An Experiment in Christian Dialogue: Rom 14:23

Angel with harpAt the-ChurchofChrist.org, John Waddey makes a classic argument —

Like Paul, faithful Christians “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). To “walk by faith” has a unique meaning to God’s children. The apostle wrote in Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” To do a religious thing by faith simply means that you have been authorized to do so by Holy Scripture. Later Paul reminds us that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

Our question is, can God’s church worship him today with instrumental music and do so by faith? To do so one would have to find the practice authorized in the New Testament. Such authorization would be in one of three forms: a) An approved apostolic example, b) a direct command, c) a necessary inference. In fact none of these modes of authorization can be discovered [regarding instrumental music in worship].

Is it true that Rom 14:23 makes it a sin to do “a religious thing” that hasn’t been authorized by example, command, or inference?

(Rom 14:23)  But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Notes:

1. This isn’t as easy at it might appear. Argue from context. What does “faith” mean in Rom 14:23?

2. Please, let’s just talk about the Waddey quote and Rom 14:23.

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19 Responses

  1. Wow, I’d never heard that argument before:

    Regarding Rom 10:17; there’s so much in this piece of Romans 10 – v15 refers back to Isaiah and the one who brings the good news that Israel’s God reigns, and v16 refers back to Isaiah’s suffering servant – who has believed his message?

    So in v17 (modern translations making clear its the word of Christ), it must surely be the word about Christ – the news that Israel’s God has been installed as king and that this King is the one who suffered, was shamed, died and rose again. The news of the crucified Messiah gives birth to faith(fulness).

    In 14:23, N.T. Wright is correct to refer back to 4:20-21 – Abraham displayed unwavering faith(fulness). Here Paul shows us what rubber-hits-the-road Christian faithfulness must look like; submission and love work together (patterned after Christ) such that if my “confident faith” causes another to sin, I am not acting in a gospel-shaped manner, and I in turn sin.

    To try to draw the kind of conclusions that Waddey does requires beginning with a conclusion and working the passage into it, ensuring along the way to ignore all context and OT background – but most essentially, to miss Christ at the centre of it all.

  2. Sorry, the reference to Rom 4:20-21 and Abraham may have been a bit too obscure above. There’s too much in it for a blog comment, but it’s pretty clear that Romans has a lot to do with God’s covenant faithfulness – the promise to Abraham, and Abraham’s corresponding unwavering faithfulness – and righteousness of God then being revealed in that promise being accomplished in Christ. So here, the kind of faithfulness lived out boldly by Abraham is put to unexpected (from an OT perspective) application as it is shaped by God’s fuller revelation of himself in a crucified Messiah.

  3. “To do a religious thing by faith simply means that you have been authorized to do so by Holy Scripture.” — John Waddey

    Are the New Testament writings merely a set of religious regulations or are they meant to guide the Christian in all aspects of life? The latter I think. If so, we can’t make a statement like the one above because it is too narrow and becomes a logically false premise. If it is a false premise, then any conclusions drawn from it are also false.

  4. Without any commenatries or anything, the passage seems to teach that it is okay to do (non sinful) things so long as you don’t doubt that they are sinful. But, if you are not totally sure of the matter….you shouldn’t do it at all. Because, if you do something that you are not sure about (whether it is sinful or not), then you should not do it at all.

  5. “Faith”, as I understand it, is not the same as “I believe it is true or OK”, because faith is a relationship: “I have faith in Christ” and/or “I want to be faithful to God”.

    This aplies to all three verses, sometimes on aspect is the foreground, sometimes the other one; but always both aspects are valid.

    Faithful Christians “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). his means that although we don’t see God, we trust Him; although we don’t see a solution, we trust God to help us. But also: Even though it seems ridiculous, I will obey Him.

    Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This means we are being confronted and introduced with God through the preaching of the Gospel. So we learn to trust Him by the Word of God, and we learn to be faithful to Him by the Word.

    The third one seems to be the issue between “progressives” and “conservatives”:

    (Rom 14:23) But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

    Again: “Whatever we do in faith” (to pu it in positive words) is because we trust God and we want to be faithful to Him. That’s an attitude that gives Glory to Him whether we understand Him reight or not.

