So obviously this is a spiritual topic I’ve thought of on-and-off again over the years. It’s very interesting to me, to see Christian people sin without being awake to their own actions. In different ways, they cover up their sins, lie to themselves about their sins, or blatantly accuse others of doing exactly what they’re doing. Romans 14 violators are the “divisive” people of Christianity.
You could put it all under one big umbrella of human (sin) nature, I believe. None of us are without it, every one of us have probably at some point, been a Romans 14 violator; even when we are trying to be good and righteous, sometimes we are actually harboring sinful motivations we may not even be aware of.
The sad thing about Romans 14 violations is that it creates situations of division and hypocrisy. The same Christians who tend to have a Critical Spirit, are often the first to (with too much assurance in their opinion) advise other Christians on how to deal with much harsher, destructive criticism than they themselves have experienced, while simultaneously not dealing well with their own critics later on down the road. It is quite amazing to see the level of the hypocrisy. Again, we’ve all been guilty of these things, just in different ways, hence why Paul’s advice in Romans 14 is timeless wisdom still meant to apply today.
So how do you deal with Romans 14 violators like this without giving in to arguing with them or being affronted at the blatant hypocrisy and self-righteousness?
Compassion and Forgiveness… and then possibly Avoidance.
Yes… it’s that simple. After you work through feelings of frustration 😀 I think you have to have compassion for them. You have to forgive them and “let them go.” Even when seeing things like this play out, things that look so obviously wrong or hypocritical, we must not become full of pride and look down on them, and we also must not give in to stooping to a lower level. I’ve seen what can happen when Christians allow themselves to wallow in bitterness, believing it’s not fair, or that someone “got away” with sinning against them.
We’ve all sinned at some point, and being humble enough to realize this truth, we can extend a hand to them when they’ve fallen, and try to pull them back upright.
I might be weird here, but I really do feel compassion for Romans 14 violators. I’ve written before how I used to be one, so I understand it from the inside. I think there’s a reason they toe the line of legalism on things like the way Scriptures should used ( their belief everyone else has to be wrong), or how they clearly enjoy writing posts about the “correct” convictions all Christians should have on things like makeup or modesty, etc. Is some of it wrong? Yes. Do they get some of it right? Yes. Does there stance often create division? Yes. Are they sometimes hypocritical in what they tell others to do, versus what they actually do? Yes. LOL And it can be kind of funny if you relax about it and view their actions from a distance.
Romans 14 is clear on a person’s weakness of faith leading to them having more legalistic convictions, and how if you’re a mature Christian, you must realize their weaknesses and leave them alone, keeping your maturity and freedoms to yourself, not arguing with them or trying to persuade them. There’s no use in feeling frustrated over a baby Christian not understanding the deeper applications of Old Testament scriptures, or of a Catholic insisting that if you miss church more than 3 times, you’ve excommunicated yourself. There’s also no use in arguing over their convictions, because then you’re now violating Romans 14!
Realizing someone’s weakness or spiritual-immaturity is a blessing, because they are not yours to “fix,” God allows them to have their weakness for stricter legalism, just as He allows you to have your freedom, and He doesn’t want you two arguing about it.
But what about the serious side-effects of Division their arguments create?
Yeah… what about that, huh? That’s why Paul thought this topic was so important he wrote it into the Bible. To some degree, these Christians don’t care about the division, or they don’t care enough about the consequences of it, to obey Romans 14. I could be wrong, but I believe this is why Paul refers to the more legalistic believers as “weak,” while at the same time, having to tell the mature Christians to keep their freedoms “to themselves.” The weak aren’t mature enough to understand the broad spectrum of personal convictions (that not dressing Amish is ok for the majority of believers, or that missing church more than 3 times doesn’t actually excommunicate you from God or His “religion” for most of us). And the strong or mature believers have a hard time accepting their legalistic brethren, and not trying to argue with them over their freedoms. That’s why Paul commands BOTH sets of believers to just not criticize each other over those things, or argue over them since it’s pointless and God honors both of them as long as they have a clear conscious.
