We have examined the text of Romans 14 and also the arguments of those who would over-extend Romans 14. We have determined that Paul in Romans 14 was addressing a divisive situation that ought not have been: a dispute regarding the consumption of meats. Paul declared that to those who considered the meat clean it was clean, but to those who considered it unclean it was unclean; both sides were to respect one another and no one was to cause any other to stumble (Romans 14:13-15). We also saw, however, that many today would include almost any disagreement that could arise in Romans 14; we saw, however, that differences of interpretation regarding direct commands and specific examples do not fit into Romans 14 per Romans 14:17:
For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Having established these things, let us now begin to examine another side of the Romans 14 issue, notably, those who undervalue Romans 14. There are many today who, for various reasons, believe and teach that Romans 14 does not extend to every issue of liberty. These beliefs fall over a large spectrum; there are those who believe that Romans 14 does not apply to any situation in the church today, there are those who basically understand the teachings of Romans 14 but are not using accurate language, and there are persons in all points in between. This will be the first part of the examination of the arguments that those who undervalue Romans 14 use to justify their positions; we will begin with what tend to be the fundamental arguments– and, as we will see, problems– regarding these beliefs.
Arguments and Answers
Argument: Romans 14 does not apply to any issues of doctrine.
Answer: This basic and fundamental argument to many attempts to create a distinction between issues of “doctrine” and issues of “personal conviction” or “liberty;” the latter concept is defined with many different words. My disagreement with this position does not lie in its idea but in the language the idea is expressed. I believe that most brethren have the right idea regarding this argument but are using inaccurate language. We must remember that we are to handle the Word of truth accurately according to 2 Timothy 2:15:
Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.
My dispute is with the word “doctrine.” Like I have said, I am sure that most brethren use the term “doctrine” as a convenient one to describe issues that could be termed “salvation issues,” or, as I have said, direct commands and specific examples, and with the language of Paul, “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17). We will speak about the accuracy of the term below; I desire to explain, however, that I am not merely attempting to play semantical games but I fear that many brethren get the idea of “Romans 14 has no doctrine in it” and then whenever a certain issue of liberty is called “doctrine,” brethren then immediately think that Romans 14 will not apply to the situation. If, however, we use accurate language and terminology, this tendency will not be as prevalent.
Let us define our terms. Below are the definitions of the English word “doctrine” and the Greek word didache, one of the main words used in the New Testament defined as “doctrine:”
1. In a general sense, whatever is taught. Hence, a principle or position in any science; whatever is laid down as true by an instructor or master. The doctrines of the gospel are the principles or truths taught by Christ and his apostles. The doctrines of Plato are the principles which he taught.
Hence a doctrine may be true or false; it may be a mere tenet or opinion.
2. The act of teaching.
3. Learning; knowledge, (Webster’s).
1a) that which is taught
1b) doctrine, teaching, concerning something
2) the act of teaching, instruction
2a) in religious assemblies of the Christians, to speak in the way of teaching, in distinction from other modes of speaking in public, (Thayer’s).
We can see, then, that a doctrine is essentially a “teaching.” Therefore, it can be said that anything taught is a doctrine.
How does this apply to Romans 14? Well, we can see from the text that the “weaker” brethren were strongly advocating the lack of consumption of meat to the point of “judging” those who did eat meat (Romans 14:3). The uncleanness of meat was obviously their teaching; therefore, it was their doctrine. The issue of the observance of days– or lack thereof– in Romans 14:5 is the same idea: these are teachings, hence, doctrines. Does Paul say that since they are doctrines the “strong” brothers should cast out the weak? By no means! Paul says the following in Romans 14:6 and Romans 14:14-15:
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.
I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died.
Is it accurate, therefore, to say that Romans 14 has nothing to do with matters of doctrine? No. We see that Paul specifically speaks of the doctrine of meats being unclean and establishes that since the consumption of meats or the lack thereof is not an issue to God everyone should respect the consciences of one another. Nevertheless, as we saw in our last edition, not every doctrine or disagreement is covered in Romans 14; issues of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit–” issues that are not liberties but regard direct commands and specific examples– are not to be compromised and disagreement regarding such things cannot be suffered within the Body. Let us remember these things, therefore, and speak accurately regarding Romans 14: doctrines regarding direct commands and specific examples do not fall under the umbrella of Romans 14; doctrines regarding liberties, however, do.
Argument: If the weak brother binds his convictions, we are not to have fellowship with him.
