Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Weak Brother Must Be Held Accountable

"It is not good to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble."

So reads the 21st verse of Romans chapter 14 - a verse that has been a plague upon the church for the last hundred years or so.

Let me begin by saying that Romans 14:21 is certainly a verse of the Bible that we need to obey. It was breathed out by God through the apostle Paul, and the idea contained in this verse (that people are more important than the things we eat or drink) is appropriate and good and true. With that being said, though, I want to point out the dangers of letting verse 21 be the only sentence in Romans 14 that you read.

My father-in-law said something very wise to me many years ago. It is a statement that has lived with me throughout all of my theological education and into my pastorate: "Mature Christians don't stumble. They just complain." That was basically the gist of what he said, and the idea is that only new/immature Christians stumble in the way spoken of in Romans 14. Maturing Christians aren't in danger of stumbling; they are just mad that you don't agree with them.

That certainly seems to be the case in my experience. If a pastor goes around saying something like, "Beer is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed", alcoholics don't relapse back into drunken stupor. Instead, what happens is that people in the church who want to try to be holier than Jesus (he drank and made wine, remember?) start complaining that the pastor is encouraging people to sin.

The issue at stake here is the difference between the strong and weak brother. According to Paul in Romans 14, the weak brother is one who "abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God." (14:6) Now that is a perfectly noble position, but so is the position of the strong brother who "eats [and drinks] in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God." (14:6)

The potential conflict that arises in this situation is that the strong brother is likely to look down upon the weak brother and think he is stupid for not partaking when it is good to partake. Likewise the weak brother is likely to pass judgment on the strong brother for partaking of something that he feels is not good. Therefore, Paul says, "Let not the one who eats despise (look down on, think of as stupid) the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him." (14:3)

So we have a problem, because both of these attitudes are present in the modern church. But it should be readily agreed that the offense has been greater on the side of the weaker brother in the last hundred years since prohibition. Judgment has indeed been passed against the strong brothers in a very loud voice during this time, especially in certain denominations. The weak brother has reigned as king in many churches for a century, oppressing all who want to enjoy liberty in Christ. Drinking has been outlawed (not just drunkenness, which would be biblical, but ALL drinking of alcohol), so has dancing, gambling, smoking, and chewing tobacco. Some churches have also effectively outlawed going to see movies or playing video games. The abuse must stop.

Paul also says very clearly in Romans 14:16, "Do not let what you regard as good to be spoken of as evil." It is time for the strong to make our voices heard. We will not cause the weak to stumble simply by arguing that such things as beer and poker cards are good. Otherwise, Paul would not have argued that eating meat and drinking wine were acceptable in this chapter. What we do see is that Paul abstained from the practice of such things in the presence of those whom it might cause to stumble. In other words, arguing that drinking in moderation is not a sin does not cause the alcoholic to stumble. When we argue in this way, we are merely teaching the Bible. But if you suck down a couple of beers in front of a weak Christian recovering alcoholic and keep asking him if he wants one, you could definitely cause him to stumble.

Listen well, weak brothers and sisters: you may not pass judgment on the strong! Such a thing is a sin, and you have no business making such judgments. The Bible says "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God...So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God." (Rom. 14:10,12) It's up to God to judge these cases of freedom. If the Bible does not condemn an action, you better not do so either! Strong brothers, it's time that we began holding our weak brothers accountable for this sinful attitude.

10 comments:

Joe Blackmon said...

I certainly agree that Christians ought not judge one another. I also don't believe that someone is not a Christian if they drink a beer. However, simply because the Bible does not forbid an activity does not mean a Christian should participate in that activity. For instance, the Bible does not say "Thou shalt not somke". However, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and you should not abuse it by overeating, not getting enough rest, or smoking in my opinion. Also, the Bible does not forbid the consumption of beer or other like beverages. However, based on the fact that what we drink today is VERY different from the stuff they drank in Jesus' time and the fact that they didn't have access to sanitary water very often whereas we have no problem leads me to think that there is really no good reaason for a Christian to drink alchohol. Please see http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/70-9-3.htm

D.J. said...

