“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” (Romans 14:1)
Romans 12 and 13 gave us some very specific guidelines for Christian behavior. We were shown how we are to relate to God and to those around us. But what about those things to which the Bible has nothing directly to say, one way or the other? What about issues where there is a difference of opinion, even between sincere and well-meaning believers?
Romans 14 provides for us instructions about how we are to deal with these matters. Since the beginning of the Church, there have been different viewpoints concerning the spiritual gray areas which Scripture does not explicitly address. There are countless examples, such as how a Christian should dress, wear their hair, whether or not Christian women should wear make-up or jewelry, and what types of entertainment and pastimes are appropriate for believers. Some denominations in the past have prohibited their members from attending plays (and, later, movie theaters), public dances, visiting sporting events or bowling alleys. Some have forbade the use of tobacco in their congregations or the wearing of long pants for their female members.
None of these issues are addressed directly in Scripture and are subsequently covered under a church’s “bylaws”, or ordinances of conduct for their membership. Since these matters are not covered in the Bible (many, obviously, because such institutions and practices did not even exist in Bible times), they are really subject to the interpretations and opinions of those in each particular denomination’s leadership. It goes without saying that there has been a great deal of disagreement from one group to another.
The Bible’s Answer
Rather than resolving the controversy over two such areas of debate within the Roman Church, the Apostle Paul (and the Spirit of God speaking through him) took the opportunity to address such disputes over gray areas in general. It seems that the Church at Rome disagreed over what dietary practices were acceptable for a believer and what days should be treated as “holy days” (if any). Since such a lengthy passage of the Epistle focuses on these two areas, we get the idea that there were likely some very heated debates going on concerning them. The very first instruction given is that those who were weak in the Faith (that is, those who felt, for the sake of their conscience, that they must restrict their diet and abstain from eating meat which had possibly been dedicated to false gods and idols) should be received and welcomed into the congregation, and not for the purpose of arguing, debating, or ridiculing them for their convictions. No, those who believed it was acceptable to eat anything were not even supposed to try and change their “weaker” brothers and sisters.
First and foremost, we see that we are to accept other believers regardless of their own personal convictions over debatable issues. Those of us who feel it is all right to wear our hair anyway we choose or go to movie theaters should not shun other believers who may have reservations about such practices. On the other hand, those who have reservations should not judge or condemn those who do not share their convictions. God has accepted both groups:
“For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.” (Romans 14:2-3)
Since we are all servants of the Lord, it is the Lord to Whom we must answer. We are not at liberty to pass judgment on our Christian brothers and sisters because they have different convictions than we do. God is the Judge of us all and we are accountable to Him alone for our actions in these areas. Now, we must also understand that the focus is on debatable matters here, not genuine moral issues. The Church at Corinth was reprimanded by Paul for not shunning a sexual deviant in their congregation (1 Corinthians 5). If a fellow believer is committing open sin, it is the Church’s duty to address it. But as to the debatable matters, we are to accept those whom the Lord accepts.
The Keeping Of Days
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” (Romans 14:5-6)
How a particular believer chooses to express his worship is an entirely personal and individual matter between him and God. We are in no way permitted to dictate to other Christians how they should worship or even what day they should observe as holy. To the Colossians, Paul wrote:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:” (Colossians 2:16)
In other words, it is no one else’s business how we conduct ourselves with regard to our dietary practices or our observance of holy days. That is between each believer and God. The important thing is that each Christian is doing what he feels is right for him in his own heart. Let every man be fully persuaded, we are told. If a Christian wishes to observe Sunday, Saturday, or any other day, as long as he feels at peace with God about it, it is perfectly acceptable. He must not, however, judge others who feel differently.
“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Romans 14:10)
Even so, there are many who want to judge other Christians over these very issues. It has always puzzled me how certain extreme “Sabbath-Keeping” denominations are so militant about trying to convert every Christian to the observance of Saturday church services. It is most peculiar that Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16 specifically forbid the judging of other believers with regard to diet and holy day observance; and what are the primary two areas which groups such as the Seventh-Day Adventists condemn other believers? The eating of meat and the observance of Sunday services. Thankfully, it is not to other people that we will ultimately give an account of our walk with the Lord but to the Lord Himself.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
[For more about the keeping of the Sabbath, please click here for my article titled “Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?”]