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12 Principles on How to Disagree with Other Christians

“So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”

There’s something striking and truly counterintuitive about Paul’s reasoning here and in 1 Corinthians 8:8. Paul appropriates an argument that the strong want to use for their side—that what we eat or drink doesn’t matter to God so quit making a big deal about it—to instead chasten the strong. Since food and drink do not commend us to God, and are not matters of importance in the kingdom of God, then why not voluntarily abstain if your freedom could harm the faith of a wavering Christian? Fortunately, we rarely encounter this decision, but we have to be willing to make it.

Paul mentions just “eating and drinking” in verse 17, but this principle extends to many other disputable matters. The kingdom of God is not a matter of schooling choices, political par- ties, musical styles, and so on. Once again, we’re not suggesting that third-level matters are unimportant. We have some strong opinions on them. But they’re not what the kingdom of God is about. Schismatically dividing over these less important matters does not make “for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19).

At the same time, we must note that allowable conscience disagreements do not extend to first-level matters that are central and essential to Christianity. For example, there are some who want to insist that the morality homosexual sexual activity is a disputable issue, even though Scripture and 3500 years of interpretation say it’s not.

9. If you have freedom, don’t flaunt it; if you are strict, don’t expect others to be strict like you (Rom. 14:22a).

“The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.”

This sentence makes it clear that “faith” in Romans 14 is confidence of conscience. We are most definitely not supposed to keep our faith in the gospel to ourselves!

Not flaunting our opinions applies equally to the strong and the weak. To those with a strong conscience you have much freedom in Christ, but don’t flaunt it or show it off in a way that may cause others to sin. Be especially careful to nurture the faith of young people and new Christians.

Those of you with a weak conscience in a particular area also have a responsibility not to “police” others by pressuring them to adopt your strict standards. You should keep these matters between yourself and God.

10. A person who lives according to their conscience is blessed (Rom. 14:22b–23).

“Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

God gave us the gift of conscience to significantly increase our joy as we obey its warnings. Again, one of the two great principles of conscience is to obey it. “Paul judges it dangerous for Christians to defy their consciences, because if they get in the habit of ignoring the voice of conscience, they may ignore that voice even when the conscience is well informed and properly warning them of something that is positively evil” (D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages from 1 Corinthians , 123).

11. We must follow the example of Christ, who put others first (Rom. 15:1–6).

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’”

This principle doesn’t mean that the strong have to agree with the position of the weak. It doesn’t even mean that the strong can never again exercise their freedoms. On the other hand, neither does it mean that the strong only put up with or endure or tolerate the weak. For a Christian, to “bear with” the weaknesses of the weak means that you gladly help them by refraining from doing anything that would hurt their faith.

Romans 15:3 emphasizes the example of Christ. We cannot even begin to imagine the freedoms and privileges that belonged to the Son of God in heaven. To be God is to be completely free. Yet Christ “did not please himself” but gave up his rights and freedoms to become a servant to the Jewish culture so that we could be saved from wrath. Compared to what Christ suffered on the cross, to give up a freedom like eating meat is a trifle indeed.

12. We bring glory to God when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

With this sentence, Paul bookends this long section that began with similar words in 14:1. But here in 15:7 Paul adds a comparison—“as Christ has welcomed you”—and a purpose—“for the glory of God.” It matters how you treat those who disagree with you on disputable matters. When you welcome them as Christ has welcomed you, you glorify God.

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Editor’s note: This article is an edited excerpt from Conscience by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley, © 2016, pp. 84–117. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
This article originally appeared here.

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Andy Naselli @AndyNaselli is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary and an elder of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He is the author of the new book Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ. He also writes regularly at andynaselli.com. Andy and his wife, Jenni, have three daughters.