By Hoyt Houchen
Question: Are overhead projector charts authorized by the Scriptures? If one or two people conscientiously oppose their use, should the elders and preacher cease using them for fear that they will be guilty of “offending” a brother (Rom. 14:21; I Cor. 8:13)?
Reply: The use of overhead projectors is an effective method of teaching. It is in the same category as black boards, cloth charts, song books, baptistries and tracts. They are all expediencies – means and methods. It cannot be shown that their use violates any Scripture. If a critic objects to overhead projector charts, but at the same time approves of a black board, he is inconsistent because both are in the same category. Elders have the responsibility of feeding the flock (Acts 20:28) and, in providing spiritual teaching, they should employ the best and most effective methods available.
As to “offending the conscience,” a few brethren need to do some studying in this area. They do not understand what is involved in Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8. If they have an opinion that some method used by the church is wrong (usually because they do not like it), it is easy for them to object on the ground that it “offends” their conscience. They completely miss the point of Paul’s teaching. In neither Romans 14 or I Corinthians 8 is Paul saying that we must give up anything and everything that “hurts the feelings” of some objector. The local church would be in a mess if every grumbler is pacified by discontinuing some effective means of teaching. This would mean that the local church would have to cease having Bible classes or using individual containers at the Lord’s Supper because somebody says he is offended by their use. It is time that some objectors learn the real meaning of Paul’s teaching.
The weak brother in both passages is not the one who merely has his feelings hurt. The idea in Romans 14 is that a stumbling block is not to be put in a brother’s way. This would be an occasion for him to fall (v. 13). In the Roman passage Paul is dealing with a brother who was weak in faith (v. 1) and could only eat herbs (v. 2). If such were influenced to eat meat by a stronger brother, even though he believed it was wrong to eat it, he would be led to sin (v. 15). To grieve a brother in this instance is not merely hurting his feelings. The next sentence says, “Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died.” The word “destroy” means “ruin or loss.” To offend a man’s prejudice or notions is not to destroy him. Rather, his ruin or destruction would result from him being encouraged to do that which would lead him to sin. And, it is interesting that usually the member in the church who is offended or who has his feelings hurt about something, is the last one to admit that he is weak. Who is the weak brother referred to by Paul? He is the one who could not conscientiously eat meat because he considered it unclean. He was not to be given an occasion for falling (v. 13). This lesson is illustrated in verse 21, “It is not good to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth.” Please note that the verse does not say that we are to refrain from anything that merely hurts the feelings of a brother. The “offense” is that which would make him sin.
The word “offense” as defined by Webster is “a cause or occasion of sin: stumbling block” (Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 586). Thayer explains the Greek word proskomma (stumbling-block): “i.e. an obstacle in the way which if one strike his foot against he necessarily stumbles or falls; trop. that over which the soul stumbles, i.e. by which it is impelled to sin” (Greek-English Lexicon, p. 547).
The lesson that we as Christians are not to do anything that will cause a brother to sin is also the one taught in 1 Corinthians 8. At Corinth there was the situation of eating meat sacrificed to idols. The weak brother in this case was a converted brother who was still susceptible to Pagan influences. He could not eat meat that had been dedicated to an idol. As he grew spiritually in Christ, he might come to realize that there was nothing in an idol. Until then, the brother strong in faith should not eat meat if it would cause the weaker brother to follow his example and thereby sin. This is why Paul wrote in verse 13, “Wherefore if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore.” This is afar cry from merely hurting the feelings of some grumbler who dislikes some method being used by the church.
Sometimes a disgruntled member, in order to have his own way, will attempt to exert pressure on the elders and preacher by threatening to leave the congregation because some method does not suit his fancy. This attitude denotes spiritual immaturity. Brethren who object to such methods of teaching as the use of overhead projectors should first be taught and admonished. They should be shown that the use of such is an expediency like a song book, black board, Bible classes or individual containers at the Lord’s Supper. They should also be made to realize that they have no right to bind their opinion or encroach upon the liberty of others who favor their use. Brethren who object to such methods usually do not consider the desires of others. They selfishly think only of their own dislikes. Elders and preachers should not be intimidated by such childish actions. If a few are disgruntled and leave because they are “offended,” this is better than having the unity of the congregation disrupted and an effective teaching program thwarted. If they leave the congregation, they leave because their own personal whims were not satisfied. Such brethren have not been destroyed – made to sin.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 3, p. 69
February 3, 1983