CHRISTIAN’S CONDUCT IN THINGS INDIFFERENT.
The admonition which St. Paul gave to the weak in faith in the congregation at Rome as well as to their stronger brethren is the most complete instruction which we have as to the use of things indifferent, such as are in themselves harmless, but may under circumstances become sin. For this was the point of distinction between the strong and weak in the congregation, that the former made use of their Christian liberty and believed that all the gifts of God could be enjoyed, while the latter were in doubt concerning the eating of meat and the drinking of wine, and were always battling with a bad conscience.
Now it is very true that the things indifferent lie in neutral territory; they are neither commanded nor prohibited. But from this it does not follow that a Christian in his dealing with these matters leaves his Christian status and assumes a neutral position. A Christian serves the Lord and is the Lord’s even when he eats and drinks and sleeps; he lives to the Lord and dies to the Lord, and his sanctification embraces his whole life. So long as things indifferent concern the individual Christian only, he has the right to act as he sees fit and right. He must, of course, be fully persuaded in his own mind that he is serving the Lord in the form of action which he chooses.
A difference with regard to things indifferent has no effect upon the relation of believers to Christ, nor should it have any influence upon brotherly affection and mutual understanding. Uniformity in things indifferent is not essential for the unity of the Church. And since the apostle seeks to preserve peace in the congregation at Rome, he admonishes both parties to regard each other as brothers in spite of this difference; he warns them against carping criticism and condemnation. And the same admonition and warning is in order today in all cases where there is an evident disagreement in matters concerning which the Lord has not fixed a rule. The proper procedure in such a case is to respect the opinion of the other. For matters of this nature should not interfere with the peace of the Church, if only the Christians are agreed in matters of faith and of obedience to the Word of God, and thus live with one another in peace and love. Criticism is justified and should be applied only in case some brother teaches or lives otherwise than the Word of God teaches. To keep the peace in such a case would mean open opposition to, and denial of, the command of God. But where a matter is left undecided in the Word of God, there differences of opinion are justified, and every one must stand or fall unto his own Lord. Of course, the brother that is troubled with an erring conscience may be instructed with all patience, in order to take his foolish scruples from him; but if he cannot be convinced, he must finally be permitted to continue in his ideas. Under circumstances, things indifferent will remain things indifferent for an indefinite period.
But under other circumstances a matter indifferent may cease to belong in this category. If a Christian is bothered with scruples of conscience concerning the use of a certain thing whose use is neither commanded nor prohibited by God, if he believes that indulgence in this matter will not serve his spiritual life and his soul’s salvation, then the use of such a thing while his conscience is in a state of doubt is to him a sin. And if another Christian, whose conscience is stronger and freer, uses his Christian liberty in such a way as to forget all consideration for his weaker brother, doing something which is not in itself wrong, but which offends his weaker brother, then he sins in setting aside charity. At the same time it is altogether right and proper, under circumstances even demanded, that we insist upon our Christian liberty over against such people as, in spite of better knowledge, endeavor to bind our consciences with the fetters of the Law. It is self-evident, also, that Christians will always examine whether the matter in question is really a matter of indifference before the holy God. lest sinful joys and practices be placed upon the free list. 21)