Category Archives: Unity

Unity: Conclusion

This the last of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

The lack of biblical unity is the most abominable sin that currently exists in evangelicalism in this country.  Our disunity is a negative testimony to the beautiful unity of the Trinity.  We blaspheme the nature of God daily by remaining separate from one another.  We have seen how there are only two types of conflicts, those related to sin and those related to weaker brother issues.  We have seen that God’s Word gives us clear instructions on how to resolve those conflicts.  Furthermore, we have seen that compete biblical unity does not consist simply in the absence of conflict but is only realized when each believer crucifies himself and considers his fellow believers to be more important than himself.

I have no hope that biblical unity will ever be established in my lifetime.  It would take a tremendous miracle of God for true biblical unity to come to pass in the Church in the United States.  The mere fact that we glory in our factionalism renders it impossible for us to ever make ecclesiastical progress towards unity.  The fact that most all believers spend most all of their lives protecting themselves from challenges to their personal insecurities renders it impossible for us to ever make individual progress towards unity. The fact that the current leadership of the Church excel in establishing weaker brother doctrines as normative for the Church while, at the same time, ignoring the clear teachings of the Bible on conflict resolution virtually mandates that nothing will ever improve.  This is not pessimism, it is realism.  However, God can and will do whatever He wants.

In the meantime I will speak to the remnant.  God has always had His remnant and His remnant has always been sensitive to His Word.  I believe with all my heart that what I have written in this essay is biblical truth. We must be united.  Each true believer must do everything he can to establish unity in the people of God.  But we are small and have very little influence in the visible Church in this country.  As a result, much of what we do will be negative.  Here are some suggestions of things we can do to bring about some degree of biblical unity:

1.  Individual believers must immediately cease “leaving” a local church without just cause.  This means that no separation will ever take place unless the principles of discipline recorded in Scripture mandate it.

2.  All believers must immediately implement the biblical means of conflict resolution for all conflicts that arise.  Sin matters should be dealt with judicially according to the provisions of Matthew 18.   Weaker brother conflicts will be resolved by mutual acceptance and tolerance in the context of agape-love.

3.  Weaker brother issues must never divide believers.  It is never acceptable to seek out a “like-minded” church when you find that you have a weaker brother dispute in your own church.  We must stay together and learn to love each other.

4.  Individual churches must immediately cease “leaving” their denominations without having followed the procedures of discipline established by God in the Bible.  If a church has a problem with the doctrine of the denomination, it is the sworn duty of the elders of that church to resolve that conflict with the denomination biblically.

5.  All believers must immediately cease fighting with one another over weaker brother issues.  This is a horrible offense against God.  Of course we can challenge each other’s beliefs, that is not the issue.  But the extreme level of rancor and abusive speech that currently circulates around discussions of weaker brother doctrines is a terrible sin.  Rather, we are to accept each other, and not for the purpose of passing judgment upon each other’s opinions.  Instead of separating, we are to embrace the tensions caused by the weaker brother doctrines as an opportunity to exercise agape.

6.  Lastly, we need to realize that the relationships we forge with fellow believers in this life are the relationships that we carry into the eternal state.  Let us live today so as to not be ashamed tomorrow.

Unity: Philippians 2:1-4

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.

This passage reveals the complete anti-self state of mind.  We are exhorted to regard one another as more important than ourselves.  It is not possible to do this and be thinking about ourselves at the same time.  The only way to consider someone as more important than myself is to forget myself and think about him.  What does it mean to consider someone as more important than myself?

This verse is often misunderstood because it is taken to be saying that I have to construct an imaginary world in my mind in which I pretend that you are really more significant than me when we both know that isn’t true.  Others say that it means that I have to give you some sort of elevated status in my mind that is not based on reality.  God never tells us to create imaginary worlds and then live in them.  This exhortation does not primarily apply to our beliefs about reality, for in reality I always consider myself to be most important.  This exhortation does apply to our behaviors.  My behavior towards you must prove that I consider your life to be more important than mine.  How can I possibly behave towards you in such a fashion that anyone judging my behavior would determine that I consider your life to be  more important than mine?

Verse 4 provides the answer to that question when Paul says, “look out for the interests of others”.  Notice that this does not mean that I am to reinforce your sinful or foolish interests.  As we have seen those interests need to be rebuked or admonished.  But, and this is crucial, I have to actually think about you, and not myself, for long enough to learn what your interests are and to determine if they are sinful, foolish, indifferent, or good.  Then, once I have made the preliminary determinations about your interests, I have to look out for them.  This requires an ongoing effort to think about you.  If I am doing this all the time there is not much time left for me to think about myself.

If I am actually doing what Paul tells me to do in this passage then I am going to be thinking about the priorities and motivations of others most of the time.  Here is a test, if I am really thinking about the interests of others most of the time then I should feel like I am continually sacrificing for others.  The simple fact is that the interests of others are generally not my interests.  Things that are not my interests don’t interest me.  I have to pretend to be interested in things I am not interested in.  Pretending to be interested in things that I am not interested in is hard work.  I can only do the hard work of pretending to be interested in things I am not interested in by expending a great effort and sacrificing things I am interested in.  Therefore, if I am doing this I should be aware that I am in a position of continual sacrifice for others.  To top if off, even though I am aware that I am continually sacrificing for others, I am never allowed to make that truth public!  It is not hard to see why almost nobody makes any effort to love others.

Unity: Colossians 3:12-16

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.  And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Look at how many “put ons” there are in the above passage.  The key to overcoming our insecurities is to stop thinking about ourselves and put something else on.  The key is not to be found inside us.  All the psychoanalysis in the world is not going to do us any good.  There is no “good” to be found inside of us and it is fruitless to spend time searching for it.  All psychoanalysis eventually fails because it only reinforces the innate selfishness that already exists in men.  The Bible gives us the key to overcoming our insecurities and it is by “putting on” something outside of ourselves.