Answer: I am sure that as with the issues regarding “doctrine” above, many times my disagreement with brethren regarding this issue is semantical. As we shall see, the term “bind” is a very general term and can refer to many different situations. Let me state as we begin that I am not denying the validity of this argument in all situations; I do object, however, to the expansive use of this term since it, like “doctrine” above, is forced to contradict the message of Romans 14.
Let us again define our terms with the English word and also the Greek word defined as “bind” in verses like Matthew 16:19, deo:
1. To tie together,or confine with a cord, or any thing that is flexible; to fasten as with a band, fillet or ligature.
2. To gird, inwrap or involve; to confine by a wrapper, cover or bandage; sometimes with up; as, to bind up a wound.
3. To confine or restrain, as with a chain, fetters or cord; as, bind him hand and foot.
4. To restrain in any manner.
5. To oblige by a promise, vow, stipulation, covenant, law, duty or any other moral tie; to engage.
6. To confirm or ratify.
7. To distress, trouble, or confine by infirmity.
8. To constrain by a powerful influence or persuasion.
9. To restrain the natural discharges of the bowels; to make costive; as, certain kinds of food bind the body or bowels.
10. To form a border; to fasten with a band, ribin, or any thing that strengthens the edges; as, to bind a garment or carpet.
11. To cover with leather or anything firm; to sew together and cover; as, to bind a book.
12. To cover or secure by a band; as, to bind a wheel with tire.
13. To oblige to serve, by contract; as, to bind an apprentice; often with out; as, to bind out a servant.
14. To make hard or firm; as, certain substances bind the earth, (Webster’s).
1) to bind tie, fasten
1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains
1b1) Satan is said to bind a woman bent together by means of a demon, as his messenger, taking possession of the woman and preventing her from standing upright
1b2) to bind, put under obligation, of the law, duty etc.
1b2a) to be bound to one, a wife, a husband
1b3) to forbid, prohibit, declare to be illicit, (Thayer’s).
We can see that in English the term is very expansive in meaning, and the Greek will help us be more specific in our discussion: the metaphorical concept of forbidding, prohibiting, or declaring a thing to be illicit. Let us continue our discussion with this definition in mind.
If we first consider the entire argument on the surface we will easily see that it contradicts Romans 14. We read regarding this issue the following in Romans 14:3:
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 see that those who do not eat meat have “judged” those who do; if we remember from our textual commentary, we noted that the Greek word for “judge” has the sense of “condemn.” Do these “weak” brothers think that the consumption of meat is forbidden? Obviously! Can it be said, therefore, that the “weak” brothers are “binding” the forbidding of meat? Absolutely! Does Paul say that the “strong” brothers were not to have fellowship with them? By no means! He in fact affirms the opposite in Romans 14:13 and 14:21:
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.
It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth.
We can see, therefore, that on the surface the argument is completely false: the “weak” brethren in Rome “bound” not eating meat and yet Paul said to not judge them and to not cause them to stumble. This does not mean, however, that any form of “binding” is acceptable; we have to recognize that there are different ways in which a doctrine is bound and that our response, although initially the same, may be different on the basis of the type of binding.
We can categorize “binding” in three ways:
- A person binds the doctrine upon himself in his own belief and practice but does not expect others to believe and practice similarly.
- A person binds the doctrine upon himself in his own belief and practice and cannot in good conscience be present if other brethren are performing the practice yet he does not expect everyone to believe the same as he does.
- A person binds the doctrine upon himself in his own belief and practice and expects his brethren to agree with him in belief and practice.
We can see here that we have an escalating level of “binding:” upon oneself alone, upon oneself and the practice of the congregation, and upon everyone. What does Romans 14 have to say about these things?
- Bound upon oneself. Paul in Romans 14 expects that everyone respect his convictions and to not give him any cause for stumbling; he should not be compelled to participate in the practice/means by which the practice is performed and he should not be judged or despised for his beliefs (Romans 14:3, 13-15, 19-21).
- Practice bound upon others. Paul in Romans 14 does expect for brethren to not put stumbling blocks in one another’s way; if a practice or means by which a practice is performed is not commanded directly or has a specific example and there are other, legitimate ways of accomplishing the same things and all can agree on that legitimacy, then by all means the brethren should accomodate the person (cf. above).
- Belief and practice bound upon all. This apparently would be the exact situation spoken of in Romans 14; it is when the “weak” condemn the “strong” for their liberty, as one who would bind a belief must do, that both sides need to stop judging/despising one another (Romans 14:1-3, 13). The “strong” brethren should speak with the “weak” brother(s) and confirm that the practice/means by which a practice is performed will be modified so that all may agree that the practice may be done legitimately; it is up to both sides, however, to change their attitudes to one another. If the “weak” brother persists in attempting the entire congregation to believe as he does and charges them with “false teaching” or any other such thing on the basis of his scruples, then and only then should he be removed from the congregation, not because of his “weakness” but because he is being divisive and has violated his responsibilities in Romans 14 (Romans 14:13, Romans 16:17-18, Galatians 5:19-21). If, however, this “weak” brother recognizes that he ought not bind his belief upon the congregation and is content to fit situations #1 or #2, then those situations then apply.
