Chapter Thirteen ---------------------------------------- Feedback Box:
"Don't Use Doctrines for Sword Fights, Romans 14"
Romans 14 warns us not to pass off church doctrines as if they were requirements of salvation, which is especially cruel to "those weak in the faith". Bible discussion is supposed to be edifying, not faith-destroying. Doctrines are supposed to be administered like medicine, not guns. We need to defer to the sincerely held doctrines of others when our own efforts to persuade them fail to make any defect in their doctrines clear.
Introduction to Romans 14 Paraphrase
The following is a Paraphrase/Summary/Application of Romans 14. Every word of this "application" is as precise as I know how to make it. It is based not on the Greek text alone, but incorporates ideas from the context [the rest of the Bible], and these principles are applied to issues of today.
The verses seem to go back and forth between two themes, and sometimes it is hard to be sure which theme is meant, or whether both are meant: (1) the Kingdom of God isn't reached by external rituals like eating certain foods or worshipping certain days, but by an inner walk of love, commitment to God, and thanksgiving. (2) We are judged by what we do with what we know; not by whether we agree with doctrines of which we are not yet fully persuaded.
Issues today include (1) the division of the Body of Christ into endless denominations which break off all communication with one another, contrary to Scripture; this chapter urges Christians to stop dividing themselves over trifles; (2) the perversion of the Body of Christ by such blatant sins as sodomy, fornication and abortion. This chapter indicates that even these worst of sins do not necessarily take people to Hell, when people are sincerely confused about what crimes they are; however, it is still the Ezekiel 3:18-20 duty of those who know better to warn the rest, and after they "know better", persistence in such sins constitutes conscious rebellion against God, which indeed takes people to Hell!
1. If your brother's theology is sick compared with your own Pearls of Perfection, heal it through your fellowship! Don't stomp his faith in the dust by refusing to associate with such a hell-bound heretic as himself because he doesn't agree with you! Don't tell him "if you don't agree with me, reliance on Jesus won't save you!"
2-3 Even if the doctrines that divide you are the major issues that divide world religions, don't regard your doctrinal opponents as inferior to you, and don't drive them away. 4 It is their relationship with Jesus, not you, that determines whether they will be saved.
5 I'm not saying you should be glad that you can't even agree on which day to worship! Or that if someone tells you they are persuaded that they were born to be a Sodomite! I'm not saying you need to "tolerate diversity" to the extent that extreme disunity should be your highest vision! I'm not saying that if your brother sincerely believes a terrible sin is good to live in, that you are relieved of your Ezekiel 3:18-20 duty to persuade him of the danger he faces. But you have to explain his error clearly enough that he is persuaded. If he agrees with you before he is persuaded that you agree with God, then you lead him in rebellion against God! God holds each of you, individually, responsible to determine His Will. You are not responsible for what your brother does with what he knows. So be less concerned with whether your brother agrees with a doctrine, than with how well he understands it, and with how committed he is to love and obey God with all his heart, mind, and soul. Matthew 22:39.
6 You should study, obey God, and thank God in the same spirit: to please, and agree with, God; not men. If your heart is committed to God, then you can thank God that even when you fail to win the agreement of men, God sees your heart.
7 One doesn't dedicate one's life to Christ out of selfishness, and certainly nobody is going to give up his life out of selfishness! 8 We live for the Lord, and we face death for the Lord; so whether the future brings life or death, we belong to the Lord. 9 That's why Jesus died, rose, and ascended, so that we might belong to Him, while we live and after we die.
10 How dare we judge any Brother in Christ for his doctrines! How dare we minimize his contribution to the Church! We who ourselves will stand before Him who prayed that we might be as One as He is with our Father! 11 It is He whom we shall all worship. 12 It is He to whom we must answer.
13 Let there be no more judgment of Brothers for their doctrines! From now on, let's use our judgment to make sure we don't impede anybody's relationship with God.
14 I, (you know, Paul, the guy who wrote half the books of the New Testament, the guy who wrote most of the verses that are the basis of your 20th century doctrines,) KNOW, ever since this old letter-of-the-law Pharisee had it proved to me by Jesus, that there is no doctrine which can take anybody to Hell all by itself, no matter how wrong it is. It is when your brother still clings to an incorrect doctrine (or practice) even after he knows better, that his error will destroy him.
