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The Bible has a couple sections talking about responsibility to the "weaker brother", primarily 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14. Both ask someone stronger in their faith, who is not disturbed by something like eating food sacrificed to idols, to forgo it if it'll offend a brother or sister weaker in their faith. I think it's fairly obvious to say this concept applied past the scope of eating into general behavior.

The problem is, it's been my experience that there's some Christian somewhere offended by anything, as you are all probably realizing given the Q&A on this Stack Exchange. I've known Christians against Halloween, against Christmas, against instrumental music, against worship on Sunday, against evolution, against creationism... And especially when you deal with larger, more diverse groups, like you tend to meet in Internet-based Christian communities, there's always a weaker brother offended by some belief or practice of yours. Needless to say, there are also people "offended" by mutually contradictory beliefs or practices.

And, unfortunately, many of them like to use the weaker brother scriptures to justify why you should behave differently. It's effectively the "you shouldn't do anything I don't like" argument, or at least "you shouldn't speak out about having a belief different than mine on this subject."

How do you handle the "weaker brother" issue? How does it not become carte blanche for people of a controlling mindset to not manipulate you into behaving the way they think you ought?


Example

Here, in the spirit of how SE should work, I'll provide a specific time I faced this behavior, with the caveat that this question is NOT ABOUT THIS SPECIFIC ISSUE, so please don't give your personal opinions on its morality (open another question for that if you really want to).

I am a Christian, and play role-playing games (and am a mod on RPG.SE). I had been involved in an online Christian RPG group, the Christian Gamers Guild, back in the day. There were no end of people coming by and saying that from a weaker brother perspective, that a) we shouldn't play those games, b) those games are OK but not if they have magic or various gods in them, c) are OK as long as they're not Dungeons & Dragons, d) are only OK if they have an explicitly Christian theme, e) are only OK if they don't have Christianity in them (because that puts the gamemaster in the place of God) and so on, in manifold and often contradictory glory. Some were drive-bys, but others were group members who were offended by others' gaming preferences.

Because of this and tolerance for other essentially insane behavior (e.g. tolerance for extremely disruptive and inappropriate behavior in the name of forgiveness), I decided it was easiest to just not participate in the group, problem solved. But of course it's against the spirit of Christian community to just avoid all churches and social groups, or, I think, to be seriously cagey about all details of your life and beliefs because someone in that group won't like it and be "offended" and "stumble," right?

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closed as off-topic by Flimzy, fredsbend, Steve, David Stratton Jul 20 at 21:47

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This is intersting question. +1 –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Sep 1 '11 at 2:51
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Christians that are against instrumental music? o.O –  RCIX Sep 1 '11 at 3:51
    
@RCIX Yes, in fact that's the belief of the Churches of Christ, a reasonably mainline Protestant denomination en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churches_of_Christ, also some Bible churches, and of course variants against rock music, or other forms... –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 3:57
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I love the title of this question. If you ever write an essay or book on this subject, I think you should use the same title :) –  Flimzy Sep 1 '11 at 5:46
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Some good answers so far, but I'd like more specific guidance as to how you determine when someone's legit or not and how you respond. When taken to its extreme, this tyranny militates against you speaking publicly about thing/belief X if someone is against it... –  mxyzplk Sep 8 '11 at 1:09

5 Answers 5

up vote 20 down vote accepted
+50

First off... I think this is an excellent question, here's my try at an answer...

Romans 14:3, I believe, balances out both sides.

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

I know a person who thinks celebrating holidays or birthdays is wrong, and putting up Christmas trees is wrong, etc. I am cool with him, and he doesn't try to ever prove that I am wrong if I celebrate these things. And what I do in return is make sure I don't throw a birthday party for him, because that's me being sensitive to his beliefs.

Also, I think it's key to denote the difference between offend and stumble. Because this scripture was used to make sure we don't flaunt our freedom to the point where it causes someone else to fall into sin... and it is sin for them because they may do it even though they think it is a sin. (But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:23)

If a person clearly is NOT going to stumble, but is just being offended because they don't do something you do, then I am not so sure that "weaker brother" argument applies.

