Professional Weaker Brothers - #2

Offending and stumbling other believers is a serious sin. Says who?

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?


Janet Rubin said...

Mike, this is such great thought-provoking stuff. I used to be, in the not-too-distant past, the professional weaker sister. I had it all figured out and so did everyone at the legalistic church I'd been attending for years. It was great fun to sit around with my girlfriends and make commentary on the questionable things we knew other people participated in (So and so watches that show. Do you think that's right? No, I would never watch that either...). It wasn't until I fell into some serious sin myself and had to rely on God to pull me out of my slimy pit that things started to turn around. For several years I've been attending a Calvary Chapel. It has been such a blessing to hear a different messege-- the same pure Gospel, but full of joy and grace and forgiveness. There is a sincere faith in the HOLY SPIRIT to work in peoples' lives and covict when needed. Love, rather than guilt and shame is the motivation to serve God. Anyway, it's a whole lot better. I love it that anyone can walk into our church wearing jeans or displaying tattoos and peircings or even hung over and receive love and acceptance and be ministered to. Now? I guess I'm a participating sister, but I try to remember to consider others and remember that those professionals are my brothers and sisters too even if I dont' agree with them...

J. Mark Bertrand said...

Some Christians aren't immature themselves, but have grown up in churches that have institutionalized weakness. The tradition keeps them weak, as it were. That's how it was for me. I was raised as a Pharisee, in a tradition that saw sanctification almost entirely in terms of what you don't do. The weaker brother was considered to be the one without all the extra-biblical convictions the tradition had tacked on. And yet, while I struggled against "the tyrrany of the weaker brother," I have to admit that many of these brothers weren't weaker -- they just had a theological blindspot as a result of how they'd been trained. Outside of the church, they could be extraordinarily gracious; it was only when the strictures of the tradition imposed themselves that these brothers felt the need to behave like legalists. It's a frustrating thing to observe, and even worse to be a part of.

siouxsiepoet said...

which way do you lean? i'm all over the place, so as i am inclined to do, i will say both and. depends on which day you catch me. we can't live perfectly, so i don't get hung up on it. but i do pray earnestly the Lord convict me when needed. and He does. i can't tell you how many disreputables i've befriended by not being reputable. i'll take the uncomely any day.

ps institutionalized weakness, i like that mark, i really do.

Mike Duran said...

It is sad when "the strictures of tradition" create two-toned Christians. Part of my concern, which hopefully I'll get to in the next post in this series, is that those strictures sometimes roll over into our approach to outreach. So instead of a gracious "come as you are" mentality, we impose unnecessary standards and requirements upon the unsaved. Rather than concentrating on heart, we focus on the outside of the cup and become embroiled in stupid discussions about peripherals. The last idea my beloved unbelieving friends need is the notion that God will accept them when they stop boozing, cursing and watching porn.

siouxsiepoet said...

tell me about it. you know i went to a church that was so focused on getting butts in seats, they neglected to disciple those in the seats, so essentially, i kept wondering if we were just bringing people in to die. to languish as it were. the church really needs to get her eyes off the empty seats and start nurturing those in the seats, who will then in turn naturally nurture those who are not in seats. what a more attractive way to evangelise, healthy christians just being healthy, than dragging messed up people in to be around neglected messed up people. but no one asks m me.

J. Mark Bertrand said...

"So instead of a gracious 'come as you are' mentality, we impose unnecessary standards and requirements upon the unsaved." Exactly. I think people know enough to pay lip service to 'come as you are,' but there's a lot of pressure (on outreach workers, on pastoral staff) to get visiting unbelievers fit for church attendance. I'll never forget my poor friend who organized an afternoon program at the church for local high school students. In addition to being criticized for wasting money on "pizza parties" for the unsaved, he got grief for not preaching modesty and dress codes to the lost females. No one would have said this was necessary for their salvation; it was just necessary for their presence to be tolerated in the church community. Naturally, it wasn't hard for the outsiders to sense the cool welcome and read it as hypocrisy.