Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Weaker Brother

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

13 Μηκέτι οὖν ἀλλήλους κρίνωμεν· ἀλλὰ τοῦτο κρίνατε μᾶλλον, τὸ μὴ τιθέναι πρόσκομμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ ἢ σκάνδαλον.

Here in the South, many folks think that you're a Christian if you attend church, don't drink, and don't swear. There is a culture of abstinence here, particularly in the more Baptist circles. There are some pretty strange exegetical gymnastics used in some arguments. For example, I have talked with someone who says that the wine Jesus made was just grape juice and that the wine Paul told Timothy to drink was as well; however, he also says that when we are warned against becoming drunk from much wine that refers to wine with alcohol. That of course is patently ridiculous and a great example of just trying to defend one's doctrine no matter what the text reads.

This verse is probably part of the best argument for abstinence. More reasonable exegetes understand that the Bible does not prohibit the use of alcohol and in fact encourages it in moderation (it makes the heart glad). But there is always the "weaker brother" argument. We are encouraged not to partake in some of our freedoms lest we cause someone to stumble.

This argument certainly has merit if we have specific examples. If I am with someone who has struggled with alcohol I am not going to drink a pint of beer. That much is obvious. However, if we're going to be consistent then we need to think even more deeply about this. If I'm with someone who has struggled with covetousness and poor stewardship then I am not going to browse in Best Buy with him. If I'm with someone who has struggled with gluttony then it would be unwise to dine at the Golden Corral (for both of us and for various reasons). The key is to think outside of our American box of "respectable sins" as Jerry Bridges calls them and think of sin in general.

However, I think that it is unreasonable to expect a Christian to think of the hypothetical "weaker brother" everyone he goes. If that were true, then perhaps we should all be Franciscan monks. But even then someone who has a bent toward religion would struggle because it would be easy to find pride in asceticism. It is logically impossible to avoid hindering every possible person around you. Of course, we should be reasonable and prudent, but we don't need to avoid every potential stumbling block for every potential person. Romans 14 speaks to knowledge of a brother who is stumbling because of some freedom. Respect that if you know about it, but don't shut down your life for someone hypothetical.

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