Not Causing a Brother or Sister to Stumble

(Laura) #1

In my Sunday School class we’ve recently looked at the passage in 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul talks about avoiding certain things when you know it might cause one of your fellow believers to stumble by offending their conscience, even if it’s not technically a wrong thing to do (such as eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols).

He’s quite emphatic about how important this is to him, even saying:

Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

I thought of this in relation to the variety of origins beliefs and the strong convictions that surround them, since I think it came up in one of the topics recently, and it could probably apply to lots of other Christian differences in conviction (such as Halloween, which I grew up not celebrating).

How do you navigate this difficult line between personal freedom and love for others? I also think there could be a potential for arrogance in deciding that my conscience must be “stronger” and someone else’s is “weak” (while they might just turn around and accuse me of heresy instead :wink: ).

(Randy) #2

Yes, I’ve been guilty of just that arrogance! Good insight.

How we work that out is quite a conundrum. I remember C S Lewis saying that he planned always on attending the church nearest him, whether he agreed or not with the nonessentials and the rector. I can’t find the reference, but believe he said that in that spirit, if it bothered them, the High Churchman would sit still in the pew, and the Low Churchman would genuflect, so as to avoid offending his brother or sister.

On the other hand, regarding some elements of truth, we can’t bend–but communicate things gently. In medicine, I can’t tell patients that unproven or alternative therapies are just as good as proven ones, but I can communicate that I am still learning tons, that medicine is scary to me, too (that’s why I don’t recommend anything that has not been tested). I’m sure there are better ways to communicate this, though. Like you said, science would be another area to differ gently while standing firm, but like Christy said elsewhere, maybe not to bring it up if it doesn’t matter.

(Laura) #3

Yeah, the idea of not bringing it up if it doesn’t matter is a good one (and goes along with the article recently on BioLogos about the pastor who announced it on social media and his thoughts afterwards:

I also think it’s tricky when it could involve someone else’s child. I don’t think I’d have a problem discussing the topic with an adult if it came up, but knowing how sensitive some families are to it, and especially in how they teach their children, I’d have to be extra careful and thoughtful if the topic ever came up in a kids’ Sunday school or youth group setting.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #4

The last time I studied a similar passage, Romans 14, I noticed something I hadn’t before:

3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (emphasis added)

I think it’s very perceptive of Paul to use these two specific verbs, “regard with contempt” or “utterly despise” and then “judge.” The two verbs are not reciprocal. Why is that?

It seems to me that those of us who are more permissive — whether it’s allowing of particular kinds of meat or of particular kinds of interpretations — are more given to despising those with whom we disagree (as provincial, or needlessly closed-minded, or what have you) while those who are more strict — disallowing particular meats or particular scriptural interpretations — are more given to judging those with whom they disagree as being wrong or not saved or compromisers or what have you.

This doesn’t really answer your question, but just adds a little layer I found interesting on a recent read-through.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

That there is. I’ve often looked at this as: we are now free to try to be “all things to all people” that we may be able to serve them better, in fact serving them as Christ would. So if that means taking delight in this or that food or practice to the extent that your own conscience allows you to, or avoiding this or that food or practice all for the sake of building community with someone, then God is pleased. When it becomes a contest of spiritual superiority in our own heads then we’ve already departed from the whole ‘serving our neighbors in love’ track that Jesus called us to in the first place and we probably have bigger fish to fry with regard to growing up from our own spiritual immaturity.

(Laura) #6

Dang it, I thought it was just so I could have all the absolute correct answers about everything! :wink:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

It does feel soooo good, doesn’t it? - to know that we’re the ones who are right about everything? :smirk:

(Laura) #8

Good point… I’d forgotten there was more than one passage on this topic. I think your assessment is right on though – this does portray it as more of a two-way street. I remember growing up, hearing alcohol preached against often. When I found out there were actually Christians out there who drank, my first reaction (which lasted for years) was more along the lines of “How dare they!” rather than considering the possibility that perhaps I was in the position of having a “weaker conscience.” It’s a lot easier to accuse someone else of sin or heresy (though I’m sure there’s a place for that too).

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

It is now well known that Jesus’ initial “water-to-wine” miracle wasn’t the complete sign by itself. The miracle was completed by some protestant churches much later when they miraculously turned the wine into grape juice. :wine_glass:

(Phil) #10

While plenty of rain here now, there was a time this summer when it was so dry we were praying that the wine be turned back to water.

(Mitchell W McKain) #11

I think one of the more obvious applications is that you don’t drink in front of an alcoholic. But as far as religious observances go, we are no longer in a situation where everyone lives in a single church let alone in a single community thus we have different groups to cater to the different religious sensibilities of people. Though I suppose flaunting those differences and shoving them in other peoples faces might still be considered a violation of the spirit of what Paul is saying in this passage.

(David Heddle) #12

I think of this as related to the whole “Christian Liberty” issue, which is a tough one. I find that most of us create, to employ the overused metaphor, a narrow path with a “libertine” or antinomian ditch on the left and a “pharisaical” or legalism ditch on the right. And none of our paths have any overlap.

Color me cynical today, which is a really ugly hue.

(Laura) #13

I understand – it is so tough to know where the lines are. Especially for those of us (like me) who tend to see things in a black and white sort of way… I have often expected morality to be clear-cut and easy to parse – the idea that something could be wrong for one person but fine for another is hard to wrap my mind around, especially when I also hear the call to “defend” morality from being watered down.

(Mark D.) #14

I’ve heard people cite scripture to the effect that prayer be private and not for show (Daniel 6:1 - 34, thank you google) and think about how that reflects on the ballyhoo over ‘the war on Christmas’.

(Christy Hemphill) #15

Actually Daniel intentionally prayed in front of a window to show he was breaking the law against praying. The passage that you are looking for is Matthew 6:6. (I’m better than google at some things :wink: )

(Randy) #16

that’s an interesting example of situational ethics–Daniel was right to pray in public to support his people in prayer, but Jesus told the Pharisees to avoid personal gain by praying in private. Neat. Thanks.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #17

And just for the counterpoint reminder, earlier in Jesus’ same sermon (Matt 5:13-16) we are also reminded to let our lights shine before others so that they may give glory to God - that last phrase is probably the kicker of distinction … who’s supposed to get the glory.

(David Heddle) #18

That (from Matt. 6:6 as Christy pointed out) can not be a blanket instruction against public prayer. (Although perhaps it is in force for just about any personal prayer. I would at least take that as the first-order approximation.) Praying in public is demonstrably not prohibited across the board. Jesus himself prays in public (e.g., Matt 19:13, Luke 3:31, esp. John 17) as do the apostles on numerous occasions (Paul, alone, more than 20 times as recorded in scripture.)

(Mark D.) #19

I guess I just think there should be a way to be open about what one believes without acting as though the whole world should do and think as we do. I don’t think people should have to hide any trace of celebrating Christmas or avoid public prayer. But I do think we should all be mindful that the whole community may not be just like us and may believe and practice differently. So in public settings we need to try to make everyone feel acknowledged and respected, Christians and nonChristians alike.

(Laura) #20

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