The Bible gives us several principles when addressing conscience. At the same time, we must be careful not to misinterpret what the Bible actually says.
It is clear from Scripture that we must not violate our conscience IF it is NOT in contradiction to what the Bible prohibits or demands. At the same time, we are NOT to follow our conscience if this would violate biblical injunctions.
For instance, we must never follow our conscience when it “commands” us to kill (such as, defeating our enemy in war); or to vote in governmental elections (to “improve” the situation in our country); or to commit adultery with our neighbor’s wife (because she feels unloved by her husband); or to violate the Sabbath (as we “must” work to feed our family); or to attend Christmas celebrations (so as not to offend our relatives and friends). Likewise, we must never follow our conscience by not doing what we are commanded to do; that is, we must not refuse to tithe “for conscience’s sake”; we must not refuse to abstain from leavened products during the seven Days of Unleavened Bread; and we must not refuse to keep the Sabbath and the annual Holy Days. We pointed out in previous Q&A’s, discussing how to keep the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days, that our conscience must never be a reason for not observing the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days and the Last Great Day at a place which God has chosen, which would include renting a hotel room or other temporary accommodation during this time.
In addressing the conscience of a member pertaining to the question as to whether or not to eat in a restaurant on the weekly Sabbath (or, by extension, annual Holy Days), we stated the following in our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days“:
“If Church members today eat occasionally in a nice, quiet restaurant on the Sabbath or a Holy Day after Church services, for instance, while, at the same time fellowshipping with other brethren and speaking about the things that pertain to God, then we must not condemn them for that. For instance, Church members might be traveling for quite a distance to attend Church services, looking forward to spending additional time with their brethren after services. If, on the other hand, your conscience does not allow you to go to a restaurant on a Sabbath or a Holy Day, then you must not do so, since ‘whatever is not from faith [or conviction] is sin’ (Romans 14:23). It would be advisable, though, to review the Scriptures to see whether your conscience is based on the Bible or merely on man-made traditions.”
Two principles are to be emphasized in this context. First, it is not wrong or against Church teaching, which is based on the Bible, to eat out in a restaurant on the Sabbath. This has been a very contentious issue for some who have tried to enforce their personal contrary opinion on the entire Church. Second, the individual member must evaluate his or her stance to see whether he or she is in line with Church teaching. As God’s true Church has been given the authority from God to bind and to loose, which includes decisions pertaining to biblical principles in “gray” areas, the individual member is to review his conscientious position to see whether it should be maintained.
We need to address a third principle. That is, the Church is not to forego a certain practice, which is based on the Bible, just because an individual member has a different “conviction.” In other words, the Church is under NO obligation to cater to such opinions by individual members.
We have seen over the years that some Christians have developed their own personal opinions, calling them conviction and arguing that the Church must follow and adopt them for the individual’s benefit. They may say that Scriptures in Romans 14:14-15, 20-21; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; and 1 Corinthians 10:25-29 support this conclusion. ALL of these passages address the question of consuming CLEAN meat or drinks (like wine), which had been offered to idols. Paul makes clear that such consumption is not wrong, but it would be wrong if we were to violate the conscience of a member who is weak in the faith. We must understand, however, in what way we would violate his or her conscience.
The violation would take place if the member who is weak in the faith was to be induced by our conduct to also consume such ceremonially “unclean” meat or drink (as it had been offered to idols), but he or she would do so in violation of his or her conscience (which tells him or her not to do so), because he or she would do it because of our example. What these Scriptures don’t teach us is that we must never consume any clean meat or drink sacrificed to idols because a member is present whose conscience prohibits him or her from doing so.
What we should do in such a situation is to either ask the member whether he or she would be offended by our consumption of such meat or drink, and if he or she is, we would not eat or drink it in his or her presence; or, if we are aware that the member might be tempted to consume such meat or drink in violation of his or her conscience, we would admonish him or her not to do so. But what the Church would not have to do is to abstain from consuming such meat or drink altogether because of the conscience of a weak member. (We should note that the above-quoted passages do not even address vegetarianism or abstention from alcohol per se, but in certain circumstances, similar principles would apply.)
Consider what the consequences would be if the Church had to cater to the individual “convictions” of each member.
In our last Q&A, we addressed the concept of music. Even though Paul’s examples, as mentioned above, deal with meat and drinks sacrificed to idols which was apparently a big issue among some members in the church at Corinth, the same principles apply today to other scenarios, as we explained in our last Q&A. Some may like certain types of music, while others may not care for them. But the mere fact that one Christian might not like or object to a certain type of music is not a compelling reason for other Christians to refrain from listening to or playing such music. However, a Christian would not play or listen to that kind of music in the presence of a member who would be offended by it. But this does not mean that he would not play or listen to it when the member is not present; nor, that the Church would need to forego an entire musical presentation during a social event because one member might be offended by some of the music which might be played or performed at that event. In such case, the member would have to make a decision as to whether or not to attend or participate in the event. However, if the Church concludes that such an event is appropriate, then the member would be well advised to critically evaluate his or her contrary “conviction.”
