The Word Abused: Rom. 14:23

By Mike Willis

In the November installment of Leroy Garrett’s series on “The Word Abused,” he decided to write on Romans 14:23. The editor was more concerned with disarming an argument made for the necessity of Bible authority than he was at clarifying what Rom. 14:23 actually teaches. Actually, the editor revealed that his own understanding of Rom. 14 is in conflict with other segments of Scripture, as I shall prove later in the article.

To show what the editor of Restoration Review trying to disarm, read the following:

“In the party in which I was reared and schooled, this passage is connected with Ro. 10:17, `Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,’ so as to show that if a particular practice is not mentioned in scripture (always something we oppose), then it is sinful. For something to be `of faith,’ therefore, it must be in the Bible, for `faith’ comes by hearing God’s word. It makes a perfect argument against the likes of instrumental music, and It is as sound as an Aristotelian syllogism.

“Whatever is not of faith is sin.

Instrumental music is not of faith.

Therefore, instrumental music is a sin.

“This argument depends upon Ro. 10:17, which can be expressed as another syllogism.

“If something is a matter of faith, then it can be heard (or read) in the word of God (Ro. 10:17). Instrumental music cannot be heard (or read) in the word of God (implying New Testament).

Therefore, instrumental music is not a matter of faith.

“Then comes the first syllogism. Since instrumental music Is not a matter of faith, it is a sin (Rom. 14:23).” (Restoration Review, XVII: 9, p. 162).

The editor’s complaint is lodged in the belief that the word “faith” is used in two different senses in Rom. 10:17 and 14:23. He said,

“To examine an argument we must first look at Its terminology. . . . Just so, in the first two syllogisms the term `of faith’ can be misleading, causing one to draw a wrong conclusion. In fact, `faith’ in Ro. 10:17 is different from `of faith’ in Ro. 14:23, while the argument implies that they are the same. This itself destroys the argument, for one equivocates when he uses a term In two different ways in the same argument, or when he uses a term that means something different In two contexts as If they meant the same. It Is like arguing: Man is the highest creature on the evolutionary ladder; therefore, man is superior to woman. If we argue about `faith’ from two different passages, as If the meaning of the word were the same, then the meaning must be the same. But this is not the case with Ro. 10:17 and Ro. 14:23, as we shall be seeing” (Ibid., p. 163).

The editor’s objection loses all of its force when one sees that the poignant syllogism which he is opposing does not even depend upon Rom. 14:23 for its validity. I would freely grant that the word “faith” is used in a different sense in Rom. 14:23 and Rom. 10:17 and agree that to use them together in a syllogism violates a principle of logic which invalidates any conclusion drawn from the joining of the two as a major and minor premise. However, if one does not employ Rom. 14:23 in the syllogism and uses the term “faith” to mean the same thing in both syllogisms, then the argument is valid.

Rom. 14:23 teaches, as Garrett pointed out, that whatever action one engages in which does not proceed from the firm conviction that it accords with God’s will is sinful. Paul was not discussing whether the action was in accord with God’s word; rather, he was discussing whether the person engaging in the practice believed that it was in accord with God’s word. Basically, this is the main point of Rom. 14:23. To use the passage to teach that to practice anything not taught in the Scriptures is sin is to abuse the Scriptures, even though that which is taught is true. We need to substantiate our contention from other passages.

However, the position “whatever is of faith is taught in the word of God” is true. No one can act from faith in doing anything for which he is unable to find authority in the Scriptures. I might decide to break my leg as an act of devotion to God. Though I might sacrifice quite a bit to do this, the act would be in vain and meaningless because it was not an act of obedience to God’s word-an act of faith (cf. Col. 2:20-23). Rom. 10:17 clearly connects faith and God’s word. One cannot act out of faith unless he is proceeding in obedience to God’s word. Other passages reveal the same truth, such as 2 Cor. 5:7. The major premise of the syllogism which Garrett denies cannot be attacked as being untrue. The major premise simply states that all matters must have positive authority from the Scriptures before thay can be considered scriptural. This is the positive expression of the “prohibition of silence” argument. For a thing to be wrong, one does not have to find a “thou shalt not;” if no positive authority can be found for an item, whether general or specific, it is sinful when incorporated into the work and/ or worship of the church. Thus, our major premise reads:

Major Premise: All matters of the faith are revealed in God’s word. Our minor premise does not depend upon Rom. 14:23 for its validity or substantiation. Therefore, the editor’s objection about equivocal usage of terminology carries no weight. The minor premise is:

Minor Premise: Instrumental music is not revealed in God’s word. Any objection which can be raised against this argument must be raised about its truthfulness. Is instrumental music revealed–as-acceptable unto God? This is where the issue must rest! The conclusion is valid or invalid depending upon whether this statement is true or false. Until recently, both Christian Churches and churches of Christ realized that the issue lay at this point. Arguments, pro and con, were made to establish the validity or invalidity of the statement. One must read the pertinent passages to decide for himself which is true. However, if both the major and minor premise is true, the conclusion is irresistible.

Conclusion: Instrumental’ music is not a matter of faith. Our knowledge of God’s attitude toward the introduction of unauthorized practices leads us to the conclusion that to introduce mechanical instruments of music into worship (something which is not a matter of faith) is sinful. We have learned all of this from Rom. 10:17 without the usage of Rom. 14:23. All of Garrett’s comments on Rom. 14:23 do not invalidate the argument; he might as well have been writing on Matt. 1:1 so far as its effect on this argument is concerned.

