Christian Liberty and Proper Mutual Respect

“For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.” We continue to consider the matter of Christian liberty in things indifferent. Reference to such things has usually been made by the term adiaphora, a negative term not found in the Bible, although its positive form is. The word, according to Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary, means literally indifferent things. In medicine, it refers to certain ingredients “which are incapable of doing either harm or good,” such as the dose which might be given to a hypochondriac — sugar and water. In chemistry, it refers to a neutral or neutralizing admixture. In ecclesiastical history, it has reference to a part of the Lutherans known as adiaphorists, followers of Melanchthon, who “conceded to the Roman Catholic Church as being non-essential certain usages” such as candles, clerical garb, holidays, etc. In ethics, it is “any practice or form of conduct not included under the essential principles of morality, and which may therefore be left to be determined by custom or individual choice; the ethically indifferent.”

We do not mean to imply by the term, however, that for the Christian there is an area that might be considered neutral or indifferent in the strict, absolute sense. “Adiaphora,” things indifferent, is a handy, useful term. Yet we are to understand that no material thing is really indifferent, for no material thing is unclean of itself, i.e., no material thing is inherently sinful, but the consciences of some are not fully free to realize this. A building formerly occupied by the Roman Catholic Church could, conceivably, be purchased and used by Protestants as their place of worship, without first burning the place down in order to purify it. A torture machine is not an inherently sinful thing, if it were, it would be morally wrong to have such, let us say, on display in a museum. But, it may be asked, wouldn’t it be wrong to make a torture machine? Not necessarily so in itself, especially if one were constructed as a replica or a model to show historically what the church has suffered in the past. If this were wrong, it would be just as sinful for the church to keep on record pictures of the inquisitorial juggernauts used against them in times of persecution. It would be sinful, however, to make such a device with a view to its originally intended purpose! A so called indifferent thing, an adiaphoron, may be put to a very bad use. Or the good use of an indifferent thing may become sinful. For instance, a public building may be used for the official worship of God, but when that building is also used in the cause of a secret society, it is only pro tem in the service of good. An action, as well as a thing, may be indifferent. Playing the game of chess is indifferent: it certainly is not commanded — no one need play chess; but neither is it forbidden, it is not wrong to play. But it would be wrong to play for “the pot,” your own and someone else’s money. It would be wrong to play and to continue to play while the house is burning down, that is, to the neglect of essential duties. A perfectly harmless amusement also becomes sinful if indulged because one enjoys the company of worldly companions it affords.

“One believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs.” The one who has faith to eat all things is the strong with enlightened conscience and Scripture-based conviction. By “weak” is not meant a “sick” person on an herb diet for reasons of health, but a Mr. Cream- cheese, the vegetarian, or the “don’t-eat- starch-and-protein-together” people. They probably would be horrified at an egg sandwich on white bread. No such scruples hindered Elijah who gratefully received bread and flesh from God sent try ravens daily. The one who allows himself the use of everything indifferent is termed one who believes, while the one who cannot bring himself to enjoy such largeness is termed one who is weak, not implying that he is no believer in Christ, but that he is not well established in the faith. The former believes he may eat anything, whether “kosher” or “regular.” The other, to live conscientiously, must limit himself to foods of the watercress variety. He feels this is the best way to keep himself from excesses and safe in holy living. There is no command that one must eat spinach, nor is there a prohibition any more against ham and pork. For Christ has made “all things . . . clean unto you” (Luke 11:41). It is definitely wrong to command abstinence from meats, for God has created them to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. “For everycreature of God is good (not really indifferent), and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer” (I Tim. 4:3-5).

The foods for us today are not only vegetables and fruits (Gen. 1:29), but also meat “of every moving thing that liveth” (9:3), including flesh of “all manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven” (Acts 10:12). No more are these things “common or unclean,” for “God hath cleansed them” (10:14, 15). Now everything is “kosher.” The Christian may eat of all things because “all things are clean.” There are no restrictions to this right except that we are to respect the weak brother by not offending him with the exercise of our liberty, and that, in addition, we are to be moderate and temperate. It should not be necessary to provide the following for breakfast: whole roast pig, sausages, chicken, veal, eggs, cheese, tomatoes, pickles, wine and vodka — unless one works outside all day at the South Pole.

“One believeth that he may eat all things.” According to this same principle, which is broader than mere eating and drinking, one may subscribe to the local newspaper without, in so doing, supporting such evil institutions as the Roman Catholic Church, the liquor traffic, and burlesque shows. One may have a folding table, referring to it by its commercial name, “card table,” without becoming a “bridge” addict. One has a right to another item of furniture called the television set, which need not be concealed in the basement (as though it were a “still”), and which need not be operated by a so- called “Christian antenna” — rabbit ears. How Christians shall celebrate Christmas in the home is a matter of personal choice and family background. Candy, plum pudding, cookies, ginger-bread, fruit cake, mince pie and roast goose are not necessary for that day, but who has a right to criticize the family which enjoys every bit of such abundance? A missionary to Hindus need not become a vegetarian, although he may often abstain from meat in order to be “all things to all men that by all means he may save some.” The possession of wealth is in itself indifferent. But it may become wrong, especially if it blinds the eye to spiritual things, if it creates envy, or if it secularizes the whole life. A strong sister has the right to wear jewelry which affords a legitimate enjoyment. But jewelry, as riches, often does present a strong temptation which may lure to a fall. If use of jewelry causes a weak sister to offend, then, if necessary, jewelry should not be worn as long as the world standeth.

“Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth. For God hath re¬ceived him.” The strong have a tendency to be proud of their knowledge and their greater enjoyment of liberty, and are therefore inclined to view the ignorant with contempt. The weak, on the other hand, in their ignorance, have a tendency to condemn the more enlightened who are not troubled with unnecessary restrictions. What Paul is saying is that when the strong are apt to despise the others for their narrowness, they must not! When the weak are apt to judge the others as not God-fearing enough, or ascribe to them some other improper motive, they must not! These two dangers into which both strong and weak may fall must not be permitted to occur, brotherly love on both sides demands it. If liberty is not limited by love, the strong then become weak, in fact both strong and weak become something worse than weak.

The temperate err when they regard the total abstainers as bigoted; while the abstainers err when thy consider the moderate as worldly. Notice, that which is forbidden is the despising or the judging of a brother, not the thing which the brother did. Whether women wear black cotton stockings and men black suits is a thing indifferent. For the use of this drab garb the wearers should not be brushed off as “holier than thou.” Nor should the wearers judge those who do not conform to their religious whims as proud of finery, unwilling to practice self–denial or claim they conform to the world to avoid reproach.
Some people subject themselves to the “strait-jacket” principle, which is a self-inflicted slavery and a presumption. They would bind the conscience to the traditions of men, to rules and regulations which ought to be left free to individual conscience. They would impose their rules for manners, customs, dress, personal tastes, social activities, accumulation of goods, household arrangement, use of money and spare time. They make binding that which is optional, which ought no more to be done than to make optional that which is commanded. To do the latter is to fly in the face of God. To do the former is to rob man of his liberty. It is not right to legislate into the required that which should remain optional. If a man wishes to have a pet monkey, he may. If a small minority wishes the same privilege, it has the right, but no right to impose it on the majority. We need not insist on our own way in matters where no essential principle is involved.

“For God hath received him.” God has certainly received the weak through the righteousness of Christ, but his weakness is not received. However, the receiving here is not a receiving of persons through Christ, but of the persons’ conduct in question. What Paul, is saying is that the strong has been received of God in the use of things which are now no longer prohibited. This freedom of use the conscience of the weak will not permit him to make. Hence, he is liable to judge the strong as doing something unlawful. But he must understand that nothing unlawful is involved in the conduct of the strong, for God has received him and his untrammeled faith. He who has the most must not set at naught the one who has the least, nor must he who has the least judge him who has the most. The believer who is richer in the faith too often withdraws himself from fellowship with the least in the kingdom. The weak too often make unnecessary and too restrictive demands of the strong, narrowing them down to their poverty-stricken outlook. In a community where there are Presbyterian and Reformed ministers as well as Fundamentalist ministers, the latter usually make the conditio sine qua non of Christian fellowship with them their own little six-point doctrinal statement. It never (or rarely) happens that the one with the least is willing to stand on the broader and deeper ground of him who has the most. The lesser brethren have a nutshell theology and would have us crawl with them into such confines; whereas we have the whole tree, are by grace alone engrafted branches of it, taking root downward and bearing fruit upward. So, just as we must not in pride look down with contempt upon those who do not hold the same doctrinal fullness we hold, exactly so the “lesser” brethren must not charge us with elbowing them out of fellowship, nor set themselves up as judges as to what the measure of faith, doctrine and life ought to be. Other members of Christ’s church universal ought to have a creedal, confessional and Christian outlook broad enough to receive and respect believers who have such truly catholic standards as we do, namely, that which is to be found in the Heidelberg Catechism (of German origin), in the Belgic Confession (of Belgian origin), in the Canons of Dordt (of Dutch origin) and in the Psalter (of Hebrew origin). Anyone who can truthfully and conscientiously say “I believe an holy catholic church,” and who is not en¬cumbered with the anti-principle of Modernism, “No Creed But Christ,” ought to have no trouble standing on the above Scripture- based foundations. Such an one is “he that eateth.” “God hath received him.”

Our purpose should be to yield the small points with a view to winning the large. Let brethren have their way in matters non-essential, in such a way as to teach them that the unimportant must always be subservient to the important. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision (fasting, abstinence) availeth anything nor uncircumcision (eating, indulgence), but a new creature” (Gal. 6:15). Paul to the Jews be¬came a Jew, and to the Gentiles a Gentile, conforming to custom as long as compromise to principle was not involved. For the sake of the Jews he circumcised Timothy; but when principle required his refusal to circumcise Titus he was adamant. What is of the utmost importance is the new creation in Christ, the work of regeneration in the heart of an elect child of God, a new heart, a new spirit, new principles and actions in a new life with new love, new desires, new joys, new comforts and new conduct. All this does avail.
(To be continued)