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(Please see my post about Levels of Wrongness.)

I mentioned Andy Naselli in my last post. I regard him as an authority on the biblical view of the Conscience. He (and many other respected theologians) define Strong and Weak Christians this way:

Strong Christians: Those who feel that the Bible says a certain act is not sinful – and they are right.
Weak Christians: Those who feel that the Bible says a certain act is sinful – and they are wrong.
Note: Both the Strong and Weak Christian are attempting to live by the Bible – i.e. they aren’t disregarding what it says.

I agree with these definitions – but I think they yield imbalances in our thoughts about those who disagree with us.

Consider the following chart (click on it to see it bigger).

StrongWeak1Please notice – nowhere in this grid do I think I’m a weak Christian. If I think an act is biblically sinful and you don’t, I think I’m right and the strong and weak paradigm doesn’t fit. So Romans 14 largely doesn’t apply.

Also note that, generally speaking, that is the only situation where I’m most likely to have negative emotions. If (1) we agree, then everything is fine, and if (2) I don’t think it’s sinful and you do, then that’s fine, you’re just more strict that me – go live your life like that, no big deal.

But if I think it’s sinful and you don’t, well, I might feel distrust, or fear – or I might feel threatened.

And obviously in both cases negative emotions are turned up if people start trying to enforce their different views.

But let’s think about a person’s views about what is sin compared to the Bible

StrongWeak2Again, in none of these situation am I a weak Christian. This is because no one ever thinks they are a weak Christian. Either I’m a strong Christian, or I’m a biblically strict Christian, or I’m an unbiblical Christian (or a non-Christian). This is probably one reason why Paul spends most of his time speaking to strong Christians.

The third chart is about a person’s opinions and his actions.

StrongWeak3One thing I’ll point out here is the uncertainty. I believe that very few physical acts are inherently sinful or unsinful. It doesn’t matter what your view of the biblical stance is on any issue, all acts can be done in a sinful way.

But in the grid above, the situation most fraught with danger is where you think an act is not sinful, and you do it – because there are so many situations where you can do harm with that act. This is almost certainly another reason why Paul spend so much of his writing dealing with this situation.

Let the actor beware.

I believe most division in a church over the rightness or wrongness of a certain activity is not due to disagreement over whether the act is right or wrong but (assuming that at least one person thinks it’s wrong), the extent of its wrongness.

Given this, I think there is some merit in being mindful of the many levels of wrongness that a person can attribute to a given act. And it just seemed to me that the following list might prove helpful.

How wrong do you think a certain act is?
A Loose, Incomplete Hierarchy
(From Least Wrong To Most)

Question: That act that you think is wrong – how wrong do you think it is?

Answer: I believe choosing to do Act X is unwise (wrong, inappropriate, sinful) to this level:

Act X is Unwise – at least for me (or my family) – in certain circumstances
Act X is Unwise – at least for me – in all circumstances
I should challenge close acquaintances to reconsider the wisdom of doing Act X
Act X is Unwise – for all people – in certain circumstances
Act X is Unwise – for all people – in all circumstances
I should advise close acquaintances not to do Act X
Act X is Sinful – at least for me – in certain circumstances
Act X is Sinful – at least for me – in all circumstances
I should advise all Christians not to do Act X
Act X is Sinful – for all people – in certain circumstances
My Pastor should speak out against doing Act X from the pulpit
Act X is Sinful – for all people – in all circumstances (It’s inherently sinful)
I should advise non-Christians not to do Act X
I think unrepentantly doing Act X is a sign that the person is not a Christian
Someone who does Act X is almost certainly not a Christian
Act X should be illegal – I’d vote for it to be illegal
Act X should be illegal – I’d campaign for it to be illegal
You aren’t a Christian if you aren’t actively campaigning for Act X to be illegal
I think a person who does Act X should be imprisoned for [1,5,20,50] years
I should kill a person to prevent them from doing Act X

With this hierarchy in mind, I have a recommended three step exercise for Christians reading this:

1. Consider where your conscience places certain acts on this hierarchy. Some acts (which you think are acceptable choices) may not land anywhere on the list.

For example – consider these:
Getting a tattoo
Wearing a bikini
Wearing jeans to church
Physical abuse of children
Bombing an orphanage
Swearing
Wearing a tie to church
Drinking alcohol

2. Now consider your thoughts about people who would place an act on a significantly different level in the hierarchy.

3. Now go read Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 (and following) to read the biblical ways to peacefully and wisely handle these differences.

(For the record, many of these thoughts were inspired by the helpful teachings about the conscience from Andy Naselli, who’s teaching about 1 Corinthians in our adult Sunday School class right now.)

Also, please go read my newer post about the Absense of Weak Christians.

 

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