Another key to overcoming our insecurities and eliminating elective grief, and one of the “put ons”,  is to “bear with one anther”.  It is impossible to bear with somebody without at least thinking about that person.  Once again we see the key.  To overcome ourselves we have to think about others; even if the thinking we are doing about others consists of “bearing with” all the nasty things they do to us.  Remember, the nasty things others are doing to you do not indicate that they are thinking about you.  They are nasty because they are always and only thinking about themselves.  Paul recognized that relational reality and exhorts the Colossians to do the hard work of bearing with the nastiness of others.

An important point needs to be made about the exhortation to “bear with others”.  If a person is doing this properly, the other person will never have any idea that it is being done!  I have known hundreds of folks who made great public displays about how they have been “bearing with others” for years.  That is all a charade for their public statement only proves that, once again, they were only using others as an excuse to think about themselves.  The person who is truly “bearing with others” will not be thinking about himself at all and will most certainly never tell anybody what he is doing.

Paul says to “above all things, put on love (agape)”.  We have already looked at the definition of agape in I Corinthians 13.  It is enough to remember that agape is the exact anti-self state of mind.  It is impossible to agape somebody and be thinking of yourself at the same time.  It is also very important to realize that agape is something that can only be done by somebody who has the Holy Spirit.  Never expect an unbeliever to display agape.  It is impossible.  Never be disappointed when unbelievers do not display agape.  That is foolishness.  Only believers can display agape and they are ordered to do so.  If every believer “put on agape” there would be perfect unity in the Body of Christ.  There would be no elective grief.  There would be no conflicts.  We would have heaven on earth.

Lastly, notice that all of this is predicated upon the Word of God.  The Word of God is both objective and subjective.  The Word of God objectively tells us the will of God.  The Holy Spirit subjectively applies the Word of God to our hearts in His ministry of illumination.  The Word of God is our perfect guide to unity.  Everything that we do must be based upon and grounded in the clear teachings of the Word of God.

Unity: The Problem

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

The problem can be stated quite simply.  All of God’s people have particular insecurities that lead to unwise priorities that cause interpersonal tensions.  The key to relational intimacy is the elimination of personal insecurities.  Although easily said, it is extraordinarily difficult to do.  All of us have spent decades nurturing and cultivating our own little crop of insecurities.  In our own minds, our personal insecurities, no matter how bad, selfish, or counter-productive, define who we are.  The thought of challenging our own insecurities is too much for most of us to do.  As a result, we never do it and we remain in a permanent state of spiritual infantilism.

To help us come to grips with the problem it is important to mention a fundamental presupposition.  I presuppose that our intellectual limitations are insurmountable, but our relational limitations are not.  Although many people are intellectually lazy and could expand the use of their minds considerably with a little effort, it is nevertheless the case that there is a limit to intellectual ability.  Even the most diligent student will eventually reach the point where he cannot understand what he is studying.  For most people this limit is reached fairly quickly.  Frankly, most people are just not that smart.

Our relational limitations, however, are not insurmountable.  As far as I am aware, Jesus never preached on the importance of getting smarter, reading books, or getting a college degree.  In fact, He seemed to accept people at whatever intellectual level they happened to be.  On the other hand, Jesus continually preached on the need for greater relational intimacy.  “Greater love has no man than this…, I go to prepare a place for you and I will receive you to Myself…, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…,I am the Vine, you are the branches, abide in Me…, I no longer call you slaves, but I have called you friends…, Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one,even as We are.”  Jesus expects us to make progress in relational intimacy, both with Him and with His people.  In order to do so we must seek out and destroy our personal insecurities.  But how are we to do that?

One of the best methods to use to become aware of our individual personal insecurities is to ask this question, what am I afraid of?  The answer to that question will reveal our personal insecurities.  All of the answers to that question will fall into one of two categories, objective fears and subjective fears.  Objective fears will be things like, I am afraid of being attacked by a grizzly bear when walking in bear country in the springtime, or, I am afraid of being in a car accident when driving on icy roads during rush hour.  Objective fears may be ignored.  They reveal nothing about our personal insecurities.  Objective fears may be accurate or inaccurate but they do not get to the core of our being.

Subjective fears get to the heart of our personal insecurities.  For example, most people confess to having a great fear of public speaking.  In some surveys that I have seen the fear of public speaking is ranked higher than any other fear.  Now why would that be?  Unless one is speaking to a group of armed terrorists bent on killing public speaking Americans, it is highly unlikely that there is any real, objective reason for the fear.  Why are most people terrified of having to speak in public?

In a word, selfishness!  The first principle for understanding human behavior is that everybody, always and only, thinks about themselves.  When the time comes to have to make a speech the thoughts going through the mind of the speaker are that everybody will be looking at him!  “Everybody will be thinking about me!”  “What if I make a verbal blunder?”  “Everybody will think I am dumb!”  “When I walk into the auditorium everyone will be looking at me and analyzing the clothing that I am wearing!”  “Everyone will look at my face and notice if I have wrinkles!”  “Everyone will check out if I have a bad haircut!”  The fear of public speaking would disappear immediately if the speaker only realized that everyone in the audience is always and only thinking about themselves.  Nobody is thinking about him, and they probably never will.

I have a rule about public communication that I have found to be true over the years.  It only makes sense when it is understood that people listening to a public speaker are spending that time primarily thinking about themselves.  Here is the rule:  10% of what I say gets heard, 10% of what gets heard is understood, and 10% of what is understood gets applied.  As a result, only .1% of anything I ever say in public will have an impact upon the audience.  In 30 years of public speaking I have found this rule to be quite accurate.  Why is it so?  Because the people in the audience are consumed by their own personal insecurities and thoughts about themselves.  Nobody is thinking about me or my message, so how could they possibly understand what I am trying to say?  Everything that I say is filtered through an immense grid of personal insecurities.  That grid is designed to ensure that no challenging idea ever gets through to the real person.  The role and purpose of the grid is to protect the self, exactly as it is, forever.

