Summary: God wants us to hold one another accountable to His truth, but He wants us to tolerate our cultural differences; He wants us to make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification among believers.
A Clash of Cultures
A. Many churches are held hostage by SPIRITUAL terrorists who hold the church back in the name of being OFFENDED or claiming to be WEAKER BROTHERS.
1. If a vegetarian joins our church, should we forbid all meat at a church dinner?
2. If one person finds our pew pad offensive because we are too worldly minded and tied to comfort, should we rip them all out?
3. If a new member feels it is wrong to sing with instrumental accompaniment, should we go to acaperlla?
4. Should we allow others to tyrannize us in the name of their being offended?
Obviously the answer is no. Yet many churches are held back and tyrannized in different areas because folks are offended. The offended parties base their right to have their way on Romans 14. But Romans 14 is anything but clear.
C. Factors that influence our understanding of Romans 14
1. Emperor Claudius commanded all Jews to leave Rome in 52A.D. They were soon allowed to return. Since the original Christians in Rome were Jewish believers, they had previously been at the helm of the church. They returned to a gentile-led congregation by the time Paul wrote Romans in 57 A.D.
2. Because most meat in gentile areas was first sacrificed to idols and not killed in keeping with Kosher laws, and because wine was likewise made apart from Kosher specifications, “Jews simply refrained from meat and wine when questionable, ate vegetables and drank water, or brought their own food and wine. Thus, while Jews saw themselves adapting a kind and accommodating posture…gentiles generally saw things differently….The underlying separatism and notable judgment of their lifestyles often offended gentiles…” (Mark Nanos, The Mystery of Romans, p. 57)
3. This is a very difficult chapter to interpret because there are some clues missing.
4. Mark Nanos, a contemporary scholar, interprets the “weaker brother” as non-Messianic Jews and postulates that gentile Christians were participating in the Jewish Synagogues as God-fearing gentiles, something not only allowed in 1st century Judaism, but encouraged. The problem with this is that both the weaker and stronger brothers are said to be “in the Lord,” an expression used of Christians only.
5. Some think the weaker brothers were gentiles who carried some of their Pagan holidays and superstitious practices into the church. But the Gospel demanded that converts turn from their idols to serve the true and living God (I Thes. 1:9, Acts 19:19). The church would not accommodate pagan religious customs.
6. Some think that the weaker brothers were Messianic Jews who continued in Judaism.
But that seems to collide with Acts 21:18-25:
“The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."
7. Some say that the weaker brother is any Christian who feels a certain practice is wrong that is not condemned in Scripture. In our culture, we might say that weaker brothers could be men who think they must wear a coat or tie to church or women who think they must wear dresses; those who think card playing, dancing, drinking in moderation, or using makeup are sins.
8. But that is really taking these verses out of context. Those are not weaker brothers, but individuals whose judgments might differ with ours.
9. The weaker brother in Paul’s description:
· Has an Old Testament basis for his viewpoints; he has been brought up to follow the customs of the Law, so the issue here is not just a different tradition or the way his parents brought him up, but a tradition ordained by God Himself.
· Is not a bully trying to demonstrate his importance by controlling others, but a sincere Jew who cannot fully rest in his acceptance with God by faith in Christ alone; he knows it and believes it, yet he is confused. His conscience is vulnerable to being distressed and ruined.