15 But be reasonable. Don't flaunt your differences just to shock your brothers for whom Christ died! That isn't a life lived in love. 16 Don't go out of your way to provoke your brothers to hate your theological pearls.
17 For the Kingdom of God isn't honoring the right day, or eating the right food, or saying the right words, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 It is in the service of these things that a man is accepted by God and man.
19 A Bible Discussion isn't supposed to be a war. It's supposed to be an atmosphere of peace and love where we help each other grow up. 20 Don't divide [Gr: "dissolve, disunite"] God's Church into estranged denominations over what to eat, or how to baptize, or when to worship, or how loud to shout, or which Rapture Calendar to use, or whether God still heals.
What takes people to hell isn't bad doctrines, but interference with God's relationship with others. 21 You would be better off starving to death, and sewing your mouth shut, and worshipping on Tuesday, and not being raptured at all, than to do or say anything that will make your brother trip, or doubt God, or weaken.
22 You say you have faith? God's blessings? A comfortable relationship with God that lets you live in liberty, with a clear conscience? Clutch them to your breast in the presence of God! It is a blessing to not feel guilty over what you do.
23 But if your doctrines make you feel guilty for doing certain things, don't do them! Because if you believe doing a thing is disobedience to God, and you do it, then it has become your intent to rebel against God!
Balancing the Romans 14 Principles: a few reflections
Don't judge your brother about meat or sabbaths. Does that mean don't open the Scriptures to him? Don't preach the Gospel? No! Let every man be persuaded in his own mind. Does that mean I have the right to my own theology, undisturbed by evidence urged upon me by others? No! How can any man be persuaded without persuasive evidence? The process of persuasion is not to end! These verses do not support the man who says "I have a right to my own beliefs" in order to shut up a challenge to them. However, it may be legitimate to silence a challenge consisting of pure judgment and lacking in clear, persuasive reasoning. But let us not be so thin-skinned, so protective of our own theological pride, that we resist every challenge as "judgmental". Let us be willing to suffer even a judgmental spirit, if there is any indication at all that there may be new evidence there, gold buried beneath the dross.
To him who knoweth to do a thing and doeth it not, it is sin. This is the crime before God: not to worship on Tuesday or to do any other thing in violation of God's key Laws, in ignorance: but to violate even the least of God's laws deliberately, knowingly. This is what condemns the man who shuts up challenges with "I have a right to my own beliefs". A man may indeed be saved who disobeys God's laws in ignorance, holding to the wrong path, but sincerely. But if he shuts his ears to challenge, he can no longer say he is sincere. He knows better. He knows there is something deficient in his beliefs, or he would not fear a challenge. If a man sincerely believes his theology is the purest of which he is capable, he will be confident that it will survive a challenge, so that he will have no fear of facing one. If he desires the truth even more than to vindicate himself, then he will not even fear a successful challenge to his theology, but will be grateful for it.
But the man who shuts his ears to preaching that challenges his theology is not sincere. In fact, when he continues to promote his own teaching, knowing full well there are challenges to his conclusions which he has not bothered to address, then he is not merely insincere in holding his beliefs; he is insincere in preaching them. He is, to be blunt, a liar. He is one of the "deceivers" described in 1 John.
Application: These conclusions do not require of us a dramatic change in our study of theology. They do require a dramatic change in our dealings with other Christians. These conclusions condemn us if we look at a brother caught in error (such as the member of a denomination based on error) and we simply judge him, without bothering to persuade him. We judge him because he doesn't agree with us, but nowhere does the Bible say God judges anybody because they don't agree with Him! God judges the heart, says the Bible. Of course those who disagree with us cannot agree with us, before hearing what we have learned! If we do not personally try to reason with him, how do we know he has ever heard what we have learned? Rather, God judges us for the principle of Ezekiel 3:18-20: if we do not warn our brother, then God will hold us responsible for his sin!
