Monday, July 31, 2006

What does it mean, stumbling block?

Romans 14 begins with the exhortation to accept each other:
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.
Romans 14.1-3
Paul goes on to give some other examples. Do you mow your lawn on Sunday, for example? One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (14.5)

There are Christians today who talk about keeping the Sabbath, as though the commandment were in force for us today. While agreeing enthusiastically that it is a great idea to take a "joy day" or a day off once a week, I am very unhappy about the insinuation that doing so is a biblical command in force for Christians today.
First of all, what is the Sabbath? Is it any day you feel like? Is it Sunday? In the book of Exodus we read of a man gathering wood on the Sabbath. If the Sabbath could be any day you like, that guy could have said, "Oh, I took my Sabbath yesterday."

No, the Sabbath would be a particular day of the week, and I have no reason to believe that the rabbis would have distorted that. That day would be the period from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday.

Of course, the other thing about the Sabbath is passages like this one that says we are free to consider any arbitrary day as being more or less sacred than any other -- so long as we don't impose that on anyone else. That's where I take issue with people who say the commandment is still in effect.
The other thing I wanted to mention about this chapter was this "stumbling block" thing.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Romans 14.13-19
This passage has been applied to drinking wine, but I have never understood how that is supposed to work.

But before that, I'll note that the point of this paragraph is that we should love one another (rather than passing judgment) and do the things that lead to peace and mutual edification. OK, so within that context, is this saying "If any members of a particular denomination would notice you drinking wine, smoking (anything), going to movies (etc.) and cluck their tongues, you shouldn't do any of those things"?

I don't think so! The passage says "If your brother is distressed," whereas some tongue-clickers seem positively thrilled at the chance to do what they do. And it says "Do not destroy your brother," and I don't see that having a glass of wine and going to the movies would destroy anyone.

That said, to minister to people of this particular tongue-clucking bent, I would probably choose to limit myself in the spirit of peace and mutual edification. Why give people things to talk about, is what I mean.

I did hear of an example with real destructive potential, but I've got to go to work now, so I'll have to tell you about it later.

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