Of Stumbling Blocks and Weaker Believers

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To start a post with absolutes is not the best idea. Still, there are two absolutes that need to be dealt with: no one wants to be called a stumbling block and no one wants to be called the weaker believer.

Twice in his letters, Paul brings attention to being a stumbling block for weaker believers in the faith. In Romans he writes of eating meat and celebrating special festivals (Rom 14:5-9). In 1 Corinthians he writes about eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8:4-8).

In both cases, he calls on believers who see something as no big deal not to be a stumbling block to those who do see it as a big deal, calling them the weaker believer. But these days, who is the weaker believer?

We don’t have meat sacrificed to idols anymore (that I know of). But we in the Christian Reformed Church are facing a huge deal right now where different believers are saying different things about a topic rife with conflict. No one wants to be called a weaker believer and no one wants to be called a stumbling block in our conversations in the CRC as of late.

Back in my seminary days, I worked at a Christian bookstore. At first I was placed in charge of the Bible section, but when the management learned of my affection for music and saw I was a quick study, they placed me in charge of the music section. There I learned of early 2000’s Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) and different praise and worship songs.

One frequent customer and I picked up an ongoing conversation. Growing up on a diet of classic rock from my parents and uncle, we would reminisce about the days of old, about that old time of rock ‘n roll (the kind of music that soothes the soul).

One day I asked him if he had heard the new album of such-a-such non-CCM group. He told me he couldn’t listen to that music anymore. He had lived the lifestyle and the music would bring him back to that way of living. He and I saw things differently. I hadn’t lived that particular lifestyle of the music we loved, but he had. I began to wonder: Which one of us was the weaker believer and which one of us was the stumbling block?

I didn’t want to be the weaker believer in that situation. I was in seminary. I was strong in my faith. I used discernment to see the common grace in the music I listened to. I didn’t want to be a stumbling block, though. I didn't want to cause this fellow Christ follower to be tempted to fall back into a life of sin. What could I do? If I were to persist that the music was fine and to talk about God’s grace being seen in the likes of classic rock, I could push him further away. Was his faith fickle like that? 

Paul writes that we shouldn’t judge other believers’ faith because of their stance (Rom 14:10). In fact, he goes so far to write “…let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Rom 14:13 NIV)

Not just that, but our own faith knowledge, if not filled with love, puffs up like yeast in bread. We could know all about what is good and allowed by grace in Christ, but if we don’t have the love of Christ in us when we speak this knowledge, we can destroy.

In Christ, we are free from the law of sin and death. Yet in our freedom, we need to be careful. Paul writes “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Cor 8:9 NIV11) When we exercise our rights, the weaker believer can easily be destroyed. 

Now I want to be very clear here: In the present conversations in the CRC, I am not in any way stating who is the weaker believer and who is the stumbling block. To be honest, I think we can be both at the same time.

Reading through Paul’s letters, one thing becomes clear—the goal is the Kingdom of God to be proclaimed, the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be heard, and people to live in such a way that they represent Christ in all they do and say. This is as true today as it was when Paul penned the epistles.

We must, as a kingdom community and body of believes, be aware of not being a stumbling block to weaker believers while at the same time advancing the Kingdom of God. We must live together with one another—weaker and stronger, young in the faith and experienced, wise and foolish—and be Christ’s light in this dark world. 

This will take some introspection and self-wondering. As we engage one another on hot button conversations, ask yourself as I did years ago with my music friend: are you being a stumbling block or are you actually the weaker believer or even both?

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