Thus Romans 14 does not promote relativism! It does not tell us to stop preaching. It does not relieve us of the duty to correct theological error in our brothers. But the opposite! Combined with Ezekiel 3:20, we are warned that if we are negligent in preaching to our brothers (which always invites some degree of persecution, remember, because people in general resist challenges to their theology) then those judgements we so easily heap upon our ignorant brothers are, in fact, thrown back upon us by God!
It is only our judgments of others which we need to restrain. That is, we may surely, freely, judge the theologies of others and firmly conclude the need to challenge error (while diligently remaining open to challenges to our own). But we may not judge the hearts of those to whom we have not yet preached! Yes, we may judge hearts after we have preached to them; if we see stubborn stopping of ears to evidence, we may avoid this person as a "deceiver". But if our best arguments fail to persuade, we urgently need enough humility to recognize when the failure is the persuasiveness of our own arguments rather than his stubborness. When he raises objections which seem crazy to us but we can't think of a clear way to refute the premises from which they proceed, then we need to put our energy into prayer for wisdom; not into separating from him because he won't agree with us, which only brings his judgment upon our own heads.
ROMANS 14, VERSE BY VERSE:
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, [but] not to doubtful disputations. (NIV: Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.)
Question: what do you think "doubtful disputations" are, and why do you think Paul didn't like them?
The NIV thinks Paul is talking about "disputable matters". In other words, matters that can't clearly be resolved. If this were Paul's meaning, we would have to wonder, if Paul were concerned how we should resolve the difficult issues of what meat to eat and which days to honor, why Paul didn't simply TELL us? Were these issues over Paul's head too? If so, why did he tell us, in verse 5, to study these issues and become fully persuaded what we believe, if he didn't know what he believed either? But if he did know what he believed, and was concerned that these issues not divide us, why didn't he simply tell us the truth?
The only possible answer is that Paul didn't care that much what meat to eat or what days to worship. It is not that they are "disputable", but they are immaterial. Or literally, they are material, physical, external customs, while it is the inner life that matters, v. 17.
Paul was talking to people under a lot of outside pressure. The Jews were very passionate about resting on Saturday and eating only Kosher meats, while everybody else rested only on pagan holidays scattered throughout the year, but there was no day of rest each week: neither Saturday nor Sunday. And everybody else ate all kinds of meat, from live monkey brains to "blood pudding", and much of it "blessed" by pagan sorcerers.
"Doubtful disputations", says the KJV. "Doubtful" comes from the Greek word, dialogismos, which is similar to our word "dialogue". It means:
"the thinking of a man deliberating with himself, inward reasoning, a deliberating, questioning about what is true, hesitation, doubting, disputing, arguing"
"Disputations" comes from the Greek word, diakrisis, which means "a distinguishing, discerning, judging".
What's so bad about that? Why wouldn't Paul want to invite people to a church where there is reflective discernment? Where people raise questions and search for answers?
Because it is being dumped on those "weak in the faith". We can help newcomers to God's Word find answers to their questions. But we can quickly overwhelm them by pointing out to them theological "problems" which they never had thought of questioning -- theological "puzzles" whose solutions are more complicated than they can put together. We can leave them disoriented, confused, intimidated, even betrayed by too many controversies which make them feel "it is too hard for any man to know the truth because even Bible scholars years ahead of me disagree!"
But the point of this chapter is a degree of "raising questions" which is more insidious than raising abstract questions which don't hurt anybody. The questions this chapter warns us not to raise, with those weak in faith, are about whether they are fulfilling all the "requirements" of salvation.
We know "judgment" and lack of respect is the focus of this chapter from verse 3. "For God hath received him", stated as if it counters the "judging" of the previous phrase, indicates the "judging" then is like "judging" today, where adherents of competing doctrines are judged not to be accepted by God.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. (NIV: One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.)
Question: is verse 2 saying people with self-discipline are "weak in faith" and people who do whatever they please are "strong in faith"?
Verse 1 protects those "weak in the faith". Verse 2 defines "weak in the faith" as those who restrict God's blessings upon themselves. Verse 3 orders those not weak in the faith not to attack those "weak in the faith" by "judging" them.