    But in order to understand Him better, we need to leard the faith by the Word of God. That’s a process of individual growth and also a process of teaching and discipline in a congregation. In Bible Study these three guidelines can be of tremendous help:

    a) An approved apostolic example,
    b) a direct command,
    c) a necessary inference.

    But they can also become a hindrance to understanding. I do believe in the validity of approved apostolic examples, but we might apply a double standard when coming to the question, when an example is approved and when not. An example: We insist on breaking the bread every First Day of the Week, based on a single verse (Acts 20:7). To be sure, our exegesis of this verse is sound and I think we made a valid point based on this verse. But what about acts 2:46? Why is it not an approved pattern to break bread daily? I tell you upfront: The reasons for following this pattern are as compelling! But our personal costs are a lot higher (it would be changing our lifestyle completely).

    A direct command should be out of question. But, to be honest, we also pick and choose on these. We follow the command of not forsaking the assemblies, but we do not enforce the command of not storing up treasures on earth.

    The third: A necessary inference, was a part in Campbells “Declaration and Address” that should be accepted with the greates reluctance, being willing to follow better and clearer insights as soon as possible. Ehey are based on humand reasoning, common sense, general knowledge and rethoric skills … and all but absolute. Necessary inferences are nothing but necessary evils in order to come to a decision.

    As I said, these three points, applied in faith, can be of tremendous help. Again: Faith (here) means trusting God, that His Spirit will guide and lead the church into all truth, even though for us some things seem pretty foggy. And faith also means: We are striving to be faithful to God on all ways His Spirit leads us.

    Concerning Waddey: As long as someone has not come to a Biblical understanding of Worship, it is no sin to use instruments – because it is based on genuine faith. As soon as someone is convinced by the Word of God to do otherwise, he should change, but not in the sense as repenting from sin; but as proceding in faith. And vice versa, of course – given, that the a-capella position might be proved wrong after all.

    But following carnal desires in this would be no option at all … it is all about pleasing God not man. Actually, this would be a very unifying attitude. Without that, the three hermeneutical principles turn into prison walls, preventing all changes that can be summed up as growth.

    Alexander

  6. Alexander,
    What if “word of God” is not a reference to the Text?

    Because it is not. Since the New Testament text did not really exist at the time. And in the Greek, it is a reference to the knowledge of God or the Wisdom of God, or something along those lines.

    So, in reality the Text should read something like “hearing comes from knowing God.”

    How does change your logic? BTW, I pretty much agree with your conclusions, but I’m a little shaky on how you got there.

  7. It would seem that if we take Waddy at his word, that,

    “To do a religious thing by faith simply means that you have been authorized to do so by Holy Scripture. Later Paul reminds us that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23),”

    then we should apply the same standard (Holy Scripture) to questions regarding the authorization necessary to practice something. However, it seems Mr. Waddy applies a different standard. He seeks authorization by finding,

    “the practice authorized in the New Testament.”

    Does not “Holy Scripture” include the whole Bible, ie. the Old and New Testaments? When the writers of the New Testament spoke of Scripture, were they not speaking only of what we call the Old Testament?

    The Old Testament includes many examples of and directives for worship using a variety of instruments, most notably (for me, at least) Psalm 150

    1 Praise the Lord.
    Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise Him in His mighty heavens.
    2 Praise Him for His acts of power;
    praise Him for His surpassing greatness.
    3 Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise Him with the harp and lyre,
    4 praise Him with tambourine and dancing,
    praise Him with the strings and flute,
    5 praise Him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise Him with resounding cymbals.
    6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
    Praise the Lord.

    (Sounds like David may have messed around with a drum set or at least enjoyed a night of jazz worship every once in a while.:-)

    My point is that if I am correct that Holy Scripture is to include Genesis to Malachi as well as Matthew to Revelation, then it would seem to render the question of his application of Romans 14:23 to the question of the use of instrumental music moot.

    The question then becomes, “Why would we use only the New Testament to seek authorization for a practice if we claim, with Paul, that, ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, . . . ’” (I Tim 3:16f)?

