Thursday, March 3, 2016

When Abstinence is a Stumbling Block

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. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:13-19 (ESV)
Another complicated passage. In this context, a brother seeing another eating or drinking that which has been offered to idols may see it as an excuse to worship idols and thus to lose faith. We aren’t to put a stumbling block in the way of our brothers. We are not to destroy the one for whom Christ died, that is destroy his faith.
On the other hand, Paul says do not all what you regard as good to be spoken of as evil. Perhaps you regard abstaining from drink to be good. Perhaps you regard eating and drinking to be good. No one should speak evil of it one way or another. It is true that if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. It is also true that if you grieve your brother for what he eats, you are no longer walking in love. And a Christian might today ask himself, what gives me the right to be grieved by what my brother eats?
I try to put myself in the context. I watch these shows on TV, The Amazing Race, for instance. I love that show, at least I did. Part of me really wants to apply for it. I think I would be great. I’m in decent shape, have knowledge of several languages, geography and customs. But every season, something comes along that just bothers the bejeebers out of me. I know at some point in the show the participants are going to be asked to participate in a pagan ritual, or to receive a blessing from a shaman or some such nonsense. I can’t do it. It also bothers me when I see people who have made some sort of Christian confession of faith participate in the rituals. This is more along the lines of what Paul is dealing with here than anything. But even Paul would counsel you just don’t do that.
Where Paul is speaking here is more of a gray area. Meat, if it wasn’t kosher, was offered to idols. When you purchased it in the market place it was meat that was offered to an idol. The butcher would use this as a selling point. Some Christians wouldn’t buy the meat and abstain, to them eating the meat was worshiping the idol to which it was offered. Other’s purchased the meat and sanctified it with prayer and the word of God, as we do all our meals when we are Christians. They were not worshiping the God by eating the meat.
We can’t reproduce this context today. The closest thing I can imagine is perhaps India, where you still have converts from a form of paganism that associates eating special foods with the worship of certain deities. Perhaps in this context a man would serve even a vegetarian meal that is associate with a holiday in honor of that false god. This may trouble their brothers who are recent converts and have given up the eating of this food when they put those gods behind them. Perhaps they see their brothers who are stronger in the faith, who eat the meal because it tastes good, and confused they think there is nothing wrong with worshiping these other gods along with Christ. But we can’t share the table of the Lord with the altars of demons Paul says. So we don’t. But this is how a brother would be caused to stumble in this situation.

This isn’t about your brother falling off the wagon either. No one wants to see that. And falling off the wagon can be injurious to your brother’s faith also. This is a situation that is even more complicated though. There are Christian alcoholics. They remain Christians even in the midst of their struggle with alcohol, even when they have fallen from the wagon. They do not deny Christ by drinking. I know there are Baptists that would disagree. But they ought to refrain from making the kingdom of God about eating and drinking. In doing this, they introduce a stumbling block to the alcoholic who may think that he has to give up the drink and overcome his addiction before he can find forgiveness. In this they are led to works righteousness and are not helped. In this they are led to put their faith in their ability to abstain, and when they fall of the wagon, they fall from the faith too. But the church can’t be indifferent to their struggle either. In that we help them, and support them as we can in their struggle even as we constantly welcome them to the altar. 

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