Those not weak are told God has "received" those they were planning to attack. Why are they told this? Had the "strong" thought God had not received the "weak"? In other words, had the "strong" thought the "weak" were not saved? Or to put it another way, had the "strong" thought the "weak" had not met all the "requirements" of salvation?
Apparently so. After all, it is the restrictions imposed by the "weak" upon themselves for which the "strong" "judge" them, which is another way of saying the "strong" think it is a requirement of salvation that the "weak" should have "enough faith" to impose no restrictions upon themselves.
From the tenor of Paul's attitude towards the "strong", we know Paul did not mean, by "strong in faith", the sort of "hero of faith" chronicled in Hebrews 11. The context indicates "bold" might better express Paul's meaning. Or even "daring", "brazen", "forward", or "presumptious". And "weak in faith", according to the context, might be better rendered "cautious", "careful", or "timid".
PAUL NEVER SAID THEY WERE "STRONG IN THE FAITH"! I TRICKED YOU!
"Weak" is a translation of a Greek word meaning "weak, sick, feeble". So Paul really is portraying someone who restricts himself as having less than a vibrant, powerful faith. But notice Paul never describes the low-lifes who judge these unfortunates as being "strong in the faith". They are not! The word "strong" doesn't appear in this chapter at all. And when the word next appears, in 15:1, Paul says anyone who is indeed "strong" will use his strength to bear the burdens of the weak, not add to them.
It is ironic that many denominations consider it very important that Christians know for certain that they are saved, and yet they raise grave questions how other professing Christians can possibly be saved who do not follow certain intellectual formulas.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
Question: But isn't meat eating, and restrictions thereof, a major controversy between world religions?
I thought vegetarianism vs. meat eating was an important theological issue! The difference is as great as the difference between Hinduism and Christianity, I thought. It was certainly important to the people of that time! Why did Paul minimize the importance of this issue?
On the one hand, you have Hindus and Buddhists from the East who eat no meat whatsoever. Then you have ordinary pagan Barbarians who eat everything from half-hatched eggs to stewed sex organs. ("Mountain Oysters", we call the latter.) Besides the selection of meat itself, there is the issue of their dedication to pagan gods. Then there are the Jews, who distinguish between safe and less safe meats. And of course they would not socialize with pagans, who eat dirty meat.
Was there a more divisive religious issue? It is divisive to this day. Hindus, other Eastern religions, and many New Agers are quite adamant that meat eating is some sort of crime. Nay, but the worst of crimes: murder itself! They attribute as much sentience to animals as they do to man, (or is it: as little sentience to man as they do to animals?) so that they equate eating meat with murder and cannibalism! We even have our very own FOOL group: (Federation Of Organized Liberals) PETA. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; their critics wear shirts saying "People for the Eating of Tasty Animals".)
By contrast, Jesus ate fish on several occasions, and ate Passover meals which included lamb. Moses put the Kosher stamp on a wide enough variety of meats to make anyone quite fat., but Acts 10:15, with Acts 15:20, takes the teeth, the centralized enforcement mechanism, out of even Moses' restrictions (though still encouraging converts from paganism to study Moses for themselves, just as Romans 14:5 urges).
So isn't meat eating a fairly important theological issue, as theological issues go?
God doesn't think so! God receives people on either side of this issue!
Seventh Day Adventists are mostly vegetarians. Some are "clean eaters", eating meats judged clean by Moses. How logical! Acts 15 may say Christians don't have to avoid the meats defined as "unclean" by Moses, but those animals are scavengers and more prone to disease and cholesterol and fat, so aren't Moses' restrictions still good common sense?
Didn't God write the Owner's Manual for our bodies? Don't we put the oil in our cars which is recommended by our Owner's Manuals, even though we know we can "get by" with cheaper substitutes? God is our owner, but He makes us stewards of our bodies, and authorizes us to put in our own oil. But Romans 14 seems to say that if our brother doesn't put in just exactly the recommended oil, God will drive him anyway.