  8. “To do a religious thing by faith simply means that you have been authorized to do so by Holy Scripture.” — John Waddey

    And by “Holy Scripture,” Waddey clearly means “New Testament Scripture,” because the practice of instrumental praise is commanded and even exemplified over and over in the Old Testament.

    It’s fascinating to me that he brings up Romans 14, because most who defend a cappella-only worship do so under the assumption that there are no disputable matters, Romans 14 notwithstanding. If a practice is authorized, it is permissible. If it is not authorized, it is prohibited. There is no middle ground in their argument.

    It is as if, for him, only verse 23 exists in chapter 14.

    Faith, in this chapter, does not come from specific authorization at all. It comes from one’s interpretation of scripture to determine what is acceptable practice, in the example cited, the eating of certain foods:

    “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. ”

    Examples can be found in scripture of people in biblical times interpreting earlier scripture through command and example – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one cited which “authorizes” necessary inference – but the CENI-S(ilence) hermeneutic must be called into question when the earlier scripture that those earlier saints are interpreting is the LAW. CENI can be helpful with interpreting law. But are we under Moses’ law – or the perfect law of Christ that gives freedom … His love and grace?

    So, I would have to say that his (and others’) insistence on his a), b) and c) items is a teaching of man, not of New Testament scripture which he heavily implies is the covenant under which we are operating.

  9. Dear David

    I can follow your input on the Logos of God. But the Logos spoke other words (Heb 1:1), that he commanded the apostles to pass on (Mt 28:20). So, as far as I see, they are hard to separate. E.g. (just to mention a different subject, that is touchy for both progressives and conservatives): Clement of Alexandria stated it is “the will of the Logos for women to pray veiled.” (around 180 AD) The early Christians very often referred to Jesus as the Logos.

    Now this is interesting because he refers to a text in 1Cor by Paul, and he credits the content of it to the Logos. In a way this makes sense, because the apostles were sent by the Logos, spoke in the authority of the Logos and whoever receives them receives the Logos (said Jesus Himself). Understanding this we should be very, very reluctant to attribute anything in the NT to just a matter of ancient culture that has nothing to do with us (I stopped doing that completely, out of fear I might reject the Logos Himself in doing that).

    Or as John said: The Logos of Life appeared, and the apostles were witnesses of what He did and said, and they pass it on so that our fellowship will be with the Father and the Son and our joy may be complete.

    So the NT existed in the oral teaching of the apostles before it was written down, from the very beginning (Acts 2:42); and as long as it was not completed, the oral teaching was as binding as the written word (2 Th 2:15).

    So in the end it should make no difference, if we speak of the written Word or the living Word. It does however make a difference if we read and study the Bible apart from the Logos, apart from His presence, His character, Love and Grace. In this case, the Bible becomes a burdensome book. But together with Logos, even topics as the headcovering will become something beautiful, something inspiring, as a sign of His Glory among us.

    Alexander

  10. Clearly, in Romans 14:23, the word “faith” has nothing to do with religious authority or divine authorization. Paul is talking about whether or not a person can do something without having problems with his/her conscience. The Waddey quote represents a mis-application of the verse.

  11. Hank and Frank both in few words make clear what’s wrong with Waddey’s claim. To “have faith” in anything is quite different from having a Bible citation to prove your right to hold the belief. “Faith” surely is based on observation, on hearing. But our conscience can be clear as to what we do without each item being stated in scripture. I can believe it’s safe to go 50 miles in a 40-mph zone, and even be right. But my “faith” is not based on a right reading of the speed zone sign. Yet it may be what I do truly believe. As the meaning of “faith” is seen in Romans 14:23, it’s simply saying that what we think is wrong IS wrong just because we think it’s wrong. We should not do what we think is wrong. Ever. We should do what we think is right. Always. The Word is the best guide in spiritual matters.

