Recently I have been realizing how differently Christians (myself included) act and speak on the internet as opposed to in a personal church setting. One of the most frequent examples of this is how Christians handle debated issues, or issues of Christian liberty or conscience.
There is a lot in Scripture on these issues, mostly centered on Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. Rather than cover this in a quick blog post, I would like to cover it in a series. For now I would just like to cover the background of the two main passages.
1 Corinthians 8-10 deals primarily with the question of whether or not it is all right for a believer to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1). Apparently, some of the Christians in Corinth, recognizing that idols are false gods represented by lifeless statues, felt that eating food sacrificed to idols could not really mean anything (1 Cor. 8:4-6). However, other Christians in Corinth, probably some of the Gentiles who formerly worshipped idols, have a harder time distinguishing between idolatry and eating food sacrificed to idols.
Romans 14-15 deals with related but different issues. Per Romans 14:2 one issue was whether to eat meat or only just vegetables – bringing to mind the story of Daniel in Daniel 1:8-21. One possibility is that the meat was sacrificed to idols, but the vegetables were not. At the very least, it is likely that meat would have been more commonly in violation of Jewish kosher regulations, such as they were in the first century AD. Another issue is that some people celebrated certain special days, and others do not (Rom. 14:8). The two issues together are probably best read as differences between Jews and Gentiles, especially when considering the context of Rom. 15:8-13. At least some of the Jews were trying to keep to their old practices, and this was causing friction between Jews and Gentiles in the church of Rome.
Really, to Paul the specific issues in question are not the real issue. To Paul the real issue is not the controversy itself, but rather how the controversy is handled. There are two separate situations with different parties, and this allows us to see that Paul’s advice in both situations is very similar. In other words, the principles that Paul communicates seem to be widely applicable to all kinds of controversial issues.
Next post I will discuss what fits the bill as an issue of conscience.