If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
The early Christian church
was presented with a number of issues early on in its existence. Many of these issues came from the fact that most from the early church came out of a Jewish background and brought with them many of the traditions of Judaism including such things as circumcision
and the dietary laws. Whether or not to hold to these traditions is a subject that is addressed on a number of occasions with in the Epistles
of the New Testament
particularly those written by the apostle Paul
. From one of these passages, Romans 14
, we get a teaching that is often referred to by as the teaching of the weaker brother.
Paul teaches in the letter to the Galatians that Christians are no longer under the Law which was set forth by God in through Moses and which is the basis of the Jewish faith. He culminates this concept in Galatians 5:1 where he states:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
This teaching tells Christians that such things as the dietary law and other issues that were required of the Jews no longer applied under the covenant established though Christ. No animal or food was considered unclean and therefore was permissible to be eaten. Similarly, while the Jews were prohibited from eating meat that had been sacrificed to pagan idols, Christians were not under the same restriction. This however caused issues within the early church as there were those who still held to the Jewish tradition and believed that believers who ate the meat sacrificed to idols were unclean and had sinned.
This conflict was addressed by Paul in chapter 14 of Romans. Here he explains that while it was permissible for Christians to eat this food because of the liberty they had through Christ, that they were to refrain if it was going to cause a believer who was not as strong in their faith to doubt or to stumble in their faith. Effectively, Paul answers the question stated by Cain many years before "Am I my brother's keeper?" with a resounding "yes."
The issue comes down to present day Christians in many forms and fashions. Traditions involving music, language, worship styles, translations of the Bible, and styles of dress all can become the source of conflict between believers. Often times these conflicts can become heated especially when both sides believe that they are correct. Such "church" issues are often solved easily by the application of the principle of the weaker brother, wherein the more mature Christians willing deny themselves that they are at liberty to do in Christ rather than cause conflict with a brother.
In my own life, I choose not to drink alcohol for just this reason. I am part of a denomination that has a strong historical teaching that any use of alcohol is sinful though that is not the teaching of Scripture. Although Scripture teaches that I have the freedom in Christ to drink, since I hold a leadership position in the church and might cause one of my brothers to stumble should I be viewed drinking, I choose to abstain rather than chance that situation arising.