"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dr. Johnson on Debatable Things

The entire text of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson's sermon on this passage can be found here. The following is just an exerpt that captures for me the sense of this passage. Let me first provide the text, Romans 14:1-12

1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

The Christian's Favorite Indoor Sport
"Paul enjoyed his Christian liberty to the full," F. F. Bruce has written, adding, "Never was a Christian more thoroughly emancipated from un-Christian inhibitions and taboos. So completely emancipated was he from spiritual bondage that he was not even in bondage to his emancipation."

The apostle expressed his freedom in some memorable words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, "For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker of it with you."

Martin Luther said, "A Christian man is a most free lord of all, subject to none." That expression of freedom is harmonious with Paul's thought.

The apostle's concerns in this context have to do with food (cf. vv. 2, 17) and festivals (cf. vv. 5-6). These were things that were problems for the culture of his time. It is clear that these things are not immoral in themselves. For this reason the section is said to be about "debatable things," or "the morally indifferent things." Our concerns today, somewhat parallel to these, are such things as the relation of a believer to tobacco, whiskey, wine, playing cards, the movies, TV, work on Sunday, dancing, and such things. In other words, the relation of believers to the so-called "no-nos" of the spiritual life. Christians have differing opinions concerning these things, often differing over them in different parts of the country. It is in these things that the spiritual pride of believers is often seen. In fact, Ray Stedman is right, when he says that the desire to change one another in these debatable things is "the favorite indoor sport of Christians." We want all our fellow-Christians to subscribe to our own list of taboos, and we take a bit of pleasure in having them submit to us in our inhibitions.

The important question, however, is this: What does the Bible say about such things?

The section we are to look at is bound together with the preceding one, the apostle still speaking of the application of the righteousness of God to our daily lives. So, the subject is the application of the divine righteousness, which we now possess by imputation through faith, to doubtful things. And, again, I repeat that proper application is only possible to those who have offered the Christian Offering of our bodies, according to Romans 12:1-2.

. . .

The counsel of Paul (Rom. 14:3-4). The counsel of the apostle consists, first, of a rule, followed by reasons. The rule is that the strong are not to despise the weak, and the weak are not to judge the strong in the morally indifferent things. The criticism takes, then, two forms. The strong tend to despise the weak for their lack of understanding of Christian freedom in the age of the church. The weak on their part tend to judge the strong for their laxness in spiritual living, thinking that their freedom is not freedom, but rebellion against the standards of the divine teaching.

In a practical way Paul's words mean that we are not to go up to our Christian friends who do not see things as we do and say to them such things as, "I do not see how you, a Christian, can do the things you are doing (or, not do the things you ought to be doing)." Our Christianity is grounded upon our faith in the atoning Christ, not in our commitment to human scruples.

Someone has defined a legalist as a person who lives in mortal terror that someone, somewhere, is enjoying himself, according to Stedman. That is not really the thing that motivates a legalist, but the legalist is one who thinks that he makes points with God, either for salvation or sanctification, by the things that he does in his own strength.

The reasons for the advice of the apostle are given in these verses, too. First of all, God has received the weaker or stronger brother (cf. v. 3c). And, in the second place, there is only one Master, the Lord Christ, and He alone is to do the judging (cf. v. 4). Cf. 1 Cor. 4:3-5.


Blogger Chris said...

A very thought-provoking post. I would only like to add one thing.

I've heard arguments of late that keeping the Sabbath holy is not one of those debatable things, and this argument has been exceedingly persuasive. Namely, that the Sabbath is included in the rest of the moral law. This is most notably seen in the fact that it's in the 10 commandments. (A small part of the law, I know, but all 10 commandments are part of that moral law.) I am not free to covet or murder. Likewise, I am not free to work on the Sabbath.

There is a lot more to the argument, of course. It is by no means complete in my comment here. Jesus picked grain on the sabbath...acts of necessity. He healed on the sabbath...acts of mercy. By His example, such things are not only permissible, they are laudable. Furthermore, we are told that the sabbath is for man, not the other way around.

