Weaker Brothers, Legalists, And Christian Fiction

The “weaker brother” concept comes from the Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 14 about Christians judging one another. He prefaces his remarks by saying,

and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:9b-10)

The next chapter opens with this directive:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

I surmise “accept” meant something different in Paul’s day than it does today, because in today’s understanding, if you “accept” someone, there’s no question about judging him. I’m thinking the connotation might be this: include the one weak in faith in your assembly (churches), but not with the goal to harangue him for being weak in his faith.

Paul’s first example of someone weak in faith was the believer who decided to become a vegetarian so he wouldn’t accidentally eat meat offered to idols–something the church leaders had specifically stated Gentile believers should avoid. (Presumably Jewish Christians, because of their adherence to Jewish law, already did refrain from eating meat offered to idols, so no special letter went out to them). See “The Misconception About Weaker Brothers” for more on this point.

What made this vegan “weak”? I’m not sure I get it. He’s trying to be hyper-vigilant, trying to obey the admonishment of the church leaders.

In some ways, though, he’s missing the point–the reason Christians weren’t to eat meat offered to idols. Paul spelled it out in 1 Cor. 10

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (v. 21)

But perhaps Paul gave a window into understanding the brother of weak faith earlier. Leading up to verse 21, he said

What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. (vv 19-20)

Perhaps, then, the one weak in faith did indeed think the idol was something. His faith in God as the One True God, was weak. He was thinking, there are many gods, and Yahweh is one more. Perhaps.

But is he a legalist?

I suggest he is not. The Oxford English Dictionary defines legalist in the theological sense as “dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.” The Pharisees were legalists. They believed they could hold to the law in such a way that God would accept them for their righteousness.

They, in fact, were not Christians. No one who thinks he can earn his way into God’s good graces, is a Christian.

Is that what the vegans were doing? Some, I suppose, but I don’t think necessarily so. Paul called them brothers, for one thing. For another, he never chastised them for their decision to stop eating meat. He never said, Silly people, you’re being too picky. Don’t strain at gnats and don’t try to earn your way to heaven.

Rather, he told the meat-eaters to stop belittling the vegans and the vegans to stop judging the meat-eaters:

The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (Rom. 14:3)

Which brings me to Christian fiction. I see a lot of contempt floating around on the Internet, some by Christian writers aimed at “vegan” Christian writers. I also see a lot of judgment, vegan Christians accusing or scolding meat-eating Christian writers.

It grieves me, because we use this passage in Romans to bolster our arguments, not our love for one another! And yet Paul, who started out by reminding Christians they were to love one another, wraps up his case in the next chapter by saying this:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. (Rom 15:5-7–emphases mine)

One thing I think we can know for sure–if we dump on another writer, or on a reader who writes a review voicing opinions that seem vegan to meat-eaters or meat-loving to vegans, we can be sure we are in disobedience to Romans 15, and Romans 13, and to Christ’s admonition to love one another, to Peter’s command to love the brotherhood.

Love doesn’t mean we have to agree or that we need to change our convictions to match theirs. It does mean we don’t disrespect our fellow Christian because he embraces a different view, or hold his feet to the fire to try and convert him to our positions. It means we continue to love him even when he may not act in a loving manner toward us.

And therein might be the way we can differentiate strong Christians from weak.

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3 Comments

  1. Dear Becky,

    I just want you to know that I love you, even though you would have considered me a non-believer, all the time I devoutly loved my Lord, before I learned more about His Grace! Isn’t it wonderful that we can be accepted in the Beloved, whether Christians ever recognize us?

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    • I’m not sure I understand, Peggy. Are you saying you once believed that you could do enough righteous deeds to win God’s favor apart from believing in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross? You certainly wouldn’t be alone, but the fact is, none of us, when we were in that state, were Christians. I don’t think it’s a matter of how I would consider you. I think it’s how Scripture defines reconciliation with God. That’s only through Christ, not our righteousness. That’s what sets legalists apart from weaker brothers. Legalists believe in their own righteousness; weaker brothers have faith in the redemptive work of Christ but may think they have to “pay Him back” or some such thing by doing righteous deeds. As children of God, we are called to be holy, but it’s not pay-back. It’s living up to our position in Christ.

      Becky

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  2. […] being Romans 14, which I addressed in my “Misconception” post and even more so in “Weaker Brothers, Legalists, And Christian Fiction”, believing as I do that so many of us are ignoring clear passages of Scripture in order to make […]

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