  12. What I don’t get is this: Does the greek definition of “faith” mean in any sense “authority or authorized”? Or is this a re-definition of the word? Weren’t the Pharisees condemned to their faces by Jesus for seeking to be justified not by faith in God but practicing their perceived authorized practices instead? Besides that, how can one justify using arguments from Old Testament passages to condemn IM, while purposely ignoring the “commands” to practice IM found in other Old Testament passages such as the Psalms? The lack of true logic is troublesome…

  13. One more thing… The New Testament DOES allude to the use of instruments in worship, such as in their brief mention in 1 Corinthians chapters 13 and 14. If they were forbidden, then it would have been wrong to mention them. It is a most grievous sin to condemn people to Hell over a practice that God approved of; Our God does not change and He is the same God of David as He is of Paul. Those that condemn others to Hell over IM are in very serious danger of Hell themselves.

    (I gotta get this out because the people at my old church are condemning my family, to our faces and to anyone else who will hear, over IM and these people deny the Holy Spirit (they think He is a book…).

    Matthew 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

  14. Been thinking/reading more about Rom 10:17 – looks like it’s a Greek textual issue between “word of God / word of Christ” – rhmatov cristou seems to be favoured these days for good reasons.

    The notes on the NET Bible also suggest that it’s most likely an objective genitive too, which would agree with what I wrote above – it’s the proclamation about Christ (or what God has done in Christ) as the one in whom Israel’s God has begun to reign and the Suffering Servant that produces faith(fulness). If it was a subjective genitive (which John Waddey assumes), it would be the word spoken by Christ/God.

    I just find it so energizing to see how Paul brings together these incredible Isaianic hopes and how God has acted in Christ to fulfill them, into a few sentences. It’s mind-bogglingly amazing news!

  15. I want to try and make my first comment before reading any of the other commenters (you know how I love reading comments here – I just think your two challenges at the end deserve my own thoughts, and I’m not sure I can do that if I read too much else).

    For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you consider good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people. So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin. But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.
    (Rom 14:15-15:4 NET, emphasis mine)

    (I just realized that while Jay literally wrote “Let’s talk about the Waddey quote and Rom 14:23,” I blockquoted Rom 14:15-15:4! LOL I hope my violation of the letter of the challenge is in the spirit of the challenge and not contrary to it! 🙂 )

    In this passage, Paul makes an interesting juxtaposition – he uses ‘kingdom of God’ as a parallel for the idea of ‘serving God’ in a particular way. IE, God is not really served by abstaining from (or eating, for that matter) particular foods – BUT, His work can be destroyed by being a stickler for them.

    True kingdom servants serve with an eye towards righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit – but some who have yet to mature in Christ still have an eye for external markers of righteousness. Neither attacking those “young sprouts” of the Kingdom, nor flaunting ‘freedom in Christ’ in front of them, can be considered activity with an eye towards “righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit” or “pursuing what makes for peace” or “pleasing our neighbor for their own good.” There is a deep mutuality in these verses, where Paul is explaining how to do one of the big statements of Rom 14: we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister.

    So, what is Rom 14:23 talking about? Who is being condemned? More importantly, who is doing the condemning? It is written in a context of Christians judging themselves and others – an explanation of its pointlessness because of the coming judgment of God. Paul is saying (I think), that the one who doubts stands self-condemned if he eats – it is his own judgment that he is receiving, not God’s. God’s judgment, as Paul has just reiterated, has to do with matters of righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.

    The one who doubts, but eats anyway, stands self-condemned because they understand only part of the nature of the kingdom. Yes, the one who actually rebels against Jesus stands in danger of condemnation – but the one who only thinks they’re rebelling (by eating something they think is sinful) only thinks they’re condemned.

    We can’t teach people the way of Jesus more accurately by flaunting our freedom in front of them – we must model the self-sacrifice of Jesus by “pleasing our neighbor for their own sake.”

    Finally, and most to the point of the question, Paul contrasts diakrinomenos (who goes back and forth, cf Acts 10:20; James 1:6; Jude 9 – translated here as “who doubts”) with pistis (faith or faithfulness). He is not contrasting one who does what they want with one who does what the Scriptures say.

    Faith in Christ should lead to righteousness, joy, and peace – not passing judgment on one another and going back and forth with your brethren.

