By Connie W. Adams
In Grecian mythology Pandora was a woman given a box by Zeus from which all manner of human ills escaped when she opened it. The view taken by some well-known brethren in recent times concerning Romans 14 has become a modern-day Pandora’s box.
A vital passage designed to help strong and weak Christians get along until the weak can be taught better and thus become strong has been pressed into service to justify far too much. Carl Ketcherside, Edward Fudge and fellow travelers found it elastic enough to include instrumental music, sponsoring churches, premillennialism and a host of other false doctrines. Of more recent vintage, our brother Ed Harrell has found in it grounds for fellowship on marriage, divorce and remarriage (for causes other than fornication). Other highly respected brethren have joined in.
Now comes a sermon preached by a brother in Texas in which he listed 100 issues and practices which he claims would be resolved by a proper understanding and application of Romans 14. With much of his list I have no problem. But here are some of the things he listed which are a problem to me:
Abortion Dancing Girly Magazines Evolution
Brewery Work Horse Racing Dance Bands
Square Dancing Bartending Social Drinking
“Low” neckline Proms
Let’s see now, Paul said, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). If I understand this brother correctly, then if one thinks it is all right to have an abortion, then she is at liberty before God to do so. Or if he wants to play in a dance band, work as a bartender, dance, promote evolution, or practice social drinking, then “let him be fully persuaded in his own mind.” It is interesting that this same brother who puts evolution in his list of 100 things which are regulated by Romans 14, has been well known for his special series on evolution. Will he now conclude such speeches by saying that God will be pleased with you whether you believe this or not and “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind”?
When I read the 17 article series on “fellowship” and the use made of Romans 14 in that series, I warned then that there would be no stopping place short of the “unity in diversity” movement of Ketcherside and Fudge infamy.
Have you noticed that things which gospel preachers used to be able to clearly condemn have suddenly become “gray”? Those who still draw sharp and clear lines on these matters are disparagingly referred to as “those black and white guys.” This undermines the authority of the Scriptures. God revealed his mind in intelligible propositions which can be understood and acted upon by those fashioned in the image of God.
Of course, there is a realm in which private conscience must decide a host of things based on understanding of truth. There is room for growth. All have not grown to the same degree and there must be patience with each other. But will any of us grow to the point that God approves abortion on demand, or serving liquor, or wearing indecent apparel, or the God-dishonoring general theory of evolution? Are “girly magazines” in the realm of private scruple to which God is indifferent?
I do not believe that many of the brethren who have espoused this loose construction of Romans 14 would accept everything on this brother’s list. In fact, I am confident most of them would oppose this careless lumping together of things indifferent and those which have grave consequences. But I keep thinking about that box of Pandora. The lid is off. Brethren took it off to justify fellowship with those who teach that the alien sinner is not subject to the law of Christ and may therefore continue to live with a marriage companion in violation of Matthew 19:9. Or those who teach that the put-away adulterer is free to marry may be retained in fellowship. My brethren, Romans 14 was never intended as an excuse for every form of doctrinal and practical error.
Our situation is rapidly becoming analagous to those men in the institutional movement who opened the gate just enough to let church support of schools and benevolent institutions into the church budget and argued that we did not need Bible authority for all we do, or else misappropriated Scripture in a vain attempt to defend their cause. But now they have a rampaging stampede which they are powerless to stop. From the social gospel (in full bloom) to the new hermeneutic, they are dismayed at what came in through that gate. Now the hinges are off and the fence is down.
Brethren, will we ever learn? Older men may open the gate just a little out of personal friendship for esteemed brethren, cite Romans 14 as precedent and mean to stop there. But a younger generation will not stop there. They will pick up the erroneous conclusion and take it to the limit of false teaching and practice. When they are done with it, you will not recognize what is left. Already there is a noticeable aversion to controversial preaching, to debating teachers of error. Will Romans 14 become the dividing line? Will we polarize according to what we want to include in that noble chapter? At our house, we have a room in the basement which we call affectionately “the goat’s belly.” There we throw things we don’t know what else to do with until it gets too full and we have to make some disposition of them. These are the things of which yard sales are made. Now brethren, is that what we will do with Romans 14? Don’t know what to do about abortion? Just toss it in Romans 14. What about social drinking? Romans 14! Can’t decide about girly magazines or the theory of evolution? Romans 14! Come on folks, we can do better than that. And for the future welfare of the cause for which our Lord died, we had better do better than that.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 24, p. 3-4
December 15, 1994