This is the way most people live and this is the way most people will die.  Nothing will ever change.  For the true believer, however, staying in this position is unacceptable.  The true believer must open himself up to challenges.  The true believer must be on a mission to seek out and destroy his personal insecurities since he realizes that they are a tremendous deadweight that impede his progress in spiritual growth and maturity.  I would exhort all true believers to make a list of the things they fear.  Then, analyze that list to eliminate the rational, objective fears.  Lastly, ask yourself this question about each of the subjective fears, why am I afraid of this?  In addition to an analysis of our fears, I also believe that an examination of our behavioral priorities can illuminate our personal insecurities.

Our behavioral priorities can often illuminate our personal insecurities because they usually are derived directly from them.  Most people spend a great part of their lives engaging in behaviors that will protect their own personal insecurities.  An objective analysis of behavior is a great way to get at the personal insecurities that motivate them.  Incidentally, that is why there is so much elective grief in the world.  Since our behaviors are entirely motivated by the desire to protect us from each other, and since each of us is doing this while remaining completely oblivious to one another, it necessarily follows that we inflict tremendous amounts of elective grief upon each other.  In a very real sense we are not trying to be mean to each other.  Truly evil people are extremely rare because in order to be truly evil it is necessary to think about somebody else.  Since most people never think about anyone else, the nasty things we do to each other are just the by-products of our self protective behaviors.

Here are some behaviors that I have witnessed over the years that were only being done in order to protect personal insecurities:

  1. An ex-drunk established an Alcoholics Anonymous group because of his own fear of drinking.
  2. A woman joined a militant anti-abortion group in order to absolve her own guilt from a previous abortion.
  3. A home school mom joined a political action committed in order to try and feel relevant and powerful.
  4. A father became a “fan of his kid” because of the insecurity of his relationship with his son.
  5. A single female had intense emotional bonds to her dogs because of her fear of relationships with men.
  6. A woman continually engaging in cosmetic surgeries in order to overcome her insecurity about her appearance.
  7. A man assumed a domineering position in his home to compensate for his own fears of failure in the world.
  8. An athlete trained exceptionally hard who was motivated to do so entirely by the fear of athletic failure.
  9. A father immersed himself in outward objectivity because of his intense fear of relational intimacy.

Make a list of your behavioral priorities and then ask yourself this question, why am I doing these things?  Be honest!  Sometimes it is difficult to break through that barrier of self protection and get to the real reason.   Some of the most “successful” people in the world are successful because they are driven by their own personal insecurities.  Some of the most “successful” people in the world leave behind them a mass of broken and failed relationships.  It does not matter that a man be successful to the point of owning the whole world, if the cost of doing so is broken relationships with all the people he had met along the way.

There are two passages of Scripture that deal with how to overcome our personal insecurities and experience relational oneness.  We will examine each in turn.

Unity: Conflicts Due to Insecurity and Unwise Priorities

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

I conclude this essay with an examination of conflicts that arise from personal insecurities and unwise priorities.  The conflicts that arise from these contexts do not form a third class of conflict.  In all cases, the conflicts that arise in this arena can be subsumed into either the category of sinful or weaker brother conflicts.  As either sinful or weaker brother conflicts they need to be resolved by means of the principles and procedures I have already discussed.  I have included this section in recognition of the fact that a lot of conflict among believers is not the result of well-reasoned theological positions or diligently considered weaker brother behaviors.  Sadly, a lot of conflict between believers is simply the result of selfishness.

I would be remiss in my attempt to fully describe the doctrine of biblical unity if I did not address the conflicts that arise from our selfishness.  The important point to realize here is that biblical unity is not simply the absence of conflict.  Up to this point I have been discussing how to resolve what everyone recognizes to be a conflict.  Obviously there is no unity when conflict is present.  Not as obvious is the fact that unity does not automatically come into existence the moment external conflict disappears.  Many of the most intensely held animosities in our churches fall into this category.  Biblical unity will not exist until conflicts that are the result of our own selfishness are also resolved.

The Goal

The goal of biblical unity consists of more than the absence of external conflict.  Unity extends far beyond what we believe or even the way we behave.  We have seen how the Church has often confused doing, saying and thinking the same thing for biblical unity.  Besides the absence of external conflict, the final goal of unity is to eliminate all interpersonal tensions between believers.  The elimination of interpersonal tension is something that is subjectively appraised.  Nevertheless, it is something that needs to be attained.

There is no interpersonal tension between the three Persons of the Trinity.  Biblical unity is based upon the unity that exists in the Trinity.  There will be no interpersonal tension between the individual members of the Body of Christ in the eternal state.  Biblical unity during this age is to be a “down-payment” and a reflection of the unity that we will experience in the eternal state.  Just as we strive in our services of worship to attain to some measure of the quality of worship we will be performing in the eternal state, so we should strive in our interpersonal relationships to attain some measure of the quality of relationship that we will have in the eternal state.  Is this a utopian dream?  Of course it is!  So is the desire for the elimination of the sin of denominational factionalism, the desire to have a theonomic civil government, and the desire for perfect obedience.  It is not a question as to whether these goals are attainable.   It is a question of obedience.  Of course our obedience will never be perfect.  But does that mean we are not to strive to be obedient at all?  I think not.

Our goal should be to come to a position in our relationships with each other where we have entirely eliminated a phenomenon that I call “elective grief”. There are two types of grief in this world, necessary grief and elective grief.  Necessary grief is the grief that is associated with our sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world.  Necessary grief exists because of the existence of sin.  People die, so we grieve.  Natural disasters happen, and we grieve.  Sickness robs men of their vigor,  all of us continue to experience the loss of natural ability due to age, and the law of nature determines that a vicious cycle of death and rebirth will exist throughout all of creation.  All of this is grievous.  All of this is grief that is unavoidable; no matter what we do we will not be able to prevent grief.

