12 Principles on How to Disagree with Other Christians

"Paul didn’t command the stricter Christians of Romans 14 to get with the program and start eating meat as Jesus allowed. Nor did he command the meat-eaters to end their carnivorous ways on the outside chance they might upset the vegetarians." IX Marks

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G. N. Barkman's picture

Excellent analysis of this passage.

G. N. Barkman

Larry Nelson's picture

Excerpt:

"Paul mentions just “eating and drinking” in verse 17, but this principle extends to many other disputable matters. The kingdom of God is not a matter of schooling choices, political parties, musical styles, and so on. Once again, we’re not suggesting that third-level matters are unimportant. We have some strong opinions on them. But they’re not what the kingdom of God is about. Schismatically dividing over these less important matters does not make “for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19)."

Why does separation/division occur so often over disputable matters? 

Adam Blumer's picture

It occurs because of the conscience. Your church youth group holds a dance, and you're fine with it. Other Christians in your community are not fine with it in their consciences. They refrain from supporting it and sending their kids to it. Separation/division naturally occurs when someone promotes something that goes against your conscience or when you promote something that goes against theirs.

Let's say another friend invites you to watch a movie with him and his family. He assures you it's clean and wholesome. "And it's wonderful!" he says. You sit down, reach for the popcorn, and can hardly swallow it because the movie is full of bad content and language. What do you do? Get up and leave because your conscience is violated? Stay because you don't want to come across as judging your brother though you're violating your conscience at the same time?

It is a good article, and it's a very practical issue in the real world we live in if you care about holiness at all. But sticky situations abound in real life when you try to put this into practice. Now I'd like to read Part 2 where they give at least five examples in real life and show how to live this out. 

Larry Nelson's picture

Adam Blumer wrote:

It occurs because of the conscience. Your church youth group holds a dance, and you're fine with it. Other Christians in your community are not fine with it in their consciences. They refrain from supporting it and sending their kids to it. Separation/division naturally occurs when someone promotes something that goes against your conscience or when you promote something that goes against theirs.

Let's say another friend invites you to watch a movie with him and his family. He assures you it's clean and wholesome. "And it's wonderful!" he says. You sit down, reach for the popcorn, and can hardly swallow it because the movie is full of bad content and language. What do you do? Get up and leave because your conscience is violated? Stay because you don't want to come across as judging your brother though you're violating your conscience at the same time?

It is a good article, and it's a very practical issue in the real world we live in if you care about holiness at all. But sticky situations abound in real life when you try to put this into practice. Now I'd like to read Part 2 where they give at least five examples in real life and show how to live this out. 

No doubt refraining from doing something or extricating one's self from a situation/place/event that violates one's conscience has a biblical basis. 

But isn't separation what would ensue?

I'm thinking separation occurs at the point where one would refuse any further association with the parents/students who see no issue with attending a church-event dance (assuming you or I are the one who does take issue with such an event).

Or similarly separation occurs when one ceases any further association or interaction with the one who takes no issue with a movie which personally offends.

Non-participation isn't necessarily the practice of separation; separation is a subsequent cessation of association.

Bert Perry's picture

If we're really applying Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, we're probably not going to end up separating.  That was, after all, Paul's whole point, no?   A lot of the confusion that goes on, in my view, is because disputants are not actually treating matters as disputable--that's Jim's point that a central tragedy of fundamentalism is that too often, every issue is seen as critical.  Example: FBFI's "convergent" writings.

And when this happens, it often seems like a clever method of "hostage taking" by which people are convinced by legitimate concerns about disputable issues to treat things not addressed by Scripture as indisputably sinful. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

Larry, 

Good question.

I think that we have traditionally been a little sloppy with the term 'separation', because separation implies joint and personal fellowship at some previous point.

For example, people on SI have called for 'separation' from other Christians on SI throughout the existence of SharperIron.  One example of that is a call to 'separate' from John Piper (to pick an example).

For some, 'separation' is the right term to use and would include getting rid of books and MP3s that would be in your possession even though they have never met the man.

For me personally, the call to 'separate' makes no sense simply because I have nothing that I can separate with that would cause Piper to reconsider his actions, which is the entire purpose of corrective separation.  Piper doesn't care if I buy or download his books.  He will never know if I unsubscribe from his podcast.

That's before we talk about an example like Adam's with a dance or mixed swimming.  Those activities may not be wise, but not everything rises to the level of sin.

So we end up conflating the two terms and everyone gets easily confused.

 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

AndyE's picture

What does it mean for something to be not a matter of the kingdom of God?  The authors list three examples – schooling choices, political parties, and musical styles.  How were those three determined to fall into the same category as “eating and drinking?”

