I grew-up in pseudo-Messianic Jewish organization. Actually,
it was more of a Christian cult group that tried to keep the Law of Moses and then add the teachings of Christ on top of that. It didn’t work well and eventually, the founder passed away and the doctrines were changed—for the better.
In the midst of those changes, I remember breaking one of the first Old Covenant rules by ordering a Bacon Cheeseburger at McDonalds. I knew it was Biblically OK, but I still didn’t want to upset any of my church members since I was their pastor and I knew some of them still thought we should keep the Pentateuch. Far be it from me to make one of them “stumble” in conscience (See Mark 9:42, I Cor 10:25-28, etc ).
So in the midst of my hunger one afternoon, I drove quickly up to the speaker at our local McD’s and whispered, “I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger.” I don’t know why I whispered. It’s not like a flock of church people were standing in the parking lot. Still—the whisper felt right…that is, until the kid on the other end screeched, “WHAT WAS THAT???” “A bacon cheeseburger,” I replied—still in a hushed tone. “YOU WANT A BACON CHEESEBURGER…A BACON CHEESEBURGER WAS IT?,” he screamed. “YES!” I replied, wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible.
After what seemed like hours, I had my sandwich and scrambled behind a building in a dark alley to devour it in secret. It was sooooo good. And, best yet, I only felt moderately guilty.
The Romans 14 Dilemma
As humorous as this story is, it reminds me of the challenge of Romans 14. Let me print part of it here:
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 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. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand...14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in [e]these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may [f]edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with [g]offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles [h]or is offended or is made weak. 22 [i]Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is [j]sin.
Paul is describing an important biblical principle here: Conscience. If it seems wrong to you--don't do it. Whatever is not based on faith is sin (verse 23). In addition, if it seems wrong to your brother and would cause him to be offended or confused--don't do it (verse 21, etc).
In a sense, it's really that simple.
The application is the tricky part since we're often so narcissistic and afraid of losing our "freedom." Still, if I believe it's OK to have a beer now and then, but I'm sitting with someone who believes it's a sin, I won't drink. I would follow the same approach if sitting with an alcoholic. If I If I'm sitting with someone who believes he/she must follow Kosher food rules, I'll order chicken, but not the cheeseburger, etc., etc....
It really comes down to love (verse 15). Do I love my freedom more than I love someone who might be hurt by it? If so, I'm at odds with the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.
So the goal is to enjoy our freedom...but in love (See I Cor. 13).
To that end,