Although also related to the sin, elective grief is preventable.  In every case of elective grief there was some point along the line where somebody could have stopped the process and the grief would never have occurred.  Elective grief is grief that we produce, often because we wish to harm or punish somebody else, and always because we are selfish.  .  Most of the sorrows, tensions, and conflicts that we experience in this life are directly related to elective grief.  I suspect if you sat down and wrote out a list of the things that brought you sorrow over the past year and then categorized them into elective or necessary grief, you would find that the elective grief side is much longer.  Of course, this is not always true.  People can go through “Jobian” periods in their lives where it seems as if everything is falling apart.  But for most people, most of the time, the sorrow and pain that we feel is usually related to things that could and should have been prevented.

There are three realities that we need to be aware of when we strive to attain biblical unity.  First, the Christian life is fundamentally objective but primarily relational.  When a person becomes a Christian, a very real objective change takes place.  God, in His grace, elects, regenerates, justifies, and sanctifies His people one at a time.  When this happens to an individual, his legal standing before God and the world undergoes an objective change.  That person becomes “born again”, and a “new creation”.  The first thing a new Christian does is set about to be grafted into the Church.  Objective statements of belief are made, objective vows are sworn, objective promises are made, and the new believer is objectively joined to the local church.  All of these objective behaviors are absolutely good and entirely necessary.  However, the objective reality that is seen only exists because of the subjective reality that under girds it.

At the heart of the Christian life is the reality of relationship.  When God, in his grace, decides to save an individual from his sin, He first sends His Holy Spirit to establish a relationship with the individual.  When the initial relationship is forged that individual comes into relationship with all three Persons of the Trinity.  After a relationship is established with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the next thing the new believer does is establish a relationship with the Body of Christ.  In the church, there are hundreds of personal relationships that are established with the other members of the body.

It is not possible to have a Christian life without both the objective and subjective elements.  However, I believe it is fair to say that the Christian life is fundamentally objective but primarily relational (subjective).  Second, a believer’s position in the Kingdom of God is wholly determined by how relationally intimate he is with God.  This is a difficult assertion to believe for intellectual Christians.  Intellectuals like to believe that because they know more about God, they are closer to God.  That is not necessarily the case.  Although some knowledge about God is obviously required in order to be relationally intimate with Him, it does not follow that the level of theological knowledge determines the level of intimacy.  It is entirely possible that a mentally retarded believer could be far more relationally intimate with God than a seminary professor.

We all have different intellectual abilities.  Therefore, our ability to understand theological concepts is widely varied.  But I see no evidence in Scripture where theological knowledge is ever lifted up as the litmus test of relational intimacy with God.  On the other hand, most of us have barely scratched the surface of our relational abilities.  For reasons that I will discuss later, most of us live our lives trying to keep relational intimacy at arm’s length.  Since relational intimacy is the primary reality of the Christian life, many Christians spend their days in a sort of relational infantile paralysis that essentially guarantees that spiritual growth will never occur.  If we want to make progress in sanctification, most of us have to work on our relational intimacy more than our theological knowledge.

Third, our relational intimacy with God can be determined by examining our degree of relational intimacy with His people.  We are all at a certain point along the continuum of relational intimacy.  I do not believe that it is possible to be more relationally intimate with God than we are with the people of God.    I John 4: 20 says, “If some one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  The man who says that he has great relational intimacy with God but can’t get along with any of God’s people is a liar.  The measure of our relational intimacy with God is our relational intimacy with His people.  Based upon the horribly low level of relational intimacy that exists in the Church, it is fair to infer that our relational intimacy with God must be terribly stunted.

The lack of relational intimacy exposes the myth that unity can exist simply because of a lack of external conflict.  A lack of external conflict is a lack of external conflict, it is not unity.  True biblical unity is founded upon the two towers of no external conflict and relational intimacy.  We have already examined the problems with resolving external conflicts.  Now we have to examine why we have so little relational intimacy.

Unity: Weaker Brother Doctrines

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

I have found that church leaders like to believe that their denominational distinctives are really doctrines that are necessary for salvation and, therefore, conflicts related to them are matters of sin.  This is an understandable error since most church leaders have spent the greater part of their lives defending their pet doctrines.  To ask them to admit that all of that effort has been a waste of time is to ask too much of most church leaders.

Most churches try to get around this problem by creating a third class of doctrine that results in a third class of dispute.  As I said earlier, it is generally agreed  that there are doctrines required for salvation, doctrines that are disputable (weaker brother doctrines) and a third class of doctrine usually called something like “those necessary to be believed by the leaders of the church”.  This is a logical development in the history of factionalism since it formally establishes the parameters by which the sin of factionalism is legitimized.  Unfortunately, it does not make the creation of a third category of doctrines a legitimate endeavor.  This creation of a third class of doctrines opens a Pandora’s Box of logical problems.

As I also pointed out earlier, where in the Bible does it ever say that a man must believe one of the denominational distinctives in order to qualify for a church leadership position?  Factionalists will search in vain for any passage that creates this artificial distinction.  I am unable to write a refutation against their arguments in favor of this position because there are no arguments in favor of this position.  The position is simply presupposed to be true and the infrastructure of a third class of doctrine is built upon the faulty presupposition.  Where does the Bible say that a man is not qualified for elder if he does not believe in infant baptism?  What about believer baptism?  What about the doctrine of the rapture?  What about Sabbath observance?  What about predestination or free will?  A factionalist will never find a verse to support his position that an elder must hold to a particular view on any of these doctrines.

Second, what is to be done with churches in other denominational factions?  If it is the case that a church leader must believe in infant baptism or not be qualified for the office of elder, and if it is the case that Baptist churches have no elders (or deacons as they call them) who believe in the doctrine of infant baptism, and if it is the case that a true church does not exist unless there is legitimate church leadership in place, then it necessarily follows that all Baptist churches are apostate churches.  There is no other conclusion.  When pressed to deal with that logical necessity, Presbyterians elect to ignore the logical necessity of that conclusion and continue to treat Baptists as true, if misguided, believers.  That fact alone should prove to both parties in the dispute that the doctrine of baptism is a weaker brother doctrine and not in some imaginary category of doctrines that elders must believe.