The argument can be applied to any item not authorized in the Scriptures. Garrett complained,

“The minor premise can be adjusted to fit all party distinctions, whether classes, literature, agencies, societies, sponsoring churches, owning real estate, pastor system, choirs, stained glass windows, orphanages, and on and on. The couplet of Ro. 10:17 and Ro. 14:23, joined In argument as described herein, is unanswerable-`I haven’t met the man yet that could answer it!’ It Is unanswerable if the terms in the premises are allowed to mean what the person making the argument wants them to mean” (Ibid.).

Brother Garrett, the terms of my syllogism are not equivocal; I have confined myself to Rom. 10:17. The argument is valid or invalid depending upon the veracity of the minor premise. If someone substitutes something into the minor premise which is scriptural, then the argument is invalid. However, so long as the minor premise is true, the conclusion is irresistible.

Look Who’s Abusing Rom. 14

However, while we are considering Rom. 14, perhaps we should make some comments about Garrett’s treatment of the passage. Garrett treats matters pertaining to congregational worship and work on the same level as matters of individual conscience, asserting that we ought to treat matters such as the sponsoring church, instrumental music, church support of institutions, etc. on the same basis as we treat eating meats, having a Christmas tree, exchanging gifts at Christmas, etc. He wrote,

“Then in verse 22 he asks, Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Again, this has no reference to one’s belief in the gospel. It is rather like asking, Do you have certain convictions about these things we’re talking about? If so, he adds, you are to have them before God. You don’t have to be judged by your brothers in reference to them” (Ibid., pp. 164-165).

Now, Brother Garrett, are you going to make the statement, “You don’t have to be judged by your brothers in reference to them” a universal statement? If it applies to all circumstances, then we have a conflict in the Scriptures. In 1 Cor. 5:9-13, Paul revealed that the church not only had the right, but also had the obligation, to judge its own members. If your statement applies to everything, the Scriptures contradict each other and cannot be considered God’s word. Furthermore, the church must not judge those who are modernists, immoral, etc., if we cannot judge our brethren as you asserted. If the statement you made is not universal, then it does not apply to all things. What right do you have to classify congregational matters, such as the usage of mechanical instruments of music in worship, the sponsoring church, church support of human institutions, modernism, etc. on the level of personal opinions? We want to see the criteria which you use to tell whether or not the rules of Rom. 14 apply to any given item.

My brethren, to show you why I am leery of Garrett’s application of Rom. 14 to contemporary problems, consider the following quotations from other articles in this one issue of Restoration Review which reveal how liberal Garrett’s thinking really is:

1. He believes that the church may celebrate the Lord’s Supper with leavened bread. “There is no reason for us to make the Lord’s Supper Jewish in this sense, buying their bread and following their custom. We should encourage our sisters to bake bread especially for the occasion, one loaf appropriate to the size of the congregation. Or simply place a loaf on the table right off the grocer’s shelf, Manor’s or Mrs. Baird’s would be fine, unsliced! There is no instruction in scripture that it must be unleavened, though we always have it that way, as if we presumed it was required. Matthew tells us that `Jesus took bread,’ which was unleavened only because that’s all they had in the house during Passover. It does not say that he chose unleavened bread. Whenever we take bread, the ordinary bread that we have in our homes, we are doing as he did…. This is why I would prefer leavened bread, for it makes for a more imposing symbol, rich and round and full of life as the Body of Christ should be” (p- 167).

2. He rejects examples and inferences as methods of establishing authority. “Since boyhood I have been taught that the scriptures teach us In three ways: by direct command, approved example, and necessary inference…. I am presently convinced that this approach is of no real value in applying biblical authority. This is because some commands in scripture are clearly not for us all; approved examples are not always distinguishable, and the question remains as to who is to decide which ones are approved; inferences can be tricky and confusing as to whether necessary of unnecessary, with the matter of proper application still unsolved” (p. 169).

3. Acts 20:7 does not reveal a pattern for the frequency of observing the Lord’s Supper. “Acts 20:7 may not emerge as a clear-cut case for disciples breaking bread each Sunday and only then, but it Is a vital piece of information that we are to give its proper place” (p. 170).

4. Baptists are Christians. “Ouida went with me to Texas hill country to perform a Church of Christ-Baptist wedding. I entered into this situation tangentially, from a discussion with Baptists at Baylor University. This Baptist student, to be married to a Church of Christ girl, was having a lot of problems, one being that he did not want to be married by a minister hostile to his own faith, though he was resigned to its being otherwise `Church of Christ.’ That everybody was out to `convert’ him he was taking pretty well. Since I loved both and accepted them both as Christians, and since I was `Church of Christ,’ I was asked to do the honors, albeit there was little hope that I would be all that popular a choice” (p. 172).

Frankly, I am not ready or willing to place all these items in the same category as eating of meats. I want to see some objective reason for putting them into the same category. If one can include these items, I know of no reason why he could not also put matters pertaining to faith in the deity of Christ in the same category.

I do not seriously disagree with Garrett’s exegesis of Rom. 14:23. However, I violently disagree with his application of it to matters of faith. Furthermore, I disagree with his conclusions regarding arguments on Rom. 10:17. Those who are reading the material flowing from Garrett’s pen can only view this as another attempt to blunt the sword used to make war against false teachers.

Truth Magazine, XX:15, p. 11-13
April 8, 1976