My daughter, Katelynn, who is eleven, wants to start wearing make-up. I have a rule: No make-up at all until she is twelve. My wife does not agree with me. She thinks I am being legalistic. I can’t help it. That is just the way I think. I can justify it in ten different ways with my hands tied behind my back. The problem is that none of my justification is really that good. Most of the “good points” that I make are only decisive to me because of my emotionally charged tradition. When it is proper to wear make-up is one of those things that the Scripture does not speak on. My wife’s counter-argument makes sense too. However, I have scruples about the issue. These scruples bend my understanding and create their own passions.
Make-up is not the issue. I don’t want to go there. We all have scruples. That is not really a technical theological term, though it is in the dictionary. This is how it is defined: “An uneasy feeling arising from conscience or principle that tends to hinder action.” However, when it comes to our faith, scruples are hard to deal with. You have these militating terms: grace and liberty.
When grace and liberty clash with “scruples,” more often than not, unfortunately, the scruples win. Why? Because unfortunately we are so told that we always need to sacrifice our liberty for the sake of the “weaker brethren”. This “weaker brethren” card is often pulled and legalists love it. In fact, it is used most often by those who are legalist wearing the disguise of those who are free. It is not that this card is always illegitimate. There are true weaker brethren. But in my experience, more often than not, the idea of “weaker brethren” is misused and abused. Result? Slavery.
I remember Chuck Swindoll talking about this saying: “Be careful, there are some people out there who are ‘professional weaker brethren.’”
“Kristie, I have scruples with this make-up thing. Maybe I cannot find a verse or a solid principle upon which to rest my head, but you need to be sensitive and understanding to my hang-ups for the sake of my spirituality. One more year and my scruples will be gone.”
I highlighted some key words that legalists will use to manipulate the situation. “Sensitive,” “understanding,” “hang-ups,” “sake,” and most importantly, “my.”
We are guilted into sacrificing our liberty through some pretty sneaky manipulation.
“I don’t go to the movies because I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble.”
Often implied translation: “You should give up your liberty too if you want to do what is right like me.”
“I don’t ever drink alcohol because a weaker brethren might see me and fall into sin.”
Often implied translation: “I have scruples with this issue and you should too.”
“If someone saw me befriending this person, they may think I am condoning their actions. Therefore, I sacrifice my liberty for the sake of their frailty.”
Often implied translation: “I can’t be friends with people who are that sinful.”
Of course we have our passage that we go to which justifies our self-imposed bondage: Romans 14.
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1).
“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats” (Rom 14:1).
Paul is talking about one who is “weak in faith”. In the example Paul gives, the person has scruples over the food that someone else was eating. Some were vegetarians and never ate meat. This was probably due to the meat’s connection to the idols. In this culture, the best and cheapest meat was that which was sold out the back door of temples. Because of the meat’s association with idolatry, many Christians thought that it was morally wrong to eat meat. But Paul makes it clear that it is not wrong: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (14:1a). However, though there was nothing inherently wrong with eating meat (even if it had been sacrificed to an idol), if the person thought it was wrong, then it was wrong for them: “But it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (14:1). Therefore, when one of these “veggie only” guys was around, Paul encouraged believers to be sensitive to them due to their scruples. Otherwise, Paul says, we might cause them to “stumble” (i.e. they might see you doing what they think is wrong and do the same even though they think it is wrong). Paul considers the one who thought it was wrong to eat meat to be “weak in faith”.
However, we need to be careful here. While we certainly need to be sensitive to “weaker brothers and sisters”, we can take this too far. We are not obligated to bow our liberty to everyone who has a problem with our actions. It is very important to realize that a “weaker brother” is one who is truly weaker. He is weaker because he has not been educated in these issues. You must understand, he is not supposed to or expected to stay “weaker”. Eventually, he is needs to become stronger. Unfortunately, far too often these weaker brethren realize their power and become “professional weaker brethren.”
Don’t misread Paul by reading this one passage in isolation. Paul had no desire to compromise his liberty. We must temper the Romans passage with his message to the Galatians:
“But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you” (2:4-5).
Here we have a situation where legalists are trying to impose their scruples turned law on Christians. They had a long list of unbiblical laws that they thought every Christian should abide by. But Paul would have none of it. I suppose that they should have played the “weaker brethren” card.
“Hey, Paul, you cannot do that or I will stumble.”
“Paul, what if there is someone who has scruples with what you are doing? Do you want them to stumble? Its better to just sacrifice your liberty.”
In fact, they may have played these cards. As I said, Paul did not put up with it. Not for a second. Why? Because when you do, the Gospel is lost. Notice Paul said he did not subject to them even for an hour “so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.” Without liberty, there is no good news. Bondage only begets bondage. The Gospel is about being free.
But some people expect us to give up our liberty at every turn for the sake of “weaker brethren”. But think about this: If we were to give in to every so-called weaker brethren what would the result be? We would always be bowing to the least common denominator. Just about everything would be off-limits. Think of all the things people have scruples with:
1. Going to movies
3. “Mixed” bathing
6. Reading Harry Potter
7. Reading C.S. Lewis
8. Saying “oh my God”
9. Wearing flip flops to church
10. Drinking alcohol
11. Reading any Bible translation other than the KJV
12. Listening to Rock music
13. Going to church on Saturday rather than Sunday
14. Making a purchase that others think is a sinful waste of money
15. Playing video games
16. Taking anti-depressants
17. Women wearing pants
18. Sending your kids to public schools
20. Going to a “seeker” church
For all of these things, I really do have representatives in my life right now. Every one of them would be offended if I crossed their line. I actually have someone who thinks homeschooling is morally wrong. As well, I have someone who thinks that public schooling is morally wrong. Seeing as how we started homeschooling our kids this semester, how can I keep both of these from stumbling? Is it even my job to do so? If I were to follow this “no-offense” policy in my life, I would be completely immobile in this and a thousand other actions. So would you.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).
We need to be sensitive, I know. But I am afraid that often our sensitivity only serves to fuel others’ faulty understanding and legalism. People will control you to the degree that you let them. If you allow this to go on without discernment, not only will you be immobile, but you will have lost your liberty. Lose liberty, lose the Gospel.
Believe it or not, there are people out there who hate our liberty and will do anything to make us lose it. They see the advantage of using the “weaker brethren” card, and use it to manipulate, control, and imprison others. Beware of “professional weaker brethren”.