Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems the idea of what is acceptable to Christian standards is quickly become that which is least offensive to anyone. You can do this – you might offend someone. You can’t do that – you might offend someone else. It seems that many people want us to live in virtual bubbles where we cannot even remotely do anything that might offend someone else.

And the justification for telling people to stop their offensive behavior? The ol’ “Stumbling Block Defense.” Oh, c’mon – you know that defense. It’s a variant of the “God-Card” – using your faith to shut someone down and to refuse to engage in dialogue. It’s His way or you’re wrong.

The Stumbling Block Defense goes something like this:

I don’t like what you’re doing.
            It offends my sensibilities & my understanding of what is appropriate for Christians.
                        Your doing this is making me think things I don’t want.
                                    You’re making me stumble & the Bible says not to do that.
                                                Thus, you need to stop NOW and yield to my way.

You see how it progresses? The Bible passage the Defensive Coordinators use is 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, where the Apostle Paul talks about being careful not to let your own Christian liberty and freedom cause someone else (who doesn’t share your liberty) to sin.

A blogger and new dad that I follow ran into this issue on the subject of breastfeeding in public. (he’s a very talented cartoonist and uses his art to make poignant commentary on current issues, specifically connected to faith – you can find his post here).

So the argument in which he found himself someone asked about how Christians should respond if breastfeeding caused another Christian to “stumble” – shouldn’t the Christian cease and desist according to the Stumbling Block Defense?

No.

Let’s actually look at what the Apostle Paul said:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

Paul is dealing with Christians in a Pagan world in which meat was sacrificed to Pagan gods and then sold in the market. Some Christians considered consuming this meat to be sinful and idolatrous. Others had no problem with it. Paul is saying that, if those who have no problem continue to eat and invite those with issues to eat with them, those with issues might be eating against their conscience. THAT is what it means to cause someone to stumble – when your actions invite someone else to participate in behavior they consider to be sinful.

For example, if someone legitimately considers consuming alcohol to be sinful (it’s not, but let’s pretend for the sake of argument) and I throw a shindig and only serve alcoholic drinks and pressure this person to drink against his conscience, then I have caused him to stumble. Pretty crappy way to treat people, huh? It’s a total lack of respect for others. Paul says, “DON’T DO THAT!”

Paul never says that we have to kowtow to every whim of every Christian we run across. We will differ on what is or is not appropriate. It does not make it a sin issue to disagree. It is not a stumbling block issue to continue to do something others might find distasteful.

Back to the breastfeeding example for the blogger I mentioned: I don’t know anyone who says breastfeeding is a sin. Even if it were a sin, a woman breastfeeding will not cause me to start breastfeeding – I struggle with my boobs, but that’s a personal weight issue and I’m working on it 😉 It’s not a sin issue. Trying to get someone to conform to my idea of acceptable when it is not a sin issue is not cool. You see how using the Stumbling Block Defense is an inappropriate use of the Bible to manipulate behavior in others?

It is inappropriate for Christians to be throwing around the Stumbling Block Defense every time there is a disagreement about what is proper or improper, acceptable or unacceptable. It’s okay for Christians to disagree with each other. We can have different viewpoints and still be brothers and sisters.

What I would really like to see is for us to stop throwing God into the mix to get people to behave the way we want them to behave. When God speaks, we do. When God is silent, we need to allow for our fellow believers to act freely in their own conscience before God, whether we’re talking about public breastfeeding, alcohol, or even eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols.