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.
(Romans 14:1-12 ESV)
Paul spends a good deal of time, in his letter to the Romans and also in 1 Corinthians and Colossians talking about eating (or abstaining) as a sign of the relative maturity of a person’s faith. In this passage, the mark of maturity is the freedom to eat anything.
The problem seems to stem from the pagan practice of sacrificing animals to one of their gods in a ritual and then packaging the meat for sale in the marketplace and labeling it “100% Certified Artemis Beef,” as if that made it better somehow. I have seen such beef down at our local Hannaford’s, except that beef was apparently sacrificed to the god Angus. He must be a Celtic god.
Something else to consider about the eating of meat is that Paul isn’t talking about vegetarianism here, as if at some point in his life Paul had been to San Francisco. His admonition is only valid in the context of the community of faith. The early believers, Acts tells us, “[daily attended] the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 ESV)
They weren’t going to worship at the Temple and then inviting their friends from church over for lunch. Remember that the Temple and the synagogues of the 1st century did not celebrate the Lord’s Supper. From the very beginning, it was the practice of these first Christians to celebrate the Eucharist every time they met for worship. They overcame the problem by worshipping at Temple (or Synagogue) and then moving on to nearby homes for Eucharist and other food and fellowship. They gave thanks (eucharistica) and received grace (charis). The two words have the same root with good reason. That was fine when the church was restricted to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Only kosher was on the table. But once the church began to spread to other parts of the empire, they were going to have to deal with the question of demon beef. Up in the churches of Asia minor and Greece, when the house churches reclined at table to celebrate the Lord’s supper, there, sitting on the table next to the cup and the bread was… 100% certified Artemis Beef.
“Publius, where did you get your meat from?”
“From the market at the Temple of Artemis, Eusebius”
“Well, Publius, the Holy Spirit tells me it isn’t right to eat meat sacrificed to an idol.”
“But Eusebius, it is just meat!”
“That may be, Publius, I have knowledge from God, and (looking disapprovingly over his spectacles) I don’t believe it would be right for a Christian to eat this meat.”
“Well, Eusebius, (chuckling sardonically) you go right ahead. There are some nice veggie side dishes you can probably pick at. I’M not letting this good meat go to waste. Remember, there are children starving in Antioch.”
That’s pretty much how it was going.
The situation presented twin problems. First and foremost, it was causing major divisions in these new church plants at a time when they could ill-afford to be divided. Satan is pretty much of a concrete sequential in his thinking, the deeper things of heart and soul are hard for him to grasp. That’s why you’ll hardly ever hear of a church that broke up because people were worshipping the Lord together. But you hear all the time about churches splitting over whether to use powerpoint or where the small groups should meet or what color to paint the downstairs bathroom. Which is easier, to rip brothers and sisters apart over their devotion to Jesus or to rip them apart over whether to dunk or sprinkle? It is easier still to bust up Christian relationships over where to put the Bible in church or over a few gallons of green or blue paint.
Briefly, the other example Paul gives is what we would call today “Feast Days” in the liturgically based churches. I happen to like acknowledging various special Sundays with the churches I serve. There’s a huge amount of history they can learn from celebrating Epiphany or Christ the King or even Pentecost. But watch out! If you celebrate St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26, by the way), or All Saints (November 1), you’re going to have the Doctrine Police down on you in a lot of Evangelical churches. Brrrr… smacks of Popery (if that’s even a word).
It is, in fact, the Doctrine Police Paul is speaking to here. He is quick to remind us of what is being called today the Irreducible Core of the Gospel, ““As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” And I believe the reference had, by this time become an early creedal statement. He fleshes it out more fully in Philippians 2:10-11, adding “…confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” But beyond that, Paul is leaving a great deal of latitude for Christian liberty.
There are things worth fighting over, and Paul (and others) are clear about them, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) Pretty much everything else has nothing to do with whether you are saved or not.
It seems to me that grace demands that we welcome the weaker brother or sister, the one who believes it is vital that you really understand predestination or tongues, baptism, the end times, hell, plenary inspiration, or even the virgin birth without looking down our spectacles at them because they don’t understand your freedom in Christ.
And to those of you in the other camp – the ones who have some real convictions about doctrinal issues and who have really tested the faith to arrive at those convictions? It is okay. I’m really pretty sure you won’t weaken the integrity of the Gospel if you feed the poor, visit prisoners, heal the sick, or offer mercy shoulder to shoulder with a less mature brother or sister who hasn’t developed those convictions yet. You and they will have a much more effective witness to unbelievers and believers alike when they see it is Jesus you love and not your doctrinal statement about him. Our greatest concern must be that we introduced people to Jesus.