Leaders in different factions need to be pressed to behave according to what they allege to be their beliefs.  For example, Presbyterians believe that to neglect the baptism of an infant is a grave sin against God.  A man in a Presbyterian church who elects to not baptize his children in favor of the doctrine of believer baptism will be badgered and harassed for a long time in order to try and get him to change his mind.  After it becomes clear that he is not going to change his mind he will usually be allowed to continue to hold his view.  How can this be?  If the failure to baptize a child is really a sin issue (rather than a weaker brother issue), then this man is in flagrant, public, unrepentant sin every time he comes to church with his children in tow.  The elders of that Presbyterian church are bound by their oath of office to bring the procedures of church discipline against this man.  If he persists in his unbelief in this necessary doctrine he should be excommunicated.  Yet, no Presbyterian church that I am aware of has ever excommunicated a man for refusing to baptize his children.  Usually the rebel is strongly encouraged to go to another church.  This is just another example of dividing for the sake of unity.  The fact that no Presbyterian will discipline a Baptist for his view of baptism is a tacit admission that the doctrine of baptism is a weaker brother doctrine.  Would it not be a lot more healthy for all of the parties involved to simply admit that reality from the start?  Of course it would, but that would mean that long cherished behaviors of intolerance and division would have to be jettisoned.  And that is too much to ask of the leaders in the churches of our land today.

Unity: Private Legalism vs Public Legalism

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

Private, personal legalism is acceptable to God.  As long as the weaker brother makes no effort to force his own rules of legalism upon others, there is no problem.  There is huge problem the moment a weaker brother makes his rules of personal legalism normative for the stronger brother.  In that case, all of the rules of personal legalism are to be ignored.  The sin of the Pharisees was not that they had created a system of laws for themselves to keep them from breaking actual biblical law.  The problem of the Pharisees was that they put the burden of obedience to their own personal laws upon all of the people of God.  This has direct application to evangelical churches today.

How many of our churches have elevated weaker brother doctrines to the position of authority?  I recognize that almost no one actually engages in biblical discipline but, how many of our churches practice informal discipline in the form of shunning, gossip, and slander against anyone who would dare to not conform to the legalistic rules of the church?  What if a person does not have the right hairstyle?  What if a person does not wear the right clothes?  What if a person does smoke, drink, dance, go to the movies, and otherwise engage in behaviors that the legalist finds objectionable?  Is it not the case that a real, informal, pressure is brought to bear to try and get that person to conform to the unwritten rules?  Is it not true that these issues are often considered to be some of the most important things that the church does?   We all know this is true.  I have talked to hundreds of people who have told me how they have modified behaviors that were sterling examples of Christian liberty in order to conform to the standards of public legalism that existed in their church.  Inevitably they tell me that they did so in order to “avoid conflict”.  But is that a conflict that should be avoided?

I don’t think so.  If  stronger brother believers are being informally punished for non-conformity to public legalism I believe they have a duty to break those rules and bring the issue into the public eye.  The church needs to be led by the spiritually mature.  Never challenging the immense codes of public legalism that many churches operate under is a sure guarantee that the church will never make progress in spiritual maturity.  Entrenched standards of public legalism must be challenged and overthrown if any progress in sanctification is ever going to be made.

Conclusion to Conflicts Due to Weaker Brother Issues

There are hundreds of weaker brother doctrines and behaviors.  No person is free of weaker brother beliefs and practices.  However, every believer is somewhere along a continuum of maturity based upon the number of weaker brother doctrines he practices.  The fewer the incidences of weaker brother doctrines, the greater the opportunity for spiritual maturity.  Conversely, the greater the incidence of weaker brother doctrines, the lesser the opportunity for spiritual maturity.  In general, the leaders of the church should be relatively free from weaker brother doctrines.  But, it must be remembered that no man is completely free of weaker brother doctrines and to hold that up as a standard for leadership in the church is ridiculous.

Most believers are totally unaware of the category of conflict associated with weaker brother doctrines.  In the eyes of most believers, disputes are either something that should cause a church split or they are unimportant.  This examination of conflicts founded in weaker brother issues has dramatically shown that there is no biblical reason for a church split to take place over weaker brother issues.  On the other hand, the previous section on conflicts due to sin dramatically illustrated that the false believers must be removed from the church by the process of church discipline.  Besides these two options, there is no other.  There is no category entitled “split for the sake of unity”.  There is no category entitled “go to a church that has doctrinal distinctives that you agree with”.  Quite the contrary, we have seen that the weaker members of the church are what strengthen it by giving the stronger brothers an opportunity to exercise agape-love.  Simply put, the twin practices of church discipline in cases of sin and mutual acceptance in cases of weaker/stronger brother disputes are the key to biblical unity.   If all conflicts are resolved by means of these two procedures there will be unity among believers.

Before moving on to a third source of conflict it is worth taking a moment to think about some of the weaker brother doctrines that have divided our churches.

Unity: The Sixth and Seventh Principles of the Weaker Brother

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

Romans 14: 5 says, “One man regards one day above another, another regards ever day alike.  Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.”  This is another crucial principle in the weaker brother doctrine that is totally ignored in our churches today.  The sixth principle of the weaker brother doctrine is that both the weaker brother and the stronger brother are to be fully convinced of the truth of their positions in their own minds.

Any elementary student of logic realizes that this principle creates a logical dilemma.  It is not possible for two men to have mutually contradictory doctrinal positions and both of them be correct.  Either one is right and the other is wrong, or both might be wrong.  However, it is not possible that both of them could be correct.  Why would Paul establish a principle that necessarily involves a logical contradiction?