Here's an example that I think applies... if my friend (who doesn't celebrate stuff) says, "man when christmas comes I used to get so focused on the gifts, trees, etc, and I forgot about God, so I made a decision to remove it and not celebrate it." Then I would say... I understand Christmas became an idol to you, therefore it is good for you, if it helps you not to sin. Therefore, I can honor that. Basically, I am accommodating him, so that he won't stumble into sin.

I do believe that's our job as Christians is to accommodate the person who may be weaker in an area that you're strong in.

An example in scripture....

Looking at Acts 16:3 - Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Paul here circumcised Timothy because of the Jews in that area, which really meant Paul didn't want them getting hung up on circumcision, because he wanted them to hear the Gospel without them being offended.

This is a choice made by Paul to "be all things to all men so that some may be saved" (1 Cor 9:22). Because Paul could have easily told them "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." Gal 5:6

(In the spirit of Galatians, I do think at times people's law driven beliefs can be sinful, hence why Paul rebukes the Galatians)

We don't have to live in a box because of someone else's beliefs, but at the same time we can't merely enjoy our freedoms without consideration for others' true weaknesses either.

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+1 Good answer. A bit long but good anyway. –  James Khoury Sep 1 '11 at 6:24
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Good answer. I think some of the problem becomes people who are just offended, but claim it makes them stumble, because they are busybodies that want to mess with you. (I know, unthinkable that a Christian would be like that, right...) It's hard to tell them apart from the legit, however. –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 14:39
    
Yeah it can be hard to tell the difference. One thing I note is that it seems that people who have an honest humility about themselves will think a little bit before asking someone else to stop doing something just for them. If someone feels that their that important that they always have to be catered to, that's a problem. Phillipians 2:4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. –  Darye Sep 9 '11 at 20:12
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I have to say that I have never had someone object to anything I did because it might make them stumble. It's always been "it might make someone else stumble". –  DJClayworth Jul 25 '12 at 18:10

The Bible is clear about a lot of sin areas and about how Christians should act around each other (Ephesians 5) that I don't feel the need to think, "how will some random person interpret my actions?" Who can live with that level of forethought and the resulting guilt thereof? Not me. People who suggest this is at all possible haven't thought through the logic of it all. We can never truly predict how someone will respond to our actions.

That said I do think we should exercise due care when interacting with friends who have particular problems (e.g. alcoholism) and tempering our freedoms in Christ around them to accommodate.

"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it." -- GK Chesterton

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I believe it is important to emphasize the importance of identifying an idol in this case. Idols are not something that exist of their own accord, but are something created by man which they worship or place as higher importance than God. This is why Paul can say, "We know that 'An idol is nothing at all in the world' and that 'There is no God but one.'" 1 Corinthians 8:4 NIV

We know that sacrificing meat to an idol means nothing since an idol is nothing. Now if someone who is still trying to understand God, that idol may still have a deeply rooted meaning to them. If they see us in that idol's shrine eating the food sacrificed to it, what would keep them from thinking that we are not making our own sacrifices to the idol?

Now if we shift that idea of an idol to the modern day, some people definitely idolize RPGs (and everything else in existence). Playing RPGs can become their life, and they may not even have Christ in their life.

You, on the other hand, do not idolize RPGs (which is obvious from the fact that you were able to walk away from it). You understand that the RPGs do not give you life, but you receive life through God. As long as that RPG isn't something you hold on to and believe you require to survive, you are fine pretending to slay trolls in the name of Christ.

Now, you should always be on guard that it does not become more than that for you or the people you play with (which it sounds like it may have). If it does, that's when it's time to step away.

Now, maybe I can finally get to answering your question. The believers who are playing the weaker brother card are probably not the ones who are the weaker brother. If they are saying you might be leading them to sin, then they obviously know that playing RPGs/listening to rock music/watching Teletubbies can lead to sin. The weaker brother in John's example would not even understand when they are participating in idolization.

Perhaps you can use this knowledge of their knowledge to help them. "Yes, you are correct that playing this game can become a problem when you stop honoring God and elevate the game over him. Since you understand that, as long as you keep God in sight, you will likely not fall into the sin of idolization. Why don't you join us and help us to ensure we are praising God with our game?"