I think this is a critical question because the weak need to be able to determine if the thing in question is something regarding they should not pass judgement. 

Adam Blumer's picture

The point of the article is how to love brothers and sisters in Christ when the conscience takes sides. These don't have to be areas of outright sin. Was it "sin" to eat or not eat the meat in 1 Corinthians? I believe Paul's point is that the actual eating itself wasn't sin but that consciences were still involved. Hence, the conflict between believers and the need to address the issue. Didn't mean to sidetrack by the use of the term "separation," which I would personally use to describe my not taking part in anything I deem to violate my conscience as possibly "sinful" or questionable. If you don't want to call this "separation," God bless you, brother. But semantics shouldn't cloud the issue of how we relate to others when our consciences take different sides in areas that may not necessarily be sin. Again, specific examples always help paint a picture beyond the theoretical. I would personally love to see a whole additional article showing how to live out the principles and verses in the article.

Jay's picture

Hey Adam-

My post wasn't intended to demean you in particular or anything like that; sorry if I was unclear or if it came across that way.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

Adam, I don't think you were far afield, either intentionally or unintentionally.  If you look closely at the article, the categories of acceptable diffferences differ from the categories of unacceptable differences primarily in whether we declare others to be in sin based on disputable matters, or in whether we separate from others based on disputable matters.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Some, though not all, of the problems would shrink if we keep in mind that Paul is evidently dealing with a local church situation in Romans fourteen.  "Receive one who is weak in the faith..."  (Romans 14:1)  I take that to mean receive into your local church fellowship.  Once there, we must treat every member as a beloved brother unless a sin requiring excommunication is committed.  In that context, we need to apply the principles enumerated in the above article, for otherwise, we create unwholesome and ungodly divisions within the local body.

G. N. Barkman

Adam Blumer's picture

Jay wrote:

Hey Adam-

My post wasn't intended to demean you in particular or anything like that; sorry if I was unclear or if it came across that way.

Hi, Jay

Nope, I didn't take offense by anything you wrote. I'm seriously thinking through the point of the article. Thanks. 

Bert Perry's picture

....is Strong's 4355.  As far as I can tell, it's an active welcoming, interaction with, etc.,--something along the lines of strong Middle Eastern traditions of hospitality.  I would dare suggest that it is telling us to welcome the weaker brother in a way that we all too often don't welcome our own families.  We could go fishing for a while with that can of worms!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

Why does separation/division occur so often over disputable matters? 

I believe that the primary reason is that many (and the presumption must be for each) of our convictions are Biblical and logical. And when one is aware that he is thinking Biblically and was careful to be logical, he sees his conviction as necessary.  Necessary for himself, and all. Is this section of Scripture private? NO. Is logic only logical for me? NO. ----> So either I'm wrong or when others read the Word and think properly, they will necessarily come to the same conclusion. 

The other reason, which one could argue is primary, is POWER. Look at the Bauder article posted today:

"The debate reached a point at which everyone had to take a side." 

Early in the reformation priests, monks, and nuns began to marry, seeing their celibacy vow as forced and not legitimate-not binding. Others felt their vow was generally a Biblically orthodox vow and that they made it in genuine personal submission to God. They felt still bound by their vow, even while they agreed others were free to marry. Before long, as the growing Protestant movement was attacked and defended itself violently, remaining celibate came to be viewed as keeping one foot in the catholic door. "Get married, or we don't really believe you're with us." This was conscience violating action forced simply as a political power play. 

Joeb's picture

All your  responses were spot on.  Making something sin in a disputable area only divides Christian fellowship.  If that's ones point then that brother's   motives are suspect in my mind.  The whole convergent issue falls into that category. I really question the motives of the Believers pushing and labeling other Believers as Convergents. 

Dan Miller's picture

Responses to the article...

The good...

1. It's great - these guys have the best treatment of these passages I've ever read.

2. There is a column (#5, L to R) that describes a "fully persuaded" weak brother. This is a key insight from Romans 14:5 "let each be fully persuaded." This is a brother who is maturely arriving at strict convictions, but not demanding them of his brothers. 

The meh...

1. The center column (4/7) is unnecessary. 

Column 3 has the strong "fully persuaded, yet welcoming rather than looking down on." I believe that Biblically, the strong cannot "welcome" without being flexible. He must lay aside his ability to [eat, etc.] in order to promote fellowship with the weak and advance the Gospel. Therefore, properly understood, columns 3 and 4 are the same.

The bad...

Nothing. This is a great article.