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Is a theological disagreement a stumbling block?

Posted by on Oct 8, 2012 in community, discipleship, fellowship, scripture | 5 comments

Is a theological disagreement a stumbling block?

In 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, Paul asks his readers to care more about their brothers and sisters in Christ than in claiming their own freedoms in Christ. In those passages, Paul was talking about theological disagreements. By claiming their rights in these areas of theological disagreement, they could make themselves into stumbling blocks for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

But, does that mean that any theological disagreement is a stumbling block? No.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Any theological disagreement (any disagreement actually – even a disagreement that we might think is minor or trivial) MIGHT be a cause of stumbling. But, disagreements are not causes of stumbling in and of themselves.

It’s entirely possible – and it happens all the time – that two Christians can disagree without one causing the other to stumble. It’s possible – and it happens all the time – that one follower of Jesus can offend another without either one causing the other to stumble.

When Paul writes about one person causing another to stumble in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, he’s talking about something particular. Look at these passages from those chapters:

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. (Romans 14:15-16 ESV)

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. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:20-23 ESV)

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (1 Corinthians 8:7 ESV)

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (1 Corinthians 8:9-11 ESV)

In each case above, disagreement is not the problem. Offense is not the problem. The problem is that the actions of one Christian is causing (or encouraging) another Christian to do something that he or she considers to be sin. We become a stumbling block when living out our freedom in Christ gives others justification to disobey Christ (in their own understanding).

Obviously, these are serious issues. We do not want to encourage our brothers and sisters to do anything that they would consider to be disobedience or sin. At the same time, we should recognize that all disagreements are not stumbling blocks.

Instead, we have to know our brothers and sisters in Christ and know what would be a real encouragement for them and what would be a discouragement to them.


5 Comments

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  1. 10-8-2012

    “We do not want to encourage our brothers and sisters to do anything that they would consider to be disobedience or sin. At the same time, we should recognize that all disagreements are not stumbling blocks.”

    Good point. Thanks, as usual.

    Also, do you have specific examples of how you have seen this play out in other’s lives that you could give? Just trying to make it applicable to me right now – can’t quite think of an example other than alcohol use.

  2. 10-9-2012

    Randi,

    (First, let me know if you are getting comment notifications now or not.)

    The alcohol issue is a big one today. Simply disagreeing about whether or not a Christian should drink is not a stumbling block. Even drinking alcohol around someone who believes that Christians should not drink does not make the one drinking a stumbling block.

    As far as other issues, it could be anything. For example, if eating certain foods around a brother/sister would encourage them to eat in a way that they consider gluttonous, then I’m being a stumbling block.

    -Alan

  3. 10-9-2012

    I’m not getting comment notification. Had to come on to the blog to look :)

    Appreciate your response.

  4. 10-9-2012

    Randi,

    I wish I knew what to do about the notifications… :(

    -Alan

  5. 10-10-2012

    it’s apparently me – because it’s happening on Pilgrim’s Progress, too. I don’t know! :)