When addressing Sabbath activities, the Church is under no obligation to forego eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath (as discussed above), only because one member would have a problem of conscience with such activity. A big problem ensues if the Church decides to meet in a restaurant for the Night to Be Much Observed (which always falls on an annual Sabbath—the First Day of Unleavened Bread). In that case, the member will have to make a decision as to whether to follow the Church’s directive or his or her own conscience. Again, in this case, the member would need to carefully evaluate whether his or her “conscience” is in accordance with Scriptural injunctions and teachings (which it would not be); and whether he or she might become guilty of causing division by his or her disagreement.
Some new members, especially because of their religious background, might reject dancing or playing cards, chess or video games. Again, it would be important for the members to review their conscience (since it is based on erroneous thinking, as the Bible does not prohibit such activities), but it most certainly would not be the duty of the Church to cancel a dance activity or a fun and game night because of the “conscience” of that particular member. But until the member comes to see that his or her objections are wrong, it would be best for him or her not to attend such a function, so that he or she would not become offended or induced to participate in such activities in violation of his or her conscience.
Especially when addressing music or movies, the scale of potential “offenses” could be huge. Some might only watch movies which are rated G, and some have refused watching cartoons in which animals “speak.” These “convictions” can never be the basis for other members as to what to watch or not to watch; nor for the Church to decide as to what movies to watch or show during a social Church gathering. They must not serve as the basis for only watching or showing those movies with which no member would have any problem. It is safe to say that with such an approach, NO movie could ever be watched at all. This would support the idea by some not to watch any movies or any TV, but again, this is not a biblical approach. Rather, it would be an unbalanced approach. It is also somewhat amusing to observe the fact that some of those who object to going to movies, theaters or watching TV might spend hours on the Internet, surfing for all kinds of programs.
What was stated in our last Q&A on appropriate and inappropriate music equally applies to the kind of appropriate and inappropriate movies which we might or might not want to watch; and the principles regarding offending others, which were discussed in the context of music, are equally applicable to movies or TV shows. Our individual taste is quite different, and some might not want to watch any science fiction movies (including Star Trek or Star Wars), but they must never become judgmental and condemnatory against those of their brethren who enjoy watching those. For instance, the Church of God has long ago shown interesting and remarkable parallels between the Star Wars movies and personages and events described in the Old Testament. Some movies with biblical themes might be problematic for some, especially if they picture Jesus Christ. The key is to be convinced in our own minds (Romans 14:5), and not to condemn others for their conclusions which might be different from ours, and which are not contrary to biblical principles.
We read in Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” In this particular case, the issue was fasting. Some felt that they had to fast on a particular day, while others did not agree with that concept. Paul says: “He who observes the day [of fasting], observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the day [of fasting], to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks, and he who does not eat [but fasts], to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks” (Romans 14:6).
It is also critical to note the context of Galatians 6:1, which says that those who are spiritual are to restore a brother (or sister) who is overtaken by a trespass. This could be misunderstood to mean that our conclusions as to what movies to watch; what music to listen to; what food to eat; what hobbies to pursue; what games to play; and many other activities must be imposed on others, as they are “overtaken” by a trespass because they do not share our taste, opinion or conclusion. However, as should be seen from the forgoing, such an approach would be erroneous.
Listening to a particular piece of music; watching a particular movie; playing a particular game or engaging in a particular social activity might not at all constitute a “trespass.” But even if it did, we need to consider whether WE are qualified to “restore” our brother (or sister). Christ warns us to first look at ourselves, and Paul echoes this by demanding that we must be “spiritual” if we want to help someone. We cannot help a brother or a sister by removing a speck from their eye when there is a plank in our own eye. Christ said very clearly, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Any attempt of a correcting member to “restore” a brother or sister would certainly not be effective, if he or she has to deal with similar problems. A person who smokes will not be a good helper for those who try to overcome smoking. A person who votes in governmental elections is not the best counselor for those who are faced with jury duty or military conscription. A person who is divorced without biblical reason and who is remarried will not be most helpful for those who are contemplating divorce.
At the same time, the plank in our eye might be a self-righteous and pharisaical attitude towards what constitutes proper conduct, while the speck in our brother’s or sister’s eye might perhaps be – comparatively speaking — a less serious “offense.” Once our plank is removed, we might see much clearer the speck of our brother or sister and realize what our right and proper conduct should be. In most cases, such proper conduct, if there is a need for “restoration,” should be left to the ministry to deal with—including in areas of proper or improper movies, music, games or hobbies. The ministry will look at the entire picture to determine what action, if any, should be recommended or taken—including facts and circumstances not known by members who might be “eager” to help.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link