We have so far seen that Paul addressed a potentially divisive situation in Rome between those who ate meat and those who did not believe that they had the liberty to eat meat. The resolution of the problem drew upon the principles of individual judgment and the responsibility of a Christian to count other men of more value than himself– neither party was to place a stumbling block in the way of the other. We saw further that Paul did not mean to have any disputation resolved in such a way, only matters of “food and drink,” valid liberties in Christ. We have seen that many attempt to over-extend the principles of Romans 14 even to disagreements over “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17), and we have seen that such is not the case.
We have been examining the arguments of those who undervalue Romans 14 and do not apply the principles to situations that warrant them. We have examined how misunderstandings of terms like “doctrine” and “binding” and passages like 1 Corinthians 8 and 2 John 1:9 lead to false conclusions regarding Romans 14, how some have argued that Romans 14 does not apply to the modern Christian, and other such things. Let us now conclude by examining arguments made less against the principles of Romans 14 but more with its application in specific situations where it perhaps is warranted.
Arguments and Answers
Argument: The “weak” brother is divisive and is attempting to use his supposed “weakness” to control the congregation.
Answer: This argument is really a caricature of the “weak” brother and is often used in discussions about Romans 14. There are many who purport to be members of churches of Christ who write about the “professional weaker brethren,” people who, we are told, believe that they need to come into a congregation and take over by using their “weakness” in various matters of the faith. There is much preaching being done regarding these “professional weaker brethren,” and I fear that the perspective of many souls regarding the “weak” brother of Romans 14 is tainted by this caricature.
It is certainly true that there are those within the Lord’s body who engage in divisive behavior and may appeal to Romans 14 to justify themselves. We can see this as a “Diotrephes complex,” a person similar to the Diotrephes John speaks of in 3 John 1:9-10:
I wrote somewhat unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth, prating against us with wicked words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and them that would he forbiddeth and casteth them out of the church.
If such persons are in our midst, and are attempting to use Romans 14, we should by all means attempt to correct this person for his poor attitude and worldly desires and if he will not repent of his divisive attitude it is proper per Galatians 5:19-21 and Romans 16:17-18 to disassociate from them.
It must be stated emphatically, however, that if such a person is motivated by nothing more than worldly desire for power and a spirit of divisiveness he is in no way the “weak” brother of Romans 14, even if he appeals to that message. The “weak” brothers of Romans 14 have a genuine issue of lack of faith in a practice. Their desire is not to divide the church or to gain pre-eminence; they believe firmly that they have no right to eat meat and have wrongfully imposed that position on others. Paul rebukes them for imposing their position when God has accepted both the one who eats and the one who does not eat, but they are never rebuked for poor attitudes otherwise. It is extremely lamentable, therefore, when the “weak” brother of Romans 14 is made into a caricature of a divisive, “legalistic,” curmudgeon of a man when the text establishes that he is simply a person who has no faith in a practice/means by which a practice is performed that is a liberty.
Finally, as we have established beforehand, we ought not immediately jump to judgment regarding these matters. I have written the above with the assumption that the person with the “Diotrephes complex” has manifested a divisive spirit and without a doubt does not actually have a problem with the practice under discussion; if this cannot be definitively ascertained, it is always best to first follow the principles of Romans 14 and to not put a stumbling-block in his way and desist the liberty; as we have said previously, if even after this he manifests a divisive attitude, then you can certainly cast him out without any fear of having done him wrong. The love of Christ requires nothing less.
Argument: The Bible has established that we have many expedients in our walk in faith, and we have every right to exercise those expedients and no one has the right to tell us we cannot.
Answer: This type of argument is really just an attempt to re-define terms. The English noun “expedient” is defined in the following way by Webster:
That which serves to promote or advance; any means which may be employed to accomplish an end.
1. Shift; means devised or employed in an exigency.
An expedient, therefore, is really anything done to accomplish a certain task. In the religious language of churches of Christ these days, the term is defined as a means of accomplishing the obligations of Christians authorized generically by the Scriptures. The best example would be the church building: we have generic authority for the building because we have been told to assemble in Hebrews 10:25 and yet no specific consistent example of where that assembly should take place is established. A property in common, therefore, is an expedient to fulfilling the command of Hebrews 10:25. We can see from these things, therefore, that an “expedient” is really nothing more than a “liberty” with a different name; the entire discussion so far thus applies. This argument is nothing more than another attempt to justify one’s desires over the will of God regarding the sacrifice of liberty to maintain unity in the faith.
Argument: If someone disagrees with a practice we perform, there is always another church of Christ down the road that will agree with him.
Answer: The fact that such an argument is being made is sure proof that many who purport to be members of “churches of Christ” are far more interested in doing what they want to do versus doing what the Lord has commanded them. It may be the case that another congregation exists with whom such a one would agree, but does this type of attitude completely contradict the principles of Romans 15:1-3 and Philippians 2:1-4?
Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying.
For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me.”
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.
I would not want to be one who has to answer at the Judgment why I dismissed my brother who disagreed with me only on things that were of no concern to our Lord.
Argument: If we apply the principles of Romans 14 as you have stated we will be facing absolute chaos! Anyone can come in and have some problem with all kinds of things and chaos will rule the church!
Answer: It must be said that this type of argument is fairly desperate and not based on any form of substance in truth. It is best compared to the argument often made by those rejecting the necessity of baptism for salvation when they describe the “what if” scenario of a man in the desert who believes and repents but cannot be baptized before he dies.
What can be said to such things? If the love of God “chaos?” Is the concept of sacrificing one’s liberties– things which are not necessary or important in the grand scheme of things– too difficult to bear? Where is the example of a church thrown into such “chaos?” On what account would this be “chaos?”
If all brethren exemplified the attitudes of the Scriptures in regards to such matters– counting all others of more value than himself, the strong bearing the burdens of the weak, and all being resolved to not place a stumbling-block in his brother’s way– there could be multiple contended liberties and the church would not be in chaos. They would all love one another too much to bear to separate for trivial matters. They would recognize the force of the statement to not destroy with your meat him for whom Christ died.
It is understood that such ideals will not be met on this side of Heaven; this does not, however, justify undervaluing the principles of Romans 14. I have not heard of any church thrown into chaos because all of a sudden everyone developed problems with various liberties, and I would challenge anyone who gives such an argument credence to find out how many contentions over liberties have gone on in their church or in other churches around them.
Properly applying the principles of Romans 14 do not lead to chaos but unity and cohesion. Not applying the principles of Romans 14 when they ought to be applied creates chaos and division where none should exist.
We have now examined all of the various arguments used to undervalue Romans 14 and we have seen that they have demonstrated such arguments to be either without proper foundation or misdirected. The truths of Romans 14 remain: in matters of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”– issues of direct commands and specific examples– there shall be no tolerance of error. In matters of “food and drink”– liberties– we must not put a stumbling-block in our brother’s way. Liberties are not worth destroying him for whom Christ died. Liberties are not worth dividing the Lord’s Body and causing grief to our Lord. Let us all study these matters further and properly apply the principles of Romans 14 so that we may maintain the approval of our Lord.