  16. The idea behind diakrino seems to be uncertainty rather than going against one’s better judgment. I’m not even convinced Paul’s directing 14:23 at the weaker brother!

    – most of the pericope is directed at the stronger brother

    – the whole passage is talking about why we do things.

    What if “doubts” was translated “disputes,” a la Jude 9?

    The one who disputes stands condemned if he eats, because they are not doing it from faith, and whatsoever is not from faith is sin.

    The one who eats because Jesus said it was okay, is okay. The one who eats to dispute with their abstaining brother is not okay.

  17. One brother writes, “The one who doubts, but eats anyway, stands self-condemned because they understand only part of the nature of the kingdom. Yes, the one who actually rebels against Jesus stands in danger of condemnation – but the one who only thinks they’re rebelling (by eating something they think is sinful) only thinks they’re condemned.”

    I think not. I believe Paul is saying that if we do what we think is wrong to do, we are sinning even if in fact what we do is not wrong. God gave us consciences to help us do right. If we offend against our conscience, we have chosen to do what we think is wrong. Bad. And “little sins” lead to bigger sins, don’t they?

  18. Good luck proving THAT from all of Scripture, Ray.

    So the honest racist sins either way, because their conscience is in error? If they reject someone on the basis of race, they sin against God – if they accept the other despite their racist beliefs, they still sin?

    Maybe against their own conscience, but not against God.

  19. I think the conventional interpretation of this passage is pretty much right — not the conservative CoC interpretation, but the view that this about sinning against one’s own conscience.

    Compare —

    (1 Cor 8:7) But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.

    (Mat 15:19-20) For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'”

    I think God judges our hearts much more than our actions. As the passage says, the test is whether the behavior comes from faith[fulness]. Am I trying to be obedient?

    This is the same point as in —

    (Rom 14:5-6) One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

    Paul’s point is that the worship of both men is accepted by God if both men are “fully convinced in their own mind” because both worship “to the Lord.”

    While “faithfulness” works as the meaning of pistis, I’m not sure that’s the best translation. Consider 14:22 —

    (14:22 ESV) 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.

    “Faith” in this case is the strong faith of one Christian who believes it’s okay to eat meat. Paul says to keep your “faith” between you and God.

    Well, this obviously isn’t speaking of faith in Jesus per se. It is speaking of one’s understanding of faith — that is, to what extend does salvation by faith free us from laws? The stronger Christian accepts more freedom. The weaker Christian binds more rules.

    “The faith you have” is “your view of the freedom faith gives you.”

    Therefore, 14:23 reads something like —

    But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from [his understanding of the freedom faith gives]. For whatever does not proceed from [our understanding of the freedom faith gives] is sin.

    This isn’t greatly different from what everyone else has said. The key, though, is to realize that the context is about freedom from law coming from faith. The strong are those who find more freedom.

    (Rom 14:2) One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.

    The refusal to eat meat — the binding of a law unnecessarily — is from a weak understanding of faith. It’s a failure to appreciate the freedom Jesus bought for us with his death.

    Thus, Paul sees “faith” as coming in degrees. Some faith is strong and so provides the fullest freedom Jesus meant for us to have. Other faith is weak, and denies freedom that we should enjoy.

    But either way, if we are acting out of faith in Jesus — even a poorly instructed faith — it’s still faithfulness to Jesus in our hearts, and God accepts our worship.

    Therefore, per Rom 15:7, we must accept our brother — despite his weak faith — and he must accept us.

    And here’s the great sin of the 20th Century Churches of Christ. Those with strong faith — who approved a disputable matter — generally accepted those with weak faith. Amen.

    But those with weak faith never, ever accepted those with stronger faith. And that meant unity was impossible, because unity has to go in two directions to be unity (and not violate Galatians).

    And so those to my right damned me, and those to my left accepted me, while I damned them. Only those all the way to the left refused to damn any brother over disputable matters per 15:7.

    Therefore, the goal isn’t to be stronger in faith than the church down the road or the church in which we grew up. The goal is to be as strong in the faith as Jesus meant for us to be — which is very strong indeed.

    (Rom 8:1-2) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

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