Two Groups found in most Churches
- Weak in faith- (Romans 14:1;15:1)
- Strong in Faith (Romans 15:1)
- Weak – Those who feel bound to abide by rules and traditions that are not required by God’s absolutes.
- Strong – Those who do not feel bound by rules and traditions outside of God’s absolutes.
The weak of Romans 14 & 15 were mainly Hebrew Christians who refrained from certain kinds of foods and observed certain days out of loyalty to what they thought the Mosaic Law required (Rom. 14:2, 5, 21 w/17).
These Hebrew Christians were migrating back to Rome after the passing of the edict of Claudius that expelled Jews from Rome. They were reentering churches that (in their absence) had become fellowships of gentile Christians.
What is meant by “weak in faith”?
Faith is used with reference to their convictions about what they believed their faith in God forbid and what it allowed. They are not weak in character but in conscience.
- Romans 14:1-3 – “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.”
- Romans 15:1 – “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.”
Debatable matters (Romans 14:1-3)
A matter of behavior or tradition on which Christians disagree because a specific biblical absolute does not address it. A matter of personal preference not divine command. These matters belong to the category of Christian freedom or liberty.
Guiding principle for debatable matters
When a behavior or custom is not addressed in Scripture by a specific moral absolute either commanding or forbidding action, it belongs to a category of freedom. In areas of freedom, Christians are encouraged to establish their own convictions but they are not permitted to judge others who do not share their conviction (Romans 14:3).
Three categories for Christian standards:
- Things clearly commanded
- Things clearly forbidden
- Things permitted or left to the free and responsible judgment according to the best of our knowledge and conscience.
- Demoting categories 1 or 2 to category 3– Threatens the purity of the Church.
- Elevating category 3 to category 1 0r 2– Threatens the unity of the Church.
Exceptions: House rules or Rules of order
An exception to this standard applies to those under authority (children under parents, citizens under governors, and members of organizations or institutions). I call these exceptions “house-rules” or “rules of order.” They cover behaviors belonging to the category of debatable matters. Unless being ordered to do things that disobey God, those under authority are responsible to submit to the rules established. Children, for example, 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. Societies and governments sometimes establish rules of order in areas not specifically addressed in Scripture. Since believers must submit to governing authorities (unless they are being asked to disobey to God), we must obey the laws— even on debatable matters. But it is wise to distinguish these standards from explicit commands of God.
Uncomfortable with debatable matters
Some Christians feel uncomfortable with the fact that certain behaviors and activities are “permitted or left to free and responsible judgment according to the best of our knowledge and conscience.” Desiring simplicity and security, they want everything to be understood as clearly commanded or clearly forbidden. They want everything to be labeled as right or wrong. If God has not specifically spoken, these people will sometimes use Scripture out of context or put an interpretive twist on a more general command to make a debatable matter appear to be a matter of right or wrong.
Debatable matters and unity in the Church
Often these same people mistakenly believe that the only way to maintain unity in the church is to offer detailed legislation on each debatable issue. But this is artificial unity. It is not unity from the Holy Spirit and it ultimately damages the influence of a local Church.
“Part of God’s design for the Church is that it should successfully manifest unity in diversity. It was His intent that people with divergent personalities, nationalities, gifts, abilities, tastes, and backgrounds should become unified in Christ without sacrificing personal distinctiveness (I Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 3:11).”
“Accordingly, God does not view differences of opinion in the area of freedom as a bad thing. The inevitability of such variance of thought is not seen as a flaw in an otherwise beautiful plan. It rather represents one more situation in which the supernatural character of the Church, and its observable distinctiveness as a living organism, may be manifested before the world (John 13:35; 17:20-21).”
“What God desires, then, is not uniformity of opinion but unity of relationship (Romans 15:5-7). And so, instead of trying to eliminate divergence of opinion, the Holy Spirit has given specific instructions to guide our response to it.” (Gary Friessen, Decision Making and the Will of God). (See: Ephesians 4:3).
5 descriptions of individuals related to debatable matters
1. The professional weaker brother/sister.
A legalist by nature, they are characterized by 1) a simplistic view of spirituality, 2) a belief that spirituality is defined by adherence to a list of dos and don’ts, 3) the opinion that all others should conform to such a list, and 4) they tend to be a “mature” saint who will not actually stumble over the actions of others – they just don’t like what you do.
2. The genuine weaker brother/sister
People who are still babes and are susceptible to stumble in the area of doubtful things.
3. The mature, nonparticipating brother/sister
They limit their liberty for 1 of 2 reasons: 1) They don’t have freedom for a certain area or 2) They refrain because wisdom has taught them that it is not necessary.
4. The immature, participating brother/sister
They are not necessarily immature in knowledge but in their injudicious practice and proclamation of freedom. They harm the body by causing genuine weaker members to stumble.
5. The mature, participating brother/sister.
Mature in their wisdom and consistent in applying their liberty in a quiet, non-threatening manner which attempts to avoid unnecessary offense (One – Five from – “Gentle Persuasion” by Joseph Aldrich).