1 Corinthians 8 is a nice companion to Romans 14-15, as both deal with the topic of how to handle disagreements of conscience between Christians. More extensive thoughts can be found back in my Romans post. In my opinion, the topic of how to handle conflict in our churches in one of the most important these days, especially as Christ’s last prayer for humanity was that we be united.
I find here again the conclusion I found back in Romans: the conscience (not opinions, preferences, traditions or stubbornness) of the brother or sister who cannot do something is the determining factor in a disagreement. For the Corinthians, we can tell the issue was whether they could participate in the ubiquitous meals that took place in pagan temples knowing that the food served there had recently been offered to a pagan god. These meals were not particularly religious; they might have been little more than the equivalent to a business luncheon at the local casino, but the location and history of the food tainted it in many Christians minds. Paul himself did not think so, still he concludes that what his brothers and sisters who object to these meals as a matter of conscience think is more important:
If food causes my brother or sister to stumble, I will never, ever eat meat, so that I won’t make my brother or sister trip up. (8:13)
Let me say this: in my religious tradition I would probably be deemed a more progressively-minded person. I like innovation. I feel the church does have to adapt for the culture we are reaching, just as Paul did. Just as the great Christian leaders of history have done. I get rather impatient with people holding back what I think will bring progress and effectiveness because of scruples I am not sure are well-founded, well-educated, or “knowledgeable,” to use Paul’s word from 8:1. However, I have to admit that everything I read here indicates I am the one who must bend, compromise, and reign in my ambitions for change, not the brother or sister who truly objects to something out of conscience (not tradition; I still struggle with patience in those cases). I don’t like to say that, but I feel I must, if I am to obey the teaching of this chapter. Of course, there is much more to discuss about the specifics of how to handle particular situations, but time does not allow me to go on. Pursue this in the comments today if you wish. One teaser: in a context where there are tens or hundreds or even thousands of churches of various stripes in a town or city, isn’t the easiest way to handle disagreement for people to migrate to churches that best fit their views, versus force something on an already existing church? But I said that and other things in the comments of the Romans post linked above.
Paul gives a perspective in this chapter that I find very helpful:
And so, you see, the weak person — a brother or sister for whom the Messiah died! — is then destroyed by your “knowledge.” (8:11)
Maybe all of this is easier when we remember that this brother or sister is not just a roadblock or a curmudgeon or a whatever less than charitable word we might come up with. She or he is a cherished creation of God whom God so valued that He died for him or her. And if Jesus died for that person, can’t I at least give up getting my way for their sake? Something to think about.