Church Leaders and Authors are Violating God’s Instruction About Matters of Conscience
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 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.
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. 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. 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. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For 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. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
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; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:1-13)
There are of course many issues in Scripture that are non-negotiables. The Ten Commandments are an example of such. They are not matters of conscience left to each person to decide. Murder is murder. Adultery is adultery.
But the Bible has quite a lot to say about other issues that do vary in our application of them. Back in New Testament times Paul dealt with things like whether a Christian should eat meat that had been purchased in the idol temple. We call these issues “matters of conscience” and the Bible shows us that these are things which are to be left up to the individual Christian’s conscience. One eats. Another doesn’t.
However, it is a serious error to limit ‘matters of conscience’ to the subjects the early Christians were facing. God would have us draw out the larger principles that are transferable to our own day. Don’t pass judgment on a brother if he _______, and you do not _______. Going to movie theater. Having a television. Drinking alcohol. If you grew up in a church you were probably taught a list of ‘forbiddens’ that included way more things than what the apostles gave to believers —
abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:20 CSB)
But what I want to talk about here are subjects that I suspect almost none of us heard were matters of conscience to be left to the individual to decide and apply. I submit to you this list (which of course is not exhaustive) —
- Whether to marry or not to marry (lots of churches give this one lip service as a matter of conscience but in practice they insist on marriage)
- Whether to divorce — that’s right. You heard me correctly. The decision to divorce is up to the individual believer’s conscience before God as long as it is exercised without sin. The church’s authority to discipline (listen to this very carefully now) only concerns matters of sin, not matters of conscience. A church should certainly discipline an abuser, but has no authority to say yea or nay as to the victim’s right to divorce.
- The specifics of how a husband is to carry out his husbanding role in his marriage
- The specifics of how a wife is to carry out her role as a wife in her marriage
- The specifics of how a father or a mother is to function. [Notice in these last three points I say “specifics.” Scripture gives us principles, but the Lord does not tell us “now wife and children you are to greet husband/father at the door when he comes home from work and you are to then _______ and then you ______, etc., etc.” No.
We could go on and on, but you get the point? Churches and Christian authors and pastors and conference speakers continue to go on and on in dictating binding laws in these areas and more that God has not given them authority to direct. This is the danger of the myriads of “how-to” books down at the Christian bookstore.
Let me give you a personal example of how this business plays out. Over the last say 45 years, I was made to feel very guilty by churches and pastors and speakers and books. I wanted to serve the Lord, and I did. I worked hard at a full time job and went to graduate school at the same time. I became a pastor and fought battle after battle.
But I rarely led my family in regular, nightly, formal, family “devotions.” I was told I should. But I just wasn’t moved to do it. I saw others doing so and I figured they were spiritually superior to me. So…guilt.
And then the years went by. Wanna know what happened?
Our children grew up loving Christ. They walk with Him today. They married genuine Christian spouses. And I realize that what happened all those years is that myself and my wife WERE teaching and discipling them every single day. Through our example of genuine Christianity. Through my preaching and teaching week after week in church. Through our real love for them and for one another. It was real, and they knew it.
Guess what else happened? Many of the children who grew up in the rigid homes under a patterned, scheduled devotional time, rebelled against the Lord. Some of their lives are just a mess. Not all. And I am not saying that some real Christians don’t carry out regular, formal family devotions to good effect because it is from their heart and the kids know it. But what I am saying is that much of what I was pressured with was mere outward shell, hollow religion, by people who were legalistic formalists who had the form of godliness but denied its power.
So let’s close by coming back to abuse. If anyone can honestly say before the Lord that the Spirit of God is leading them to freedom by divorcing a wicked abuser, no one has the authority to tell you otherwise. No one has the right — no pastor, no church, no church member — no one has the right to invade the specifics of your life as you walk with Christ and tell you to deny what the Spirit of Christ is telling you.
If you haven’t already, you may want to go peruse your library and have a book burning fueled by any volumes still lurking there that want to run the minutia of your life for you.