In the matter of Christian ethics I believe the Bible speaks distinctively to actions of the redeemed with undeniable and irrefutable moral absolutes. It speaks specifically to what is right and wrong and gives a general premise of what God declares as morally right. It does not, however, speak to all issues with the same specificity and general conception, thus leaving some things we deal with as Christians without answers as to whether a particular action is wholly right or wrong. Could there actually be issues that are left up to the believer to decide whether or not it is right or wrong for them to do? Doesn’t that sound just like relativism (what is right for you may not necessarily be right for me and vise versa), which is something that you all know I speak adamantly and strongly against? I admit, yes, there is a twinge of relativism here, but not in the sense of all moral judgments, it is only found within the context of what Paul calls disputable matters. The ethical absolutes found in Scripture destroy relativism at its very premise, but a small amount of relativity seeps in at this particular juncture. I must clarify that I find myself to be a strong proponent of moral absolutes and I hold strong and fast to God’s leadership on the ethical issues we face in society today, as do most conservative Christians. Nonetheless, it is within these boundaries that I find some Christians becoming hard nosed moral police, brutalizing other Christians for not holding to their own sense of right and wrong when dealing with these particular unknowns, or disputable matters.
Since Christianity is seen as one of the most intolerant and belligerent forms of religious expression in America and with conservatives being passionate about the Scriptures and the absolutes it brings forth, it may be hard to believe that within such a group there could be any Christian liberty. Even so, there are practices not covered in Scripture by a moral absolute and there are no commands that forbid these particular actions and therefore there must be some freedom in these areas for the Christian. The problem is, all of them have arguments for and against them. For example, while Scripture prohibits drunkenness (Eph 5:18), and while I think that even an occasional drink of alcoholic beverage is not wise, the Scriptures are still morally indifferent to social or occasional drinking. Do I think Christians should drink? No. But, while I believe that there are plenty of other logical reasons why Christians should not drink such as addiction, impaired judgment, poor witness, it’s a drug and while I believe that people drink for the wrong reasons, which is sinful, I still must conclude that the Bible certainly does not condemn the act of consuming alcohol in itself unless it leads to drunkenness or something else that the Bible speaks against. What is the absolute here? Drunkenness is sin. What is the moral indifference? Drinking small amounts of alcohol but not getting drunk. Since there is no absolute here, how can we know whether or not Christians should be doing these things?
Paul enters into a similar situation in Romans 14, only the question is not alcohol or dancing, but it is eating meat that was offered to idols and holding one day special above another. The principles that Paul teaches in this instance are general to all disputable matters.
Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. One person believes he may eat anything but one who is weak eats only vegetables. One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat; and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him
One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind
1. Respect your neighbor’s convictions
Let’s face it, there are some things the Bible simply does not discuss and then there are other things that it simply does not condemn. Yet there are people who have specific beliefs one way or the other about certain issues that may simply be arguments from silence. For instance, some would claim that TV is evil or secular music is evil and the Christians who use such things are involved in the work of the devil. However, the Bible does not specifically condemn either and I know many Christians who do watch TV and listen to secular music. Are they evil? No. Like anything else TV and music can be abused and can be used for evil things in which the Christian should use swift judgment on what he or she watches and listens to, but watching TV and listening to music is not inherently sinful. So what do we do? We respect each others belief. I should not look down on the person who refuses to watch TV and that person should not look down on me who chooses to watch it. We must respect each other. Each of us will give an account to God for what we do, why should we criticize each other over disputable?
Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another, but instead decide not to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way
For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. By what you eat, do not destroy that one for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves the Messiah in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats. It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble
Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. Romans 14:13-22
2. Respond to your neighbor’s convictions
Here is the hard part. As Christians we are quick to point out the easy thing, ‘Hey you are not allowed to judge me for what I believe and I am not allowed to judge you for what you believe’, and we would like to leave it at that. Paul goes on to further explain what should be done in light of disputable matters. Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit trump disputable matters. What I mean by this is; if your actions negatively affect you or your neighbor’s righteousness, peace, or joy, then your actions have become sin. Whereas earlier we said drinking alcohol is not sinful if you do not get drunk, now we see that drinking alcohol can still be very sinful even if you do not get drunk. For instance, there are many people who are deeply offended by others who drink, especially those who come from families with a history of alcoholism and drunkenness, much like my own family. Christians drinking alcohol does deeply offend me, and therefore, for you to drink in my presence or to attempt to persuade me to drink is a sin. Drinking is wrong if you use it to get drunk, to drown your sorrows, to get a buzz, to fit in, and if your use of it offends your neighbor or causes another brother to stumble.
Why? Why should we have to give up things we enjoy so as not to offend or cause someone to stumble? Because it is our Christian duty to build up our neighbor in righteousness over seeking our own self-pleasure. ‘Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up.’ Romans 15:1-2