This principle, more than any of the other weaker brother principles, must be understood in order to fully understand biblical unity.  Paul allows for a behavioral principle that necessarily establishes an intellectual self-contradiction because, when dealing with weaker brother issues, behavior is more important than belief.  Verse 3 clearly states that God has accepted both the weaker brother and the stronger brother, despite the fact that their intellectual positions are mutually exclusive.  This is a concept that the evangelical of today is incapable of understanding or accepting.  Anyone who has been steeped in the principles of the sanctity of “division for the sake of unity” cannot comprehend how two men could both be fully convinced in their minds of a mutually exclusive doctrine and still remain united.  However, they can and must remain united because, in weaker brother issues, behavior is more important than doctrine.

In the earlier discussion on conflicts due to sin it was necessarily the case that doctrine was more important than behavior.  It is not possible for a man to hold to the doctrines of Unitarianism and not be subject to excommunication, no matter how sanctified a life he appears to have.  With conflicts due to sin it is sometimes necessary to separate from one another by means of the judicial decision of excommunication.  All of this changes when we come to conflicts due to weaker brother issues.  The failure of the Church to recognize this change has brought about tremendous devastation to the unity of the Church throughout Church history.

Consider for a moment the undisputable fact that God accepts both parties in a weaker brother conflict even though they hold mutually exclusive positions.  If God accepts both parties, who are we to not accept one of them?  Who are we to pretend to be smarter than God and throw one of the parties out of our church?  Who are we to divide the Body of Christ?  Who are we to say that church leaders are to be held to a higher standard of doctrine that recognizes a third class of elevated truths?  True believers who separate from one another over weaker brother issues have committed the sin of factionalism.  There is never any reason or excuse for separating from a true believer over a weaker brother doctrine.  There is never any reason for an elder to be qualified for office in one denomination while, at the same time, be unqualified for office in another denomination.

The simple fact that many Christians simply refuse to acknowledge is that many of our cherished denominational distinctives are not all that important.  If they were, God would never have commanded that each party to the dispute be fully convinced of the truth of his position.  If they were, God would never have commanded that men who hold mutually exclusive doctrinal positions remain united to each other.  If they were, God would never have described the separation that weaker and stronger brothers practice as the sin of factionalism.  Unfortunately, many church leaders have staked their entire careers on fighting for a weaker/stronger brother doctrine.  That is a fight that never should have been fought.  That is a fight that is actually working contrary to the purposes of God with His Church.  That is a fight that must immediately cease if we are to expect any blessing from God.

The doctrine of baptism is one of the greatest examples of a weaker brother doctrine in our time.  This single doctrine has divided millions of believers and tens of thousands of churches from each other.  Hundreds of books have been written and countless hours of study, debate, and argument have been dedicated to the doctrine of baptism.  You would think that a doctrine as important as baptism would be vitally important to the leaders of the apostolic church, wouldn’t you?  Here is what the Apostle Paul had to say about baptism, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other”!  (I Corinthians 1: 14-16)  Now does that sound like a man who would be pleased with churches dividing over the doctrine of baptism?  Baptism was so relatively unimportant to Paul that he could not even remember who he had baptized.

This principle also tends to counteract a tendency that exists in both the weaker and the stronger brother.  The weaker brother tends to expect the stronger brother to change his opinion in the light of the revelation of his weakness in that area.  In other words, when I am informed by a weaker brother that it would violate the principles of his conscience if he were to drink alcohol, he usually expects me to respond to that revelation by promising to agree with him and never drink again.  As I showed before, that is foolishness.  I am fully entitled to remain fully convinced in my own mind that drinking is not a sin.  What I am not permitted to do is behave in such a way that the conscience of the weaker brother is injured.  The issue is an issue of behavior, not belief.

On the other hand, the stronger brother has no right to tell the weaker brother that it is his responsibility to “grow up” into agreement with the stronger brother view.  This is a particularly notorious problem in Reformed churches where a strong emphasis is put upon the beliefs of each individual.  Hundreds of times I have heard the statement out of Reformed pastors that it is the duty of the members of the church to “make progress” in their understanding of some particular doctrine that is not essential for salvation.  By “make progress” they simply mean that the weaker brother has to eventually come to agree with the position of the church, the pastor and the confession.  To this Paul clearly says, let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.  Although the weaker brother is in an inferior position (because of his weakness), he is not a second-class believer.  God has accepted both the stronger and the weaker brother.

Now, does this mean that the weaker brother should never be challenged to examine his position?  As I pointed out before, of course not!  The weaker brother and the stronger brother should continually challenge each other with respect to their views.  What this principle does mean is that they should accept each other.  There should be no separation.  There should be no attempt to force or coerce a weaker brother to change his view.  Once he has become fully convinced in his own mind that his view is correct, so be it.  To try and force the weaker brother to violate the principles of his own conscience is a sin (the seventh principle) and the stronger brother must respect the right of the weaker brother to hold, defend and teach his position.

Sometimes a doctrine comes up in which it is difficult to determine who is the weaker brother and who is the stronger brother (of course, in my own mind it is always perfectly clear).  Baptism is a good example of such a doctrine.  Although a few churches hold the extreme position that their doctrine of baptism is necessary for salvation, I believe most would agree that the doctrine of baptism is a weaker brother issue.  But, who is the weaker brother–the believer baptist or the infant baptist?  For all practical purposes, it doesn’t matter.  Remember, behavior is more important than belief with this weaker brother doctrine.  Both parties in the dispute are required to respect the other view.  Both are required to not judge the other view.  Both are required to accept a person who holds the other view.  Both parties are to be fully convinced in their own minds.  Both are required to remain united, despite their differences of opinion about the doctrine. God has accepted both positions, who are we to act differently?

The Seventh Principle of the Weaker Brother

Romans 14: 13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”  Paul goes on in verses 14-23 to explain the doctrine of the “stumbling block”.  What is a stumbling block?

First of all, the concept of stumbling block does not mean causing a weaker brother to commit an actual biblical sin.  The common evangelical error with the concept of a stumbling block fails to recognize this truth.  According to evangelicals, if I speak to a married woman I will put a stumbling block in front of a weaker brother and he will commit adultery shortly thereafter.  As should be obvious by now, Paul is not talking about doctrines that are related to actual sin.  Paul is talking about weaker brother doctrines where the sin that is committed is the sin of violating the principles of one’s own conscience.  Verses 22 and 23 say, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.  But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”  There is no way that actual biblical sins could be in mind in what Paul is saying.

