What do you do when two Christians disagree over relatively minor points of theology?
I love talking theology.
I love talking about it passionately!
If you’ve studied Scripture for any length of time, you probably have loads of questions for God—questions the Bible doesn’t explicitly answer; hence, all the debate!
Speculating and reasoning about theology is not the problem. The problem is fighting and looking down on each other over those speculations. That’s especially true when you do that to immature Christians. As Paul said,
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not to have quarrels over opinions (Rom 14:1 NASB).
The word translated as “opinions” is dialogismōn, which BDAG defines as “content of reasoning or conclusion reached through use of reason, thought, opinion, reasoning, design” (3rd ed., p. 232). The NKJV takes it as implied that these are “doubtful” reasonings. In other words, these are not disputes over direct commands or clear revelations but secondary matters of the faith.
What kind of issues does Paul have in mind?
He gives the examples of arguing over vegetarianism and keeping special religious holidays. Those were two issues over which Jewish and Gentile Christians would have clashed. But even today, Christians argue about eating kosher, supporting factory farming vs. local farms, or celebrating Christmas, Easter, or the Sabbath. Each side has its arguments.
Paul saw a deadly danger in those kinds of debates, namely, judging your brother. Paul hated divisiveness in the body of Christ. So instead of picking each other apart, Paul called you to focus on the motivations behind the actions you’re criticizing. For example, are you both trying to serve God? Are you both eating your food and celebrating your day for the Lord? If so, God receives both the weak and the strong (v 3), and that’s what counts.
“The point is that both kinds of Christians, the strong and the weak, accept this Lordship of Christ over their lives,” Michael Eaton explains. “The minor matter of disagreement between them cannot be so great” (The Branch Commentary, p. 507).
So the bigger danger is not, say, vegetarianism, but how judging your brother or sister can negatively impact his or her faith:
Therefore, let us no longer judge one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister (Rom 14:13 CSB).
Here is another “one another” command that describes normal church life. Do not judge one another or put a stumbling block or pitfall in a brother or sister’s way. (Zane Hodges translates skandalon as a snare instead of pitfall.)
What’s the potential consequence of causing someone to stumble?
In vv 15 and 20, Paul warned about “destroying” or “ruining” a brother through your criticisms. It’s not clear what that means, but the effect of the stumbling block in Rom 9:32-33 has to do with preventing someone from believing. Did you realize that judging a fellow Christian over minor issues, or causing him to act against his conscience, can lead to him losing his faith?
Let’s say you argued someone into acting against his conscience, which then led him to losing his worth. Would it be worth it?
Sometimes, though, judgment is necessary. For example, in Galatians, Paul didn’t hesitate to criticize false teachers and their false gospels precisely because they were causing the Galatians to depart from the faith (Gal 1:6).
So whenever faced with arguments over minor matters, remember that we all need to grow in grace. In normal church life, people will be at different stages of understanding how grace liberates the Christian life. So instead of criticizing believers over what they eat, be gentle and patient and trust the Lord to grow His people bit by bit—or should I say, bite by bite.