by Steve Cornell
1. Learn to distinguish between matters of command and matters of freedom
We must distinguish between matters of command and matters of freedom. This is the only way we can follow the teaching in Romans 14 & 15. We need to remember that a matter of freedom is a behavior or custom not covered in scripture by a moral absolute either commanding or forbidding a specific action. Matters of freedom include issues and doctrines not specifically addressed in Scripture. On such matters, you can usually find differences of opinion among equally sincere Christians. The reason the issues are considered matters of freedom is because believers are free before God to choose to practice or refrain from practicing them. But this freedom is limited by two considerations: First, if a believer’s conscience convicts him against it, he should refrain. Secondly, if exersising freedom causes a weaker brother to stumble it is not the right choice (Note: A distinction should be made between pharisees and weaker brothers. We must not change to accomodate pharisees See: Matthew 15).
The Pharisee (with his legalistic approach) will be uncomfortable with the possibility of allowing anything to be called a matter of freedom. Those who embrace legalism believe that “…every act, every habit, every type of behavior is either black or white. Legalists live by rules rather than by the Spirit. They classify everything as either good or bad, whether the Bible mentions it or not. They develop exhaustive lists of do’s and dont’s. Doing the things on the good list and avoiding the things on the bad list is their idea of spirituality, no matter what the inner person is like.” (John F. MacArthur Jr.)
(Note: For those under authority, sometimes “house-rules” cover behaviors belonging to the category of debatable matters. Children, for exmple, must obey their parents rules even on debatable matters. College students must abide by the rules of their institution even if such rules are not specifically addressed in Scripture. Yet such standards should be distinguished from explicit commands of God).
2. On debatable issues, cultivate your own convictions
Debatable issues (adiaphora-disputable matters; dialogismoi-doubtful points) is a way of referring to matters of freedom. The issues are debatable because they are not covered by specific biblical absolutes. According to Scripture, believers are responsible to cultivate their own convictions on debatable issues. “Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
Christians encounter many activities and options that are not specifically addressed in the Bible. These issues should be evaluated based on the more general commands and principles of scripture. These commands and principles will help Christians cultivate their own convictions.
When applying general commands, however, we must avoid giving the impression that our applications are binding on the conscience of others. Consider the following example. You are at a Church fellowship listening to a fellow believer groan about the evils in the world. With staunch dogmatism, he denounces some activity the young people are involved in, like attending movie theaters. A sincere new Christian, upon hearing him, inquires as to where the Bible teaches that this activity is wrong. The senior saint responds, “Son, the Bible is very clear on this! Romans 12:2 says, ‘Be not conformed to the world’.” “But,” the new believer continues, “does that verse specifically address movies?” “Listen son,” the senior saint cuts in, “the Bible commands us to love God, and I can’t see how anyone who loves God could attend the movies! Tell me how you can glorify God by going to a movie theater!”
This is an example of someone who draws specific applications from general commands and uses his applications as absolute requirements for all believers. These actions promote strife and disunity among believers where division should not be permitted.