“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”– WCF 20.2
I have found these words of the Westminster Confession of Faith of particular wisdom and comfort recently, as well as a growing understanding and appreciation for Romans 14. (ie: It’s not only about food and drink. It’s about manmade rules and regulations being passed off as authoritative universal imperatives, and being used as spiritual battering rams.)
Charles Hodge summarizes this passage about Christian liberty and unbiblical conscience binding like this, “Since Christian love, the example of Christ, the comparative insignificance of the matters in dispute, the honor of the truth, the nature of real religion, all conspire to urge us to mutual forbearance, let us endeavor to promote peace and mutual edification.” In other words, where scripture is silent and there is no “divine warrant” given, let’s not let our own personal convictions about how to apply scripture to a certain area of our lives become a new law with which we bludgeon those who might know the joy of Christian liberty.
Even Christ himself does not bludgeon us with our inability to keep all of the actual commandments, but rather graciously stooped down, kept them on our behalf, received all of the blows for our failure to do so, and now joyfully and unashamedly rejoices to call us brothers. If he is this gracious with us who have willfully broken his actual good and holy laws, ought we not be gracious with those who trespass merely our own personal convictions and interpretations that don’t bear the weight of scripture?
If we lay additional burdens upon our brothers and sisters that Christ died to alleviate (Galatians 5:1), we are in very real danger of making one another stumble, particularly those who are young or immature in their faith. (Matt. 18:5-6) These warnings are especially incumbent upon church leaders. Quickly admonishing a brother without reference to solid Biblical teaching is indicative of legalism that can quickly translate into injustice.
While I don’t agree with everything in his treatment of this topic, I agree with this statement made by Brian Schwertley, “Further, it is quite common today to see conservative Presbyterian sessions, presbyteries and synods base disciplinary decisions upon pragmatism instead of biblical justice. In other words, men will base their decision not directly on biblical principles but upon what they think will be best for the church. Thus, people are denied biblical justice in the name of peace…”
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1