We see, therefore, that there is a situation in which a “weak” brother goes too far and binds his belief too strongly. It must be repeated, however, that merely because the “weak” brother does this at first does not justify immediately disfellowshipping from him; as we noted above, this seems to have been the exact situation in Rome and Paul urged for restraint. This last situation in its worse form does not in any way make the rule– if anyone is going to be disfellowshipped because of “binding” upon the congregation the lack of practice of a liberty, the congregation must make sure that all of its members have fulfilled their obligations as the “strong” brethren and that the disfellowshipping is occurring because of divisive attitudes and practices and not merely the conscience issue.
Argument: The “weak” brother should compromise and act along with the majority.
Answer: This argument cuts to the heart of the reasons for the need to have some form of resolution between the two opposing sides in Romans 14. Who is supposed to compromise what, and for what reason?
Paul explicitly states in Romans 14:15 and Romans 14:20-21 exactly who is supposed to compromise, and then establishes in Romans 14:23 the reason for this:
For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died.
Overthrow not for meat’s sake the work of God. All things indeed are clean; howbeit it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth.
But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
This last verse provides us with a foundational principle in regards to our faith that extends well beyond just situations like Romans 14– if we do not have faith in a practice or a means by which a practice is performed, we cannot do it without violating our conscience and convictions in some form and we sin. When disagreements arise regarding liberties, therefore, the consciences and convictions of all must be respected; majority rule does not apply in the church (I have yet to find the Scripture that asserts it to be so), and according to verses like Philippians 2:1-4, we should always consider everyone else of more importance than ourselves:
If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.
We see, therefore, that we are not to cause the conscience of another to be violated; this argument, therefore, demands the exact opposite of what Paul demands in Romans 14:15, 20-21, and 23. We are to walk according to love; this means that we count others higher than ourselves and do what we can to keep stumbling blocks out of their way, and not add more to them.
Argument: We will study with the person and will change what we do until he learns the truth; if after some time he still does not agree with the truth, then we shall disfellowship him.
Answer: I have yet to find any sort of justification for this position from the text of Romans 14 itself. Paul does admonish both sides to stop judging one another and to stop despising one another, but I do not see a time frame when one is to “learn the truth.” Paul in fact says the following in Romans 14:14:
I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
There is no time frame given on this; it does NOT say, “it is unclean to him for a month, and then it will be clean and he must repent.” Romans 14 does NOT say that the weak brother must be “taught out of” his convictions; as far as we can tell from the text in Romans 14, if the “weak” brother has no faith in eating meats until his dying day the “strong” brothers must respect that.
Retort: But aren’t we all supposed to grow and mature in Christ?
Answer: I will not dispute the truth that we are to grow in Christ. We are to always be striving higher and higher in the Lord. Nevertheless, this truth does not change the facts regarding Romans 14; it is of course good if the “weak” brothers recognize the validity of the liberty and can engage in it, but it’s not required in the least. Merely because one does not change one’s convictions in regard to a matter of liberty does not make them a perpetually “weak” Christian– or, for that matter, a “weak” Christian at all. If one grows in the grace and truth of our Lord Jesus yet never believes that he can eat meat, who will condemn? After all, according to Paul, it is still unclean to him, and he eats not to the Lord, and he gives God thanks, and he is accepted by Him (Romans 14:5, 14).
The other inherent problem in this argument is the strong conviction that one side contains the “truth” and the other side therefore contains “error.” Paul demolishes this type of thinking in Romans 14:14 quoted above: it is clean to those who consider it clean and yet unclean to those who consider it unclean. The same thing– consumption of meat– can be fine for one and sin to another and both are accepted by the Lord (Romans 14:5, 14). It cannot be said, therefore, that the “weak” brother is “wrong;” he is not inherently sinning by having his conviction, and this is true if he’s 25 or 75. The actual liberty under discussion is of no concern to God; that’s why there can be disagreement in the first place without having sin! We can see, therefore, that this argument has no ground at all in Romans 14; there is no need to have the “weak” brother “taught out” of his convictions.
Having examined the general arguments under-valuing Romans 14, please click here to examine the arguments of those who undervalue Romans 14 through comparison to other texts.