This reality raises the interesting probability of a weaker brother believing the wrong thing for the right reason.  If what the weaker brother believes is wrong (it is a sin to drink), but he is fully convinced that it is true and he makes the decision to not drink by faith, he is not drinking for the right reason.  Conversely, in this case the weaker brother would sin if he were to do the right thing (drink alcohol).  Why?  Because his drinking would not be of faith.  All of this conclusively proves that weaker brother doctrines are all about behavior, not belief.

To put a stumbling block in the way of a weaker brother is to behave (not believe) in such a way as to encourage him to violate the principles of his own legalistic conscience and, thereby, create a crisis of faith for him.  To drink wine in the presence of a weaker brother who has declared his weakness to me is to put a stumbling block in front of him.  If he stumbles and drinks wine he has committed no biblical sin.  However he has sinned because he violated the principles of his own conscience and engaged in an action that was not from faith.  It is my responsibility, as a stronger brother, to never put a stumbling block in the way of a weaker brother.  As I mentioned earlier, it is the responsibility of the weaker brother to tell me what his weaknesses are; otherwise I might cause him to stumble inadvertently (in which case it would be the fault of the weaker brother for not disclosing his weakness).  It is the responsibility of the stronger brother to never engage in any behavior that might cause the weaker brother to sin against the principles of his own conscience.  It is the responsibility of the stronger brother to accept the opinions of the weaker brother and not try to coerce him into stronger brother behavior.  The stronger brother has the greater responsibility because he is in the superior position.

One last thing the stronger brother must do is determine if the legalism of the weaker brother is an example of private, personal legalism or the legalism of the Pharisees.

Unity: The Fifth Principle of the Weaker Brother

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

I Corinthians 10: 27-29 says, “If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone should say to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s.”   This passage establishes the principle that it is the responsibility of the weaker brother to attempt to remain ignorant of the stronger brother’s liberty.

This principle is designed to counteract the natural tendency of the weaker brother to become a busy-body and seek out violations of his own personal rules of behavior.  As is true of most believers, the weaker brother strongly desires to feel superior to others.  With his own personal code of legalism he has a powerful tool to accomplish the goal of self-righteousness.  When the weaker brother doctrine is corrupted to the position of asserting that stronger brother must forever and always abandon any behavior that could possibly be considered motivated by liberty, the weaker brother has a strong incentive to seek out as many cases of “offense” as he can.  The more cases he can find the more personal power he develops.  When the weaker brother spots an violation of his personal code of morality he is quick to point it out to the stronger brother and then wait around to see if the stronger brother will do the “right” thing and forever abandon that behavior.  This principle makes it clear that the weaker brother is to use his energy to avoid contact with things that offend him rather than seeking out offensive behaviors.

Notice that Paul tells the stronger brother to eat what is set before him without asking questions.  Why would he say this?  The most reasonable explanation for this exhortation is to allow both the stronger and the weaker brother to remain ignorant of the source of the meat.  This is unimportant for the stronger brother as he would eat the meat regardless of its source.  This is vitally important for the weaker brother as it determines whether he could eat the meat at all.  The general principle for the weaker brother is this, seek to know as little about what is being done as possible so as to avoid a crisis of conscience.  Paul makes this very clear.  He is not worried about the conscience of the stronger brother.  No harm can be done to the conscience of the stronger brother regardless of the origin of the meat.  The weaker brother, on the other hand, can suffer a crisis of conscience if the meat had been sacrificed to idols.  Paul’s advice to the weaker brother is to make every effort possible to remain ignorant of the source of the meat so as to avoid a crisis of conscience.

Sadly, this principle is entirely ignored in evangelical churches today.  As a result, weaker brothers have risen to the places of authority and leadership in our churches.  The entire system of leadership has been turned on its head.  Allowing weaker brothers to control the private behavior of stronger brothers is a great sin.  When combined with the doctrines and practices of pietism, the net result of overturning this principle has been to turn the Keys of the Kingdom over to those who are least qualified to judge.  In most cases the weaker brothers who find themselves in positions of authority are quick to judge believers for violations of their own personal code of conduct.  In other cases, where actual sin is involved, weaker brothers will rarely, if ever, render a biblical judicial decision.  That is why I stated earlier that any man in a leadership position in the church who is unwilling or unable to render a biblical judicial decision should resign his position immediately.  The final consequence of the abandonment of this principle is the status of perpetual infancy among the members of the church.  A church that is led by weaker brothers is never going to grow into spiritual maturity.  It is not surprising that most of our churches are perpetually drinking milk.

Unity: The Fourth Principle of the Weaker Brother

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.

Romans 14: 3 says, “…and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him.”  The weaker brother has the responsibility to refrain from rendering a judgment against the liberty of the stronger brother.  This is a vitally important point in the life of the body.  Unfortunately this principle has been widely ignored in evangelical churches today.  Why?

Once again the influence of psychology has distorted biblical truth.  Largely due to an extreme overemphasis upon the importance of the emotions, the Church has adopted the view of the weaker brother as a victim.  When I am told that I may no longer speak with married women because there is a possibility that there might be a weaker brother around somewhere who would take my liberty to speak with married women and turn it into a need to commit adultery, the weaker brother has been reduced to a impotent victim of his own inabilities and impulses.  We are told that as a weak, pitiful victim, the weaker brother is incapable of acting like an adult and should be relieved of all his personal responsibilities.  That would include his responsibility to not judge the liberty of the stronger brother.

This psychological distortion has created a perverse incentive for weaker brothers to try and control the behavior of stronger brothers.  We see the fruits of this perverse incentive in the daily life of believers when they run around looking for things to be offended by.  Oftentimes the claim is made that they are not personally offended by a behavior, but the possibility is always presented that a weaker brother could be around somewhere, and he would be offended.  Just to be on the safe side, I am told, it is necessary for me to cease the behavior that I am engaging in.  I have had this distorted argument used against me by people who were trying to stop me from smoking, drinking, and talking to married women.