It does create division, and yes, this is bad and gives Satan a foothold within the body of Christ (a multi-denominational-racial-geographical community). I’ve begun to realize that a lot of that weight in keeping the unity, is placed on the more mature believers’ shoulders in not trying to convince the ones with stricter personal convictions that they should have more freedom, while also accepting them for who and what they are (weaker). Trying to change or challenge their convictions comes from a spirit of arrogance anyway, and yes, I realize the weaker Christians Paul talks about this are frequently guilty of this arrogance, too, because by their weaker nature, they are more apt to see their way or their interpretation as right and feel the need to correct everyone else “doing it wrong.” The “stronger” Christians are called to accept this and to keep quiet about their own freedoms, they’re required to shoulder the bulk of maintaining the unity through not arguing with the weaker ones who so often love to criticize, correct, and argue.
Division within the Body is ugly. It’s already hard to have unity in such a diverse group of naturally sinful people, but these arguments go out of the way to create ugly divisions, just like Paul said. Which is why it’s so important to abide by Romans 14.
A good example of this I saw recently was when an Orthodox man was arguing with Protestants that using birth control or Natural Family Planning in order to avoid pregnancy, was a “mutilated form of sex.”
If you follow the link, you’ll read the Protestant man’s defense against the accusation that his personal conviction was that birth control is “mutilating,” especially something as benign as NFP. He obviously took offense, and that’s normal when one is accused that their personal conviction is not only “wrong” but something described as horribly wrong as “mutilation.” Wow!
But let’s take that one example and expound a bit on it:
Clearly some Christian men believe that any action taken in order to prevent pregnancy is considered to be a “mutilated sexual activity” in the eyes of God. However, even voicing this belief is automatically offensive to the stronger people of faith Paul talks about, because they know, very well, that it’s not a “mutilated sexual activity” when they engage in using birth control or NFP. They basically have to accept being judged by the weaker in faith, and try to keep quiet about their own freedom in personal conviction on the issue. I’ve been on both sides of this coin, and while it’s hard for both, I do believe it’s a little harder for the stronger in faith to “accept” this judgment that their way is so wrong or “mutilated.”
It’s a good example of why Romans 14 issues should not be argued over like Paul commands us. They are personal convictions that when applied (wrongly) to everyone else’s convictions, can be so utterly exclusive as to who is “doing things right” that they exclude the majority of the faithful Catholics trying to abide by normal NFP standards!
The “side effects” of these arguments have been complete wars and terrorist acts (Catholic and Protestant fights in Ireland immediately come to mind). It starts small, but things like that grow out of proportion and cause us to focus on things we’re just not supposed to be focusing on.
So how do you treat them the way God would have you treat them?
Have compassion on Romans 14 violators, they’re only human and they’ll probably get less uptight about trying to “fix” everyone else’s problems over the course of their lifetime. If they’re more legalistic, just remember that even Paul calls them “weaker” in their faith. You can’t really fault someone for being “weaker,” and thus having more legalistic convictions.
If you see them engaging in violating Romans 14, and usually it’s the more legalistic ones who point out the “correct” way things should be done or convictions to have, just choose to forgive them and move on. Having compassion on them first helps a ton with this! I find myself feeling sorry for them because I truly believe that they are almost incapable of understanding the deeper meaning behind why they shouldn’t be causing division in this way. Being “weaker in faith” like Paul says, also seems to imply that they’re less mature about the spectrum of God’s grace when it comes to convictions. So since they’re ignorant rather than malicious, forgiveness and lots of grace is in order. It’s literally a case of, “Father forgive them, because they know not what they do.”
This one doesn’t have to be implemented, but can be a useful tool if someone is just super keen on arguing for people seeing things only “their way,” or if they’re starting to “get under your skin.” If they are constantly critical of what other Christians are doing – what music they’re listening to, what verses they’re “using wrong,” or harping on their pet peeves of other Christians, then avoidance is definitely in order. Sometimes a “weaker faith” Christian may also be plagued with a Critical Spirit, and those two things together means they are someone that may need to be avoided, just so that you don’t get into it with them. Avoidance doesn’t have to mean that you are angry with them, it’s just a nice or kind tool to ensure you keep unity and peace within the Body.
Studying this stuff, watching it play out in people’s lives is fascinating to me. It’s also a little sad, because if anything, the main example in this post about the “mutilated sexual activity” between a married couple, just exposes how hard it is for Christians to come together with views like that. Very interesting.