Edit: I am not saying completely disregard the weaker brother passage. I think you just need to be able to identify the weaker brother. If someone knows fully well themselves that worshiping an idol is sinning, but fall into that worship anyways, they have themselves to blame. However, there are those who are still learning of Christ, and they are the true weaker brother. If by your actions you lead someone who does not have a full understanding into worshiping an idol, you are to blame for their sin.

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Hmm, but doesn't this just reduce to "disregard the weaker brother passage altogether?" –  mxyzplk Sep 8 '11 at 4:02
    
@mxyzplk Oh, definitely not. I've added a paragraph to explain my thoughts about that. –  a_hardin Sep 8 '11 at 12:16

You are correct that for nearly everything you do, short of breathing and eating (and sometimes including eating) you can probably find some believer somewhere to object to it on some grounds.

However, when Paul says "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak", he is not saying to never exercise your freedom under any circumstance lest someone might be offended or stumble.

Rather, you should ensure that your involvement with something which would be sinful (as a matter of conscience) for another believer does entice that believer to participate in something they consider sinful.

In your context, you play RPGs; so do that in such a way so as not to cause someone who thinks it's sinful to take them up. You don't have to hide it, but be careful not to entice another for whom it would be sin to become involved with RPGs.

You have to exercise judgment and care; no one's going to spell it out for you, because it's not black and white. If people at your church think it's sinful, don't advertise in the church bulletin; before inviting someone to join you, feel them out for where they stand, etc, etc. If rock music is seen as sinful, don't have band practice in the church basement.

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And how do you do that exactly? So like in my example, when you have a group dedicated to Christians playing RPGs, where is the "entice/flaunt" line since you are trying to be somewhat public about it... Or a Christian rock band, given that some believe rock music is evil? –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 5:22
    
I think thats it is good to point out that Its not a black/white issue. Good one. It is one of those places where it seems God has given us a brain and we should use our own judgement. –  James Khoury Sep 1 '11 at 6:25
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@James: Yeah, I edited that into my answer. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 1 '11 at 7:04
    
Well, I know it takes personal judgement, I'm looking for guidance on that judgement. What are appropriate boundaries? Using the Christian rock example, maybe the majority of the community is against it, maybe just one church, maybe your church, maybe just a minority, maybe 1-2 people. At what level do you not have your concert, or not put up flyers to promote it, or just not heckle people to come if you invite them personally and they say "Oh no that's sinful"? Examples of what you feel would be appropriate are welcome. –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 14:45

I've always read this passage as not causing brother to stumble rather than offence though this seems to be a fairly fine line.

For example a small group leader might not want to drink alcohol in public as it may cause a brother in his group to think that "since my leader can drink then so can I" and use this as justification to get drunk off his skull. Or maybe a Pastor might decide not to as there may be some of their congregation around who might be alcoholic.

Another example might be that a person might believe it is wrong to watch horror movies and another Christian brother/sister (knowing this) might tell them that they should watch a horror movie with them. In this example that would be causing them to stumble.

Though this shouldn't be taken to an extreme. It does say that if you know your brother is weaker then you should not flaunt your freedom in front of them.

Its the whole "Love thy neighbour" idea.

EDIT:- aftyer reading your update I'd like to add that what you do in your own private time is between you and God. (Assuming you are over the legal adult age etc. etc.)

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I understand the intent behind the passage; the issue is how do you not allow it to let others control you? It's nigh impossible to refrain from anything anyone thinks is sinful given the diversity of belief... Shall I not go to the doctor because it will weaken the resolve of a Jehovah's Witness? –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 3:14
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The passage is not about what you do so much as what you do in their presence/ flaunting your freedom in Christ. –  James Khoury Sep 1 '11 at 3:15
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So the answer is to avoid other Christians, and hide things you do or believe when in their presence to avoid unintentional offense? I mean, I'm not saying that is wrong, as it's basically my approach to the problem now, but is there nothing better? –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 3:30
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@mxyzplk If it is going to cause strife then it might be best to keep your relationship with them at arms length. It is not hiding unless they are seeking so if they are either: a) they are being nosy. Ask them politely to "MYOB". b) they are interested in the subject and won't be offended (or really stupid if they will). If you do offend someone apologise for the offence not the subject. In life you will always deal with people getting offended at things it just seems to happen a lot in Christian circles (maybe they believe we should all be perfect?). –  James Khoury Sep 1 '11 at 3:35

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