I Corinthians 10: 23-30 elaborates upon this topic when it says:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.  All things are lawful, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.  Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the lord’s and all it contains.  If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake.  But if anyone should say to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;  I mean not you own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?

There is a lot going on in this passage and I will come back to parts of it in later points.  For now it is important to consider the statement, “why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?”  That phrase gets to the heart of the prohibition of the weaker brother to judge the stronger brother for his liberty.  It should be obvious to all that Paul is asking a rhetorical question when he asks, “why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?” .  The answer that he expects to get is, “your freedom is not judged by another’s conscience!”  When he asks, “why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?” the answer he expects to get back is, “because the weaker brother is wrongly judging you!”

In evangelicalism today it is considered almost impossible for a weaker brother to slander a stronger brother.  In fact, evangelicalism strongly teaches that the freedom of each individual is to be  judged by the conscience of the weaker brother.  The case of drinking alcohol illustrates the point well.  Most Christians are terrified of drinking alcohol in public.  They have been trained for years that a good Christian would never drink in public because it is possible that there might be a weaker brother around somewhere who would see them drinking and immediately use that as an excuse to run out and get drunk!  In other words, the liberty of the stronger brother is to be held in bondage by the possibility that there might be a weaker brother around somewhere.

To make matters much worse, there are hundreds of believers who are ready, willing and able to be on police patrol to protect the weaker brother.  These folks all deny that they would ever be caused to stumble by the behaviors they are seeking to stamp out.  Nevertheless, they insist their motivations are purely altruistic as they scour the earth looking for things that might offend the phantom weaker brother.  What happens when an offending behavior is discovered?

Slander!  Slander is best defined as the rendering of an informal judicial decision without the benefit of a trial and often without the alleged perpetrator even being aware that he is on trial.  When I am seen speaking to a married woman and one of the weaker brother police sees me doing so, what happens?  I think we all know since we have seen it hundreds of times in our churches.  The weaker brother policeman gets on the phone to the other members of the church and announces that I am guilty of causing a weaker brother to stumble by talking to a married woman.  In one outrageous instance I was said to have been guilty of “emotional adultery” (emotional adultery differs from physical adultery, or so I was told, in that no sexual relations take place but intimate emotions are exchanged…kind of makes me wonder if it is possible to purchase protection from the exchange of intimate emotions down at the drug store)  because I spoke to a married woman.  All weak-willed Christians are soon sucked into the amalgam of gossip and slander.  To all of this Paul says, “why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?”

It is crucial to understand that, just as the stronger brother has a natural tendency towards spiritual pride, the weaker brother has a natural tendency to render informal judicial decisions (slander) against the stronger brother for breaking the weaker brother’s legalistic rules.  This exhortation for the weaker brother to not judge the stronger brother is designed to counteract that natural tendency.

Two important corollaries of this principle come out of the passage in I Corinthians 10.  The first corollary is that the weaker brother has the duty and responsibility to inform the stronger brother of his weakness.  Verse 28 says, “But if anyone should say to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols’, do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you.”  This is a crucial point in weaker brother/stronger brother relationships that is entirely ignored today.  It is not possible for a stronger brother to be aware of every possible weakness of a weaker brother.  Furthermore, the stronger brother is unable to amend his behavior unless the weaker brother informs him that he is weak.  Removing this little responsibility from the weaker brother is what has led evangelicals today to prohibit all Christian liberty in public on the outside chance that there might be a weaker brother present.  That is foolishness.  It is the responsibility of the weaker brother to reveal his weakness to the stronger brother before any behavior can be amended.

The man in Corinth who was eating in the temple restaurant was free to do so.  As Paul said, “if you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you”.  This man had the liberty to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols without violating his conscience.  He was free to enjoy the food that God had provided.  He was free to enjoy the food without being slandered for eating it.  But eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols was a difficult thing for many believers to do, especially for Jewish believers.  Years of training and the prohibition of all types of idolatry would make it impossible for many weaker brothers to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  So how is the stronger brother to know what to do?

It is the responsibility of any weaker brother present in the restaurant to inform the stronger brother of his weakness in order to allow the stronger brother to voluntarily cease eating the meat so as not to put a stumbling block in front of the weaker brother.  Unless a weaker brother comes forward and confesses his weakness, the stronger brother is free to eat and enjoy.  Also notice that no weaker brother police are allowed to come up to the stronger brother and tell him there is a possibility that there might be a weaker brother somewhere who could be offended by what he was doing.  That was recognized then, as it should be now, as a sinful attempt to control the behavior of another person.  Once that weaker brother has informed the stronger brother of his weakness it is the duty of the stronger brother to never again eat meat sacrificed to idols in the presence of that weaker brother.

The second corollary to this principle has to do with the suspension of Christian liberty on the part of the weaker brother.  When, and for how long, is he required to suspend his liberty for the sake of the weaker brother?  The answer given by evangelicals is a simple one.  They assert that any behavior that could possibility offend some weaker brother (although they are not one) must be stopped in all places for all time.  That position is nonsense.  How could that position possibly be true in light of what Paul said in Colossians 2 about refusing to submit to the legalistic decrees of others?  The evangelical position can’t be true, and it isn’t.

The stronger brother should suspend the exercise of his Christian liberty anytime a weaker brother informs him of his weakness and should continue to do so until the weaker brother changes his opinion (he might never change his opinion and that is OK as well).  However, the suspension of liberty on the part of the stronger brother should only be done when he is in the presence of the weaker brother.  Although it is a popular notion in evangelicalism today, the notion that a weaker brother can somehow force a stronger brother to not drink a beer in the privacy of his own home is ridiculous.  When the stronger brother is not in the physical presence of the weaker brother he is free to exercise his Christian liberty as he sees fit.