learn to examine the context and also other passages of Scripture to make sure that our interpretations do not cause contradiction with any portion of the Word of God.
It is critical to remember that this argument of Paul is based on his explanations in Romans 14:1-3:
But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decision of scruples. One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
We therefore see that the whole argument regarding judging one another is set in the context of a discussion of a liberty. It may not be proper to extend the message of Romans 14:4-12 beyond its immediate context since this is so.
We also have the witness of the Scriptures in many other places regarding false teachings and immorality and the Christian’s response; let us examine to this end Romans 16:17-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and Galatians 1:6-9:
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I rejoice therefore over you: but I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple unto that which is evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
It is actually reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles, that one of you hath his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and did not rather mourn, that he that had done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, being absent in body but present in spirit, have already as though I were present judged him that hath so wrought this thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus, ye being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ: wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators; not at all meaning with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world: but as it is, I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat. For what have I to do with judging them that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.
I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.
These verses establish that discernment of the soundness of individuals– otherwise known as “judgment–” is certainly required, and that those who are teaching falsely are anathema— accursed– and we are not to associate with them. We have further proof from 1 Corinthians 5 that in a situation where a Christian is engaged in immorality without repentance we are to remove him from our midst! This certainly requires judgment and a separation, the opposite message from Romans 14!
Is there then a contradiction? By no means! Romans 14:4-12 is absolutely correct in its context– regarding issues of “opinions,” i.e. liberties in the faith, we are not to judge and condemn one another. Regarding issues of morality and false teachings (and all direct commands and specific examples), however, either all must obey God and remain one or those who are obeying God must disassociate from those who are not obeying God. We are not to judge in matters of liberty, but regarding the “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” we are commanded to judge (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)!
Argument: The principles of Romans 14 should apply to any disagreement between Christians; after all, who is the judge of what fits in Romans 14 and what does not?
Answer: Although this question does look similar to the issue seen above, it represents a small distinction, notably, whether or not we can truly determine with what issues Romans 14 should or should not be applied. This type of argument is very relativist; since, the position goes, humans will be the judge of how to use Romans 14, how can we be sure that the judgment will be right? While some will take this type of logic and declare that Romans 14 is not designed for issues today, many will use this logic and then over-extend Romans 14 and declare full unity-in-diversity: none of us can truly ascertain the truth of God perfectly, therefore, the issues of contention do not matter; we will have full fellowship regardless. Is this position justified?
To the chagrin of postmodernism, the God in His New Testament requires His adherents to make judgments. We have seen above many Scriptures regarding the need for judgment; we have others in 2 Corinthians 13:5, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, and 1 John 4:1:
Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobate.
If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
We see in these verses the need to judge: we first need to constantly examine (i.e., judge) ourselves, to make sure that we are in “the faith.” If we need to examine ourselves to be sure of this, does this not mean that it is entirely possible to believe that we are in the faith but are in reality in error? Does anyone knowingly teach that which is false? We see further that there assuredly are persons who teach error and that we are to test every spirit and teaching that comes our way. How can we make these judgments if we cannot ascertain truly the will of God in the New Testament? Does God expect us to be in an exercise of futility? By no means!
Regarding Romans 14 specifically, we return back to Romans 14:17 and Romans 14:22:
For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The faith which thou hast, have thou to thyself before God. Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth.
The need for proper judgment is apparent in these verses: Paul establishes that there truly are two categories of issues, one of no concern (food and drink), and one of the greatest concern (righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit), and that it is entirely possible to condemn oneself by what you approve. We can see, therefore, that even if the judgment is difficult sometimes it must be made. The standard is fairly simple: if the given practice is recognized by all as a liberty, i.e. that if it is not performed one is not going to be charged with a sin of omission, then it ought to be sacrificed for unity; if a given practice is not so recognized, it is not to be compromised. The relativist position about judgment in Romans 14 is not in harmony with the text itself.
Argument: I can have fellowship with someone with whom I believe is not teaching the truth as long as we have “agreed to disagree” and I am not myself practicing the error according to Romans 14.
Answer: Even though the majority of the substance of this argument has already been discussed above, I feel compelled to explicitly discuss this argument since it is seen in the brotherhood especially regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The idea is that one who is the “strong” brother and who teaches God’s truths regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage, can see the one teaching error on the subject as the “weak” brother and therefore should not judge him but accept him without judging his opinions. What shall we say about this thing?
We have seen above powerful Biblical evidence that establishes that in areas of God’s direct commands and specific examples– and issues of morality are in the forefront of His commands– we are not to associate at all with those who practice or teach anything that is not in harmony with God’s direct commands and specific examples. Romans 14 does not provide a contradiction or an exception to this truth– it in fact magnifies it by declaring powerfully in Romans 14:17 that the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. If one desires to compromise the righteousness of the Holy Spirit, he is not in the Kingdom of God!
God has spoken in Romans 16:17-20, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, and 1 John 4:1: we are required to judge the practices and the doctrines of those with whom we associate in the fellowship of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and we are to disassociate ourselves with anyone who practices or teaches contrary to the direct commands and specific examples of the Word of God. Romans 14 provides us principles by which we may maintain unity in issues of “food and drink–” issues of generic commands and examples that do not mandate a specific practice or a specific means by which a given practice is to be performed. Regarding issues of morality– and marriage, divorce, and remarriage is assuredly such an issue (Matthew 19:9, Galatians 5:19-21)– we are not in any way to compromise the truth of God’s Word nor are we to associate ourselves in any way with those who compromise the truth of God’s Word. This type of argument may make everyone feel better and allow people to “remain friends” despite critical disagreements, but God does not look upon such association kindly, as we have seen.
Thus we have seen the arguments of those who over-extend Romans 14 to apply to any form of disagreement among brethren or to justify association with those who practice and/or teach contrary to the direct commands and/or the specific examples of the Word of God. We have seen that all of these arguments fail since the Scriptures most assuredly delineate two categories of issues: issues of liberty of which there is no concern (“food and drink,” Romans 14:17), and issues of God’s direct commands and specific examples of which there is the greatest concern (“righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” Romans 14:17). We are most assuredly not supposed to apply Romans 14 to all issues, and we must keep this in mind especially regarding the current controversies over marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
Having examined the arguments of those who over-extend Romans 14, please click here to examine the arguments of those who undervalue Romans 14 and do not apply it at all or not to all of its circumstances.