What in the world?!
Someone sent me this article and asked for my thoughts on it. I don’t know why. I’m no expert. But since I sent my reply to them, I decided to just turn it into a blog post. Serendipity! The original post is from 2016, so it’s not super current, but be sure to read it first otherwise my replies won’t make any sense.
I would say at the outset that the article is not 100% wrong but it’s not presented 100% right either. That seems to happen a lot. I would say that the author has somewhat mischaracterized and misapplied the passage, though the exposition is somewhat fair. The issue that he is dealing with is frankly a very “mature” issue. This subject is not a subject that baby Christians would do well with. This subject is meaty, complex, deeper than most expect, and can actually be discussed to infinity without a fully satisfactory resolution. Simply put, it’s not very “black and white” because of all of the applications of it. As with many things, we often wish they were. That would make it easy. But it seems with many things, the Lord wants us thinking through every issue with the mind of Christ.
The author mentions “the Kingdom” several times. While this is not a definite tell, the way he uses the phrase might indicate that he is an Amillenial, Covenant theologian. At least that’s what I suspect. I don’t know that for sure. It’s just a hunch. This often means one might have a view of the doctrine of the church that promotes broad unity between all denominations. Perhaps this is why the post seems to lean toward unity over purity instead of having both equally. Again, I’m just supposing here.
Here are some initial thoughts in reply to the authors statements:
1). “Welcome those who disagree with you”.
He does not explain what he means by “welcome.” To most, “welcoming” would just mean don’t be a jerk to them. To others, this would mean to celebrate their choices or at the very least make them think their ideas are equally viable even when they’re not. The simple fact is, not all ideas are good. The author may be equivocating two things that are not equal, (A) Being polite, and (B) Accepting someone’s ideas you don’t agree with. This equivocation introduces a subtle confusion to the article.
2). “Third-level matters [i.e., disputable issues that shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family”
The author uses this term and I’m not sure who get’s to decide what “third-level” matters are. Does he? Did God? I’m not saying the author does, but what if he views social drinking as a “third-level” matter? I don’t. Why should he get to label that as “third-level”? Truth be told, there are issues that are matters of conscience. But the danger is when Christians take an issue that isn’t a matter of conscience and try to make it one so they can have wiggle room on it. When they do this they’ll often label it as a “secondary issue” or like in this case a “third-level” matter.
3). “Scruples”, “matters of opinion” and “disputable matters”.
Again, the author uses phrases that are pretty much impossible to quantify in today’s world. In Romans 14, Paul does make the matter of eating meat that wasn’t Kosher a matter of conscience. One wasn’t wrong for eating it, but one was also not wrong for abstaining from it if they felt guilty for doing so. Neither man was to look down on the other for his choice or try to impose his reasons on the other. So, what are the comparative issues like that today? As my friend Levi Deatrick points out, perhaps “clothing, head-coverings, music, sports, entertainment, home/public/Christian school, organic food, essential oils, vaccinations, medications, whether one votes, self-defense, working on Sunday, etc.” In all of these areas you’ll find that Christians each do things a little differently. Are these topics the author has in mind? Who knows? He never says. In each of the topics, you can go too far to the right or to the left and end up doing wrong. But there seems to be an area in the middle where there is some latitude for believers to do things a little differently from each other. Perhaps these can fairly be called “gray areas”? I believe this is the area Paul is dealing with in Romans 14. See also 1 Corinthians 8-10.
4). “You must be fully convinced of your present position on food or drink or special days—or whatever the issue”
I’m troubled at how open he makes this statement, “whatever the issue”. He fails to point out that most issues are dealt with clearly in scripture by precept or by principle. That means most issues are not open for this gray area discussion. Most things are pretty clearly wrong or not wrong. In the gray areas, the question is not “is it right or wrong”, but rather “is it wise or unwise”.
5). “Pass judgement”
The author is again equivocating two things that are not equal. Judging is not the same things as having a critical spirit. He presents it like it is. We are actually wise if we judge everything. All that means is that we are discerning, that we are thinking and not spiritually brain-dead. A critical spirit is when we become intentional fault-finders and quarrelsome. That’s different.
6). “God is completely indifferent to what we ingest” and “God doesn’t care at all about what we ingest.” and “why you do things is more important than what you do”
Whoa! This is a mischaracterization of the passage and a dangerous thing to say. Paul’s point was that there was nothing mystically or inherently wrong with the meat itself. It was just like any other meat. It wasn’t sinful meat just because it wasn’t Kosher. It’s still just meat.
This is like how some Christians teach that televisions are sinful. It’s just a box of parts. Leftists think guns are evil. It’s just an inanimate tool. So, yes, why you use something and how you use something are important like the author suggests, however, I disagree with the author that the why is MORE important that the what. They are equally important. The author’s statements here are fertile soil for licentiousness and foolish risk taking.
My concern is that likely most who will apply the original article will do so in order to live how they want but call it spiritual maturity. I don’t believe that is the authors actual intent, but the way it is presented makes it easy to abuse.
Here’s a link to my friend Levi’s blog post on the same subject. He does not seem to have written it looking for unity at the expense of purity. He’s writing in defense of those who hold themselves to high moral standards.
I find it quite interesting to see two articles about the same subject but each with a very different “feel” to them. What are your thoughts?