Romans 14 and Matters of Faith
by Dudley Ross Spears
Nearly all of us have preached on unity as prescribed in Scripture. At one time or another we may have recited the way to unity involves "in matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things love." Properly applied, this is a good motto. It expresses a good and workable process whereby all believers can unite in Christ.
The discussion of the principles for unity as taught in Romans 14 has turned from unity based on what God declares to be a matter of faith to whether one understands something to be a matter of faith. To say every divisive issue is dealt with in Romans 14, and remains there until one become strong enough to realize his "faith" is really his "opinion," puts the onus of responsibility on the subjective and intellectual growth of fallible men and removes it from what God declares to be faith.
What has happened to God identifying matters of faith for us? Some are leaving God out of the decision making, turning it over to weaker Christians to decide all of it through their spiritual growth and understanding. This is fallacious. Faith is not opinion and never can be. Opinion is not faith. Faith differs from human opinion in that faith is based on what the Bible says and opinion is based on what a believer thinks. A matter of faith is something God says in language plain enough for normal people to comprehend. A matter of opinion is not based on anything God says, but on fallible deductions extracted from what one thinks God says. Faith comes only from what is revealed (Rom. 10:17). Opinion comes when men walk by sight and not by faith (2 Cor. 5:7).
If one determines an issue is a matter of faith and can find no book, chapter, and verse for it, he is wrong. If he continues to believe it, and presses it, he will cause division contrary to the doctrine preached by Christ and his apostles (Rom. 16:17). When it comes to fellowship nothing in Romans 14 requires "withdrawal of fellowship." In fact, neither the expression nor the command to "withdraw fellowship" is found in the Bible. If it is there, please let me know about it. We are to withdraw ourselves from unruly brethren (2 Thess. 3:6) and avoid those who teach false doctrine, but God has already drawn the lines of fellowship (2 John 1:9-10). He expects us to recognize the lines he has drawn.
Recognizing God's lines of fellowship is easy when we confine ourselves to a "thus saith the Lord," not a "This is what I think about it." Romans 14 forbids us to withdraw ourselves from others over the kind of issues Paul mentions. "But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decision of scruples" (Rom 14:1). Those who differed over eating meats and observing days were to receive each other and the stronger Christians were forbidden to argue with weaker brethren over those issues. How on earth can this be a matter of faith? Are we forbidden to try and convince a brother who is wrong on a matter of faith, no matter how weak he is? I trow not.
How can this apply to the teaching and practice involved in the sponsoring church arrangement, church subsidy of benevolent organizations or "Christian" colleges, church sponsored recreation, instrumental music in worship, adulterous marriages, or teaching that Jesus was just an ordinary human being? These are not matters of opinion. They are matters of faith, whether I understand it clearly or not. Why? Because God has legislated directly on these issues. He expects my acceptance of all that he has revealed. I may not be able to comprehend everything he has revealed on a given topic, but that has no bearing on the nature of what God revealed. What he reveals as a matter of faith remains a matter of faith even when I am confused and wrong about it.
It is wrong to say that Romans 14 includes only those divisive issues that I understand to be matters of faith. Such an approach removes it from what God has clearly said, and places it in the nebulous and fickle area of human wisdom. Just for consideration, look at these verses: Acts 5:29; Matt. 16:23; 1 Cor. 4:1-6; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Luke 20:4. These are passages we all know well, which put the responsibility of taking just what the Bible says and neither adding to, taking from, nor altering in a whit exactly what it says.
To have an opinion is not a sin. It is only sinful when forced on others, or it hinders my obedience to God. Opinions are not difficult to identify. When nothing is said in scripture to justify my conclusion, whatever I conclude about a matter is my opinion. The example of Abraham shows us that he believed God to the point of following God's will to the last letter. He was told to offer Isaac. Abraham did just what God said. Abraham formed an opinion, which was wrong, yet did not interfere with his obedience. When told to offer the son of promise, his only begotten son, he did. Abraham had on his mind the question, "How would God fulfill the promise through Isaac? "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death" (Heb 11:19). Abraham was wrong, but obeyed God regardless.
To hold an opinion that doesn't hinder obedience to God is what was implied in "in matters of opinion, liberty."
Dudley Ross Spears
897 North Woodstock Way
Clarksville, TN 37040
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