No good reason? What about to enjoy it as a gift from God to his glory?

"You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart." - Psalm 104:14-15

"And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household." - Deuteronomy 14:24-26

"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined." - Isaiah 25:6

The wine consumed in Jesus' day was sufficient to make people drunk (and it often did), so that argument is irrelevant. If one wishes to refrain from alcoholic beverages, may they do so unto the Lord, but to say that there is no good reason for anyone to drink alcohol is to go beyond biblical bounds.

Corey Reynolds said...

I'm sorry, Joe, but the article you cited was pretty full of crap. People in Bible times viewed mixing wine with water with absolute contempt. Take a look at Isaiah 1:21,22 where the prophet compares diluting wine with a faithful city becoming a whore and silver being poluted to dross.

Also, the common argument about drinking wine as a water purifier is ridiculous when examined closely. The amount of alcohol that would be necessary to cleanse a glass of water of microbials would be way more than a stout beer. You would have a culture full of raging alcoholics if you had to drink alcohol all the time to purify the water.

As far as smoking goes, my father died at age 59 of lung cancer without ever smoking a day in his life. I've known chain smokers, on the other hand, who are still alive in their 90s. Is smoking a health risk? Yes. Can talking on a cell phone give you a brain tumor? Yes. I've known people to die from drinking too much water, also. I think the point is that nearly everything we do nowadays has some health risk associated with it. I just ate a bowl of Cocoa Puffs for breakfast, and that's probably bad for my temple somehow. Just because you and I don't LIKE smoking cigarettes but DO LIKE talking on cell phones (actually I don't) doesn't mean that we should always get down on the smokers. Again, don't pass judgment on the stronger brother.

I think that the key to it is: the decisions that you make about yourself are fine as long as you remember two things. One, don't EVER try to make your personal decisions a law for someone else. And, two, remember Colossians 2:21-23. These regulations of 'do not handle', 'do not taste', and 'do not touch' sound like wisdom, but are of no value in restraining the flesh.

Ultimately, the weak brother is weak because he is wrong about his convictions (those things really aren't sinful) and because his weakness doesn't help him restrain his flesh in the end. But, even though such a position sounds silly to the strong brother, those who are strong must not look down on the weak brother, but should accept him because he abstains in honor of the Lord.

Joe Blackmon said...

Gentlemen
Thanks for the response. I would say first of all that I like Coco Puffs and hope that they are not bad for anyone's temple. I also like Hardee's biscuits. I recognize that there are many things that there are many things which would fall under the catagory of "not good for the temple" that are not prohibited in the Bible. I simply submit that there is no good reason for a Christian to drink alchohol, smoke, eat a steady diet of fat, greasy, fried food.
Secondly, my first degree was in music and my second was in accounting. I will confess to not knowing first hand about the amount of alchohol it would take to act as a cleanser. Heck, I flunked 4th grade science because I watched Superfriends and believed Batman's goofy science explanations instead of studying. I therefore cannot debate the accuracy of the antiseptic properties of alchohol. I did read another article by Dr. MacArthur where he talked about the Greek words in the Bible used for different kinds of alchohol. Bascially, he used that as support for his point that the stuff we drink today is markedly different than what they drank in Jesus' day. Yes, you could get "tore up" back then just like you can now. Finally, I don't think this is an issue where salvation is in question. I recognize there are Christians who disagree with me (present company included) and when we get to heaven we'll be so busy praising His holy name that we won't even remember this conversation.

I'm just sayin'....

Corey Reynolds said...

Hehe, if you think there's no good reason to eat fried food, then you haven't tried 90 percent of what my wife makes. And if there's no good reason to have a good glass of wine, then why would there be a "feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined" (Isaiah 25:6) being served at the consummation of all of the kingdom promises?