I'm not looking down on anyone in this, though. Just putting it out there as my church family did for me. :-D

As usual, nice post. Have a good weekend, buddy.

11:31 AM EST  
Blogger Taliesin said...

A true covenanter response. Just kidding, some of my best friends are covenanters. :)

Seriously, the debate over this issue (is the Sabbath part of the Moral Law and therefore applicable today) can really get messy (like should we use instruments to worship God). The Sabbath is one of those issues my RP friends and I try to avoid. We are better off debating baptism, it seems to be less emotional.

Five Views on Law and Gospel is, IMO, an excellent examination of the issue of how we relate to the Law. I tend to embrace Moo's "modified Lutheran" view.

The issues I have with a strict Sabbatarian view are:

(1) It ain't very strict since it changes the day to Sunday. If the commandment still applies, it clearly states the Seventh Day.

(2) If you are willing to admit that the NT changes the day, then the commandment has changed (it is not "an eternal commandment"). If it can be changed, why can it not, as the following verses indicate (to me at least), abrogate the concept: Romans 14:5-6 (the passage in question above); Galatians 4:8-11; and Colossians 2:16.

Which is to say that I think Dr. Johnson's comments apply. Therefore, I respect my friends' discipline in setting aside a day for worship and nought else. I just don't believe it is binding.

7:08 PM EST  
Blogger Chris said...


I appreciate the response. :)

For what it's worth, I'm new to the "strict Sabbath" teaching, and my friends and I actually haven't come to a complete conclusion yet. What it's been coming to for me is that there's really not a better way to spend the Lord's Day than by focusing on the Lord, in my opinion and experience. Whether I'm spending time with my church family at a meal, or just hanging out with my wife and close friends discussing the sermon, praying together, cooking and eating together, and building one another up.

When it comes to this, it's not a bondage, as I have seen many of the "strict Sabbatarianists" make it into. We can't do this, or we can't do that. We're commanded to do this, or we're commanded to not do that. For me, I don't see it as bondage to be able to build up my Christian friends in love, etc. I don't see myself as a slave to the Sabbath when I have such excellent people with whom I can worship the Lord on Sundays.

Now, I'm not saying that you were saying I was in bondage. (Did that make sense? lol) I have seen it myself, actually. They turn around what Christ said, in my opinion, at that point. Rather than the Sabbath being for man so that he might rest from his labors as the Lord did, they're stepping so carefully so as not to transgress what they perceive as God's law that they're missing any benefit that might be gained by worshiping with the brethren, etc.

Oh dear, I've rambled again. :)

1:18 AM EST  
Blogger Taliesin said...

What it's been coming to for me is that there's really not a better way to spend the Lord's Day than by focusing on the Lord

I don't disagree with that. I think the church would be served greatly if we spent more time thinking about and discussing (even preparing for) the Sunday sermon. That implies, of course, that the sermon is worth discussing and that you know the passage ahead of time so you can read it.

7:42 AM EST  
Blogger Chris said...

I think the church would be served greatly if we spent more time thinking about and discussing (even preparing for) the Sunday sermon. That implies, of course, that the sermon is worth discussing...

LOL!!! A truer statement was never spoken. :) The sad state of many church these days makes that possibility all too real for most Christians. My cousin is in a town that has a few mega-style churches which would rather spend time on illustrations and stories rather than attempt any doctrinal fidelity.

At any rate, it's great to disagree without attempting to destroy each other in the process. :) It's also great to agree with regards to a wonderful way (among many) to spend the Lord's Day. I wish we (as my local church) had more meals together after the sermon, etc. We have one a month, though we usually stay after the sermon and discuss Scripture, theology, and just enjoy each other's company on most Sundays.

2:19 PM EST  
Blogger Taliesin said...

I wish we (as my local church) had more meals together after the sermon, etc. We have one a month, though we usually stay after the sermon and discuss Scripture, theology, and just enjoy each other's company on most Sundays.

Now, you don't want people to think you are a cult or something, do you? :)

7:17 PM EST  
Blogger Chris said...

You mean they don't think that already? Hmm...we must be doing something wrong. I'll get right on that. lol

3:53 PM EST  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home