He [Jesus] said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:1-2 NASV)
Jesus' words are haunting, aren't they? No doubt, we've all stumbled our share of "little ones." Lord, have mercy on us. And even though the very heartbeat of Christianity is liberty, we are cautioned concerning its employment:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (I Cor. 8:9 NIV)
So on one hand, we are not bound by rigid external laws; there is freedom to dance, play cards, enjoy a cigar, get our noses pierced and our navels tattooed. But what happens when our freedom stumbles -- offends, hurts, confuses -- the weak?
This is the tightrope a genuine, grace-filled, unbound believer must traipse.
I've been a Christian for 26 years, 11 of which were spent in the ministry. However, I've come to believe that, in many cases, older, seemingly mature Christians are far more easily offended than are young Christians. This first hit home when a couple in my church announced they were leaving. Was it because I was teaching false doctrine, pilfering money or disseminating Kool-aid? Nope. They discovered I viewed, and spoke highly of, a certain R-rated movie. And everyone knows, R-rated movies are off-limits to Christians.
Yikes! Perhaps I was getting fitted for a millstone. Were these the "little ones" Jesus spoke about? Hmm. Problem was, they'd been believers longer than me.
Joe Aldrich, in his terrific book Lifestyle Evangelism, helped me get a handle on this apparent phenomenom.
When it comes to controversial issues -- watching R-rated movies, smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, getting tattoos, gambling, certain styles of dress -- Aldrich describes four main types of Christian:
1. Professional Weaker Brother
2. Susceptible Weaker Brother
3. Nonparticipating Mature Brother
4. Participating Mature Brother
A Professional Weaker Brother is a Christian who has a strong objection to something and believes others should share that objection. In other words, since drinking is wrong for him, it is wrong for everyone. He tends to be critical of those who disagree, legalistic and manipulative, and eventually will separate himself from his "sinful" bretheren. A Susceptible Weaker Brother is sensitive to a particular sin, but understands that it may not be a sin for every Christian. However, due to naiveté or lack of discipline, he often vacillates, succumbs to his weakness and struggles with a guilt-free conscience. A Nonparticipating Mature Brother knows what's sin for him and does not participate in it. Furthermore, he does not project his convictions upon others but respects individual parameters of freedom and demonstrates grace to those who differ. Finally, a Participating Mature Brother believes he has the freedom to indulge in a particular area that could be considered sin to another. Nevertheless, he is cautious to not cast a stumbling block before his weaker brothers, nor to abuse his liberty. However, in the end, his participating freedom has the potential to hinder or harm the genuine weaker saint.
D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, one of my heroes of the faith, a prolific Welsh preacher who once preached a twelve year series on the book of Romans (no kidding!), suggested that grace, when it is properly preached, will always be misunderstood. I believe that most of the confusion, hurt, manipulation, guilt and disunity that surrounds these controversial issues, has to do with a misunderstanding of grace -- what it looks like to get it, and what it looks like to give it.
On one extreme are those who abuse grace and use their liberty as a license for sin, stumbling weaker bretheren and bringing themselves into bondage. On the other extreme are those who reject grace in favor of a legalistic code of conduct; they sit in judgement of others, all the while blinded by the plank in their own eye. And that's the tightrope: How do we live in a Spirit of Freedom, unhindered by man-made, legalistic codes, but still remain sensitive and respectful of genuine weaker brothers?
I'll finish these thoughts next post. But let me ask: Do you see yourself in one of these four saints? Perhaps you're the Professional Weaker Brother, sitting in judgement of another's freedom. Or maybe you're the Participating Mature Brother, brandishing tats, swilling beer and enjoying those R-rated flicks. If so, which side of the tether do you lean, toward the oppressor or the oppressed?