Secondary Considerations: What about the Weaker Brother?
My allegory in Part 6 illustrates the current debate among some Christian authors. Some, like the “edgy chef” in my story, feel they have the Christian liberty to use a crass word or a profanity or two in a Christian novel.
But others reject the premise that this is even a Christian liberty issue. They believe, based on biblical absolutes, that using unclean speech is unacceptable for any author who calls herself or himself Christian. In Part 3, we looked at the main verses that support their position.
A Christian Liberty Issue?
For the sake of the debate, let’s pretend the debate is a Christian liberty issue. What does the Bible teach about Christian liberty? If I use this rationale, can I use whatever words I want in my novel, regardless of what my Christian brother thinks? After all, I’m free in Christ. I’m no longer under the law, right?
For the answer, let’s look at one of the most important, but least understood, passages in the Bible on this topic. In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 (also see Romans 14), the apostle Paul addressed the matter of eating idol’s meat. In the Corinthian culture, people often offered meats to their false gods. Meat that wasn’t burned on the altar was later available for food.
Some (stronger) Christians didn’t have any problem with eating this meat, while other (weaker) Christians frowned on this practice and couldn’t partake in good conscience. The apostle Paul agreed that, based on facts—there is no God but one, and what you eat doesn’t really matter—there was nothing intrinsically wrong with eating the meat.
But just because a Christian can eat the meat doesn’t mean he or she should, he concluded.
What about Love?
“Before you exercise liberty in an area,” pastor/teacher John MacArthur said in a sermon, “you gotta think about how it affects someone else.” He went on to say this:
We all think that division in [the church] comes as a result of variation in doctrine. It doesn’t. It comes most of all in the variations in behavior, which many times are not even necessary, because we could restrict our liberty for the sake of that weaker brother and create unity. (John MacArthur, “The Limits to Our Liberty, Part 1,” Grace to You, accessed December 7, 2012, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1833/the-limits-of-our-liberty-part-1.)
Paul says, “There is one great principle that limits our liberty, and it is the word love.” You can’t just say, “Because it isn’t forbidden, I can do it.” There’s a higher consideration than that, and that is love. Love sets limits on liberty, and this is the objective of 1 Corinthians 8. (John MacArthur, “The Limits of Our Liberty, Part 2,” Grace to You, accessed December 7, 2012, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1834/the-limits-of-our-liberty-part-2.)
Our Words, a Stumbling Block?
The apostle Paul concluded his chapter with these words: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (v. 13). What does it mean to cause my brother to stumble? It means encouraging him or her to partake in an activity without a clear conscience—and to go against one’s conscience is sin.
How do we know? Romans 14:23 says, “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.” According to the Bible Knowledge Commentary,
If a Christian eats food or does anything when he has doubts in his mind as to whether it is right or wrong before God . . . , his action does not spring from . . . his faith or trust in God and is therefore wrong.
Okay, so how does this apply to Christian publishing?
Perhaps God saved someone who loves to read from a very rough background, one in which cursing and vulgar speech were as common as rain in Washington State. Perhaps this new believer wants nothing to do with her old lifestyle of corrupt communication, and she’s also been struggling to stop swearing. A friend lets her borrow a novel. “You’ll really like this,” she says. “It’s by a Christian author, and the story is awesome.”
Oh, the novel’s by a Christian, the woman thinks. Then it must be okay. [Notice the expectations of a higher standard.] She begins reading the novel and is dismayed when she comes across a vulgarity. Then a curse word. And then another vulgarity. She thinks, But this language is what God saved me from. Just seeing these words might tempt me to start saying them again. I don’t want any part of that, but . . . this novel must be okay for me to read. After all, my Christian friend said so.
So this younger, weaker Christian goes against her conscience—which is sin—and reads the book anyhow. In many ways, some of us are like this younger Christian. Our hearts are grieved when we see foul language becoming more commonplace in Christian fiction. We don’t understand why certain Christian novelists would include such language in their books in light of passages like 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14.
Will You Take the Pledge?
I don’t believe in judging unknown motives, so let’s assume the best. Maybe these authors simply aren’t aware of what 1 Corinthians 8:16 says. Or maybe they haven’t applied its message to the books they write. If they did, perhaps they would realize that the words they use could cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble.
As MacArthur said, sometimes the best path is “to restrict our liberty for the sake of that weaker brother and create unity.” If anything has created disunity in Christian publishing, it’s this new permissive attitude that just a few curse words or vulgarities are okay. That I can write whatever I want because of Christian liberty. That if you don’t like it and say it’s wrong, you must be puritanical and legalistic.
In fact, I can imagine the voices now. “Adam, Adam, Adam”—while shaking the head—”What’s the big deal, brother? You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill.”
For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1 Cor. 8:10-12, emphasis added)
Pretty strong words, huh? Causing our brothers or sisters to stumble is sin against Christ. That’s no light matter.
For me this issue is a no-brainer. I have no plans to ever use unclean speech in my books—but not because I might offend someone. I abstain because I believe God’s Word forbids unclean speech (it’s not a Christian liberty issue). And by abstaining, I guarantee that the word choice in my books is nonoffensive to everyone. In an industry that depends on finding the largest readership possible, isn’t that the wiser path to take?
What about you? Has this article helped you understand Christian liberty better? If you’re an author, do you realize how unclean speech could cause a brother or sister to stumble? Will you join with me and pledge not to use unclean speech in the fiction we write?
- In Defense of Clean Speech in Christian Fiction, Part 6
- The Next Big Thing Blog Hop