There is historically some disagreement on the application of Romans 14, and it appears to be a dispute over what Paul means when he writes about receiving brothers who hold “disputable” opinions. In verses 1-3, he writes:
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.”
Verse 5 shows that in matters where there are differences of understanding, we are each to be convinced in our own mind without binding our brother to the conclusions we have personally reached:
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
The underlying principle is one of love and respect for our brother with whom we disagree. Verse 13 says:
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
The “correct” view is that it is OK to eat the meat. Technically, we could say that the brother is an “erring brother” if he abstains from meat under the belief that God doesn’t want him to eat it. But Paul says in verse 18 that both men are accepted before God in spite of their divergent views.
“For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.”
But the idea is suggested that this chapter only applies to matters that God has not legislated on–matters where God is indifferent. (I don’t like the term “legislated,” because I don’t consider the New Testament scriptures to be legislation. But that is a topic for another time.) In other words, we can each hold our divergent opinion in peace only if it is a matter that God is indifferent to. That makes some sense on the surface, but then we’re left with a catch 22. Isn’t the question of whether God has legislated on it or not what makes it disputable in the first place?
This reasoning is clearly circular. It demands that we agree that a matter is indifferent to God before we classify it as “disputable” and open to multiple interpretations. But once we agree that the matter is disputable, it is really no longer in dispute, because we all agree that God hasn’t legislated on it.
Look at the actual situation that Paul was writing about. One Christian concluded God had legislated that meat was forbidden, while another concluded that God allowed it. Must these two brothers agree that the issue is indifferent to God before they can forebear each other and “worship” with each other? Of course not, that is the whole point of this chapter. It’s the very fact that the matter was in dispute that caused Paul to write to them to practice patience and forbearance.
Remember verse 19:
“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”
The inspired lesson here is that believers clearly should de-emphasize disputable issues that have nothing to do with salvation in order to pursue peace, and emphasize the things that lead to the edification of our brother. That’s not “compromise,” that’s a direct command.
Kevin wrote: “Look at the actual situation that Paul was writing about. One Christian concluded God had legislated that meat was forbidden, while another concluded that God allowed it.”
Paul, in Romans 14, was not addressing a matter of two equal factions disputing over doctrine, he was addressing a matter of relations between knowledgeable, mature Christians and weaker brethren, as the following two Matthews explain:
“‘One believeth that he may eat all things'” — i.e. one that is informed aright of his Christian liberty, is fully persuaded, and that upon good grounds, that he may eat any thing that is wholesome, though forbidden by the ceremonial law; that there is now no difference of clean and unclean meats: see Mat. 15:11 Acts 10:12-15.”
“‘Another, who is weak, eateth herbs’ — i.e. he that (as before) is weak in faith, and not so well informed, such a one, for fear of offending God by eating any thing that is forbidden, will rather content himself with the meanest diet. The meaning is not, as if any, in those times, thought it lawful only to eat herbs, and so abstained altogether from other meats; but they would rather satisfy themselves with herbs, and other fruits of the earth, in which the law of Moses made no difference, than eat meats that were forbidden, or not cleansed from blood, or offered to idols: see Dan. 1:8”
“those that had been Jews were trained up in the observance of the ceremonial appointments touching meats and days. This, which had been bred in the bone with them, could hardly be got out of the flesh, even after they turned Christians; especially with some of them, who were not easily weaned from what they had long been wedded to. They were not well instructed touching the cancelling of the ceremonial law by the death of Christ, and therefore retained the ceremonial institutions, and practised accordingly; while other Christians that understood themselves better, and knew their Christian liberty, made no such difference.”