The Weak and the Strong

PAUL, IN the fourteenth chapter of Romans, addresses a problem that still exists, virtually unchanged, in Christian churches and society at large today: The faith of those who are “weak” versus the faith of those who are “strong.”I encourage you to read it, since it only takes a couple of minutes and there is no substitute for reading something for yourself. But, the gist of it is that some Christians were doing things that other Christians believed to be wrong, and it was causing a big problem amongst the fellowship of believers. In a nutshell and to get my points, according to Paul the stronger faith is the one which recognizes a liberty in Christ that the comparatively weaker faith does not. I find this interesting for two main reasons.

One, I have spent a lot of years in churches where the people of “strong” faith are considered to be those who most steadfastly hold to, and prescribe to others, as many items of doctrine concerning proper Christian morality as possible. A man who has lived sixty years never flinching on the importance of keeping the rules becomes one worthy of special note for his devotion to his faith. He becomes an icon of strength. Nobody ever seems to speak much about the fact that, according to Paul, he is quite likely a person of weak faith.

I’m not trying in any way to insult such a person, and certainly a well developed discipline and a heartfelt devotion to doctrine, when present, are very honorable and admirable things. I’m just saying we have our definitions backwards, and if we ever come to see this, it may change our thinking in grand and glorious ways.

Two, and the part I was thinking of at the beginning of the post, is that Paul makes a statement that is obviously born of personal experience and observation: He tells the weak not to judge the strong, and he tells the strong not to hold the weak in contempt. It seems that those of weak faith, who placed importance on following all the rules just so, considered the strong to be in danger of Hell. And, it seems, the strong, who understood that rules were of little consequence, considered the weak to be, well, stupid. These two derogatory views are born of different understandings, but they equate to a common thing—both the weak and the strong considered the other to be less in the sight of God than they were. This reminds me a lot of our churches, politics, and whatever else we can think of today. Half of us think the other ones are riding a rocket sled on rails straight into Hell, the other half thinks the first half is just plain stupid, and each side thinks the other side has no clue at all about God.

Paul tells us to leave each other alone in our own faiths, to love one another, and not to injure each other’s faith. For, what the weak believes, he believes in faith, and what the strong believes, he believes in faith. It is the faith, not the particular belief, that matters.

I KNOW many Christians who loathe the kind of thinking that leads a person like me to type out that last sentence and mean it with complete conviction. According to them it invites all kinds of evil, like “situation ethics” and “moral relativity.”

Which are, as far as I can tell, completely biblical concepts.

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