I’m almost at the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers. In chapter 14 of his epistle, Paul writes that when it’s not about matters of doctrine but of conscience, we should be patient with one another.
The reasoning goes something like this: for the Believer, Scripture is very clear on doctrine, how we should live, Whom we should keep our eyes on and stay connected to. All Christians should buy into that.
Some things are less clear though and where Scripture doesn’t necessarily say something, we should be guided by our Christian conscience.
So, Scripture first, then conscience second.
Now someone’s Christian conscience may come out at a different point than with someone else when it comes to things like special days, consuming alcohol or foods.
In these cases, we are to “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” (14:1 NIV)
When it comes to our conscience about a disputable matter (again, not doctrine) and when we believe something is wrong, we should follow our Christian conscience. A Believer may think something is wrong (for him or her) when it is not necessarily wrong for a stronger Believer:
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” (14:1 – 3 NIV)
God has accepted both the weaker and the stronger brother. And we are in fact brothers so we ought not to judge but to show love to one another.
Paul writes that when it comes to issues that are debatable, that ‘nothing is unclean in itself’ (14:14) but if another brother disagrees, then for that brother it is unclean.
Okay, how does this work today?
What about alcohol? And the issue of church on the Sabbath or church on Sunday? How about tattoos? Should we celebrate Christmas on 25th December even though the calendar date coincides with a pagan feast? Should a Christian watch a Martin Scorsese film with high levels of profanity?
On matters of debate that are not critical to doctrine, we have a lot of freedom, and “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause [our] brother or sister to fall.” (14:21 NIV)
The faith of our brothers is more important than our freedom.
(Acknowledgment of sermon by Mike Winger of Hosanna Christian Fellowship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wi1Claoj1Uk)