I think that the fact that God promises such goodness to his people is a reminder that all of our current worry-wartishness about health concerns and whether or not we are being a good witness when we partake is misplaced. Ought we to be careful? Sure! Ought we to shy away from the very things that God has given to us for our joy and that we might praise him? Heck no!

And I too have read John MacArthur's stance, and I will say that here is an example of a very good Bible teacher purposely deceiving himself and others by twisting the Bible to say what he WANTS it to say. Both the Hebrews and the Greeks had words for grape juice. Occasionally, they are used in the Bible, but never in the places where our modern translations say 'wine'.

Some want to say that 'new wine' is grape juice. This one is the easiest to refute because in Acts 2 the crowd thought that the apostles were drunk on 'new wine'.

Some will even say (as my Bible college professor John Phillips did) that Jesus made grape juice at the wedding in Cana. Such a thing is completely untenable given the context of the story (you saved the best grape juice for last!) and given the Greek of the passage.

Jesus drank wine in a day when people had problems with drunkeness. Was he sinning for doing so? Was he being a bad witness? Was he causing people to stumble? Some thought so. They called him a drunkard and a glutton and a friend of sinners. We are nothing more than modern Pharisees when we try to forbid our people from enjoying such gifts given for our pleasure.

I understand your heart, Joe. In fact, one of my greatest heroes, John Piper, shares the same opinion. He is also careful not to try to pass judgment, but I think that he says too much against it, so that people in his church that partake might feel guilty for doing so. That is unacceptable. What I am trying to do here is simply to "not let what you regard as good to be spoken of as evil." (Romans 14:16)

As I have said to others before: if you still have a hang up about this at the marriage supper of the Lamb, you can pass your glass of "aged wine well refined" down to me. I know how to enjoy it. ;)

Corey Reynolds said...

You know, I was just reading 2 Chronicles 30 this morning for my morning devotions and I realized: Dang, we do not know how to party! We are so lame in this time and in this land when it comes to throwing a party. We could learn a lot from the way people celebrated in the Bible.

Rushing to get drunk, throwing up, and waking up next to someone you don't know is not fun. Neither is an ultra tame potluck with old people and no music. Fourteen days of feasting and singing and rejoicing in the Lord!? Now THAT'S a party!

Chuck Bumgardner said...

Hi, Corey,

First time on your blog; I came over from visiting tominthebox, which referenced the present discussion.

I'm a pretty new blogger myself, but we had some good conversation on this topic here: http://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2007/07/29/did-jesus-drink-beverages-with-alcoholic-content/ . Through the post and ensuing comments, I looked at the question of whether Jesus did indeed drink beverage alcohol of any sort, and the question of the necessity of purifying the water. I thought that those questions might be of interest in the present conversation.

Jeff Scroggs said...

I heard of a college campus group who did the Lord's Supper with graham crackers and kool-aid once. Several people were extremely upset by this, and was wondering what everyone's opinion was. Currently disregarding the ecclesiastical issues with it being a campus group, is it something worth getting upset over?

If so, then why do we not get upset over churches using grape juice instead of actual wine? I know that it is done out of a desire to prevent former alcoholics from stumbling, but if it is ok to use grape juice as opposed to the wine mentioned in Scripture, why not kool-aid? Are we just more comfortable with grape juice because that's what the church has been doing since Dr. Welch developed Welch's grape juice for his church to support the prohibition.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul does not rebuke the Corinthians for using wine in the Lord's Supper, but for how they were eating and drinking to themselves. From context, is it not appropriate that we too should use wine in the Lord's Supper? Paul offers a strong warning against taking the Lord's Supper lightly. From this, what do y'all think regarding wine for the Lord's Supper?

Corey Reynolds said...

I would definitely say that we all ought to be seeking to return to the biblical communion elements. If grape Kool-aid and a hamburger bun just wont do, then neither will zero proof.

Zack B. said...

Proverbs 31:6.

And for Joe... Dear Sir, beer has been beer since the Egyptians invented it. All things here on earth are a gift from the creator of this earth.