Question 18. Is Romans 14 applicable to disputable issues such as the use of cups, instrumental music, and the Sunday School?

Our legalistic brethren present us with a strange paradox when it comes to Romans 14. For instance they like to quote Romans 14:23 in conjunction with Romans 10:17 and then develop syllogisms to denounce the sinfulness of various things such as cups, classes, and instrumental music. It goes like this:

1.)    “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 1017)

2.)    “for whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

3.)    Therefore cups, classes, instrumental music, are sinful because God is silent concerning their use in the church.

In the first place the syllogism is faulty because faith is used differently in Romans 10:17 and 14:23. In the former it is used to refer to the faith which saves (the gospel) whereas the latter has reference to convictions derived or deduced from personal knowledge or study. The former is to be proclaimed to all. The latter is between yourself and God (Romans 14:3-5).

Now the paradox. Brethren will quote Romans 14:23 to support their personal; convictions that certain things which others do in Christ are wrong, but when you apply the other principles of Romans 14 such as “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” and “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?”, or Romans 15:7 which is a continuation of the thoughts or Romans 14, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God”, these brethren say Romans 14 is not applicable to these disputable issues. They say it has reference only to incidental matters of no importance such as what color should we paint the building or what kind of carpet should we install. They want it both ways.

With regard to the last assertion, it is obvious from the inclusion of the matter in the letter, and the context, that the matters were not merely incidental and of little importance to those involved. They were matters of faith as important to them as are our disputable issues of today.

When brethren tell me that Romans 14 is not applicable to their position on disputable issues I like to ask them this question. “Is your personal belief or conviction so absolutely sure that it is an essential that you would die for it rather than renounce it as being a necessary belief of salvation for the universal body of Christ and covered by Romans 14?”

Let me close with this lengthy quote from J.N. Armstrong.

The matter of observing days as religious service was not really an indifferent matter. Truth and error were involved. Those who regarded ‘every day alike’ held the truth, and the others were in error. Their error was vital enough to divide the practice of the church, and they were setting brethren at naught in their effort to force their position on others. This teaching needed to be corrected. But that was not the PRIMARY need at this moment. Their attitudes toward one another were unchristian, their feelings were running high, and it was not time to correct doctrine. So not one word of condemnation for either group as to their positions or differences of doctrine were given at that time. Each group is left to abide in its own doctrine. The Holy Spirit did not approve the one that regarded everyday alike, nor did he condemn those that regarded one day above another. But he emphatically told all of them to leave each other free to decide the matter for himself, being assured each in his own mind.

It would surely be unfair to the apostle to assume that those brethren in error were never to be taught correctly on the matter. But the Lord showed them first how they could be brethren and preserve the unity of the Spirit as they learned the truth more perfectly. Their outstanding sin was their way of dealing with their misunderstanding and their differences. Efforts to bind on others even the truth before those others have discovered it to be the truth destroys the peace of the church and makes division. Failing to let each conscience be fully persuaded WITHIN ITSELF breeds trouble, parties, factions, and divisions. No one has a right scripturally to BIND his teaching, even his teaching of truth, on other consciences. He who does it imposes a human creed on all who submit.

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