Paul never says we can't even talk to each other about church doctrines ("oil", in this analogy) or study the Scriptures together to learn as accurately as we can how God would have us live. But as we meet to discuss theology, there are at least four things Paul says we must never do:
1. We must never "despise" [Gr: "to make of no account; to despise utterly"] others with apparently inferior church doctrines.
2. We must never split churches, or allow split churches to remain split, over conflicting church doctrines. (The Greek word which KJV translates "judge" is Krino, whose first definition is "to separate, put asunder, to pick out, select, choose".)
3. We must never excommunicate anybody because we don't agree with their doctrines. (One of the definitions of "krino" is "to pronounce judgment, to subject to censure".)
Romans 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. (NIV: Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.)
Other passages tell us to discern who has the Spirit of Christ, [see the section "How, then, do we discern?"] for such constitute our fellow "church members". But this verse says we literally have no business judging Christians by the positions they take on theological controversies! Why not?! Don't we discern whether people have the Spirit of Christ by their positions on theological controversies?! APPARENTLY NOT!
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth [it] unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard [it]. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. (NIV: One man considers one day more sacred than anothyer; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so th the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.)
Now this is a pretty major difference of theological opinion! Is Paul saying you can have Saturday worshippers and Sunday worshippers in the same church?! APPARENTLY SO! Apparently God will accept worship on any day anyone is willing to come together to give it!
That degree of diversity presents some major practical challenges, and yet Paul orders us to meet them!
(Some Sabbath keepers -- "Sabbatarians" -- insist the difference of opinion among the Romans was not quite so grave as some worshipping on Saturday and some on Sunday, but it was "merely" that some observed Moses' feast days and others didn't. Sabbatarians reason that in those days, everybody worshipped on the Sabbath, so it couldn't have occurred to anybody to take a position against Sabbath worship; there was controversy only about the remainder of Moses' special days.
(I am skeptical of this historical argument. The 1958 World Book Encyclopedia says, under "Sunday", "The early Christians lived hard lives, and had to work on Sunday as well as the other days of the week...Bu the AD 300's, both the church and the state officially recognized the day as a day of rest in Europe."
(But even if there was no thought, in Paul's time, of not worshipping on the Sabbath, the plain language of Paul's ruling on the matter applies even to the Sabbath/Sunday controversy. But the greater point of this verse is that even very heated controversies are ultimately to be decided by individual conscience; certainly fit subjects for Bible Discussion, but not grounds for excommunication or division or having another denomination.)
Paul fellowships with those who "esteemeth every day alike". Doesn't that include those who believe the Sabbath is just like every other day?!
Romans 14:7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. (NIV: For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.)
The conjunction "for", v. 7, which means "because", tells us that verses 7-9 are Paul's reasoning for what he says before: that we are not to separate from each other over controversies. But how do verses 7-9 explain that? In fact, what do verses 7-9 even have to do with the preceding verses? In fact, what do verses 7-9 even mean?
What does "none of us liveth to himself" mean? Somehow "himself" is made the recipient of the action of the verb "liveth" ("lives"). Perhaps Paul means
7 One doesn't dedicate one's life to Christ out of selfishness, and certainly nobody is going to give up his life out of selfishness! 8 We live for the Lord, and we face death for the Lord; so whether the future brings life or death, we belong to the Lord. 9 That's why Jesus died, rose, and ascended, so that we might belong to Him, while we live and after we die.
In other words, the "weak" brother is living for Jesus, not us. Jesus died and rose for them, and is their Lord, not us. So Jesus is the one to give them their orders, not us.
(Technical Greek note which doesn't affect our translation: There is not a separate Greek word corresponding to "to" in the phrase "none of us liveth to himself". Rather, the pronoun "himself" is, in the Greek, given a word ending, called the "Dative Case", which gives it the same meaning as if we put "to" in front of "himself". The same approach is taken with the phrase "unto the Lord" a bit later.)
Romans 14:10 But why dost thou judge [Gr. same as above; "to pronounce judgment, to subject to censure"] thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought [Gr exoutheneo: "to make of no account; despise utterly"] thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, [As] I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: .... (NIV: You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "'As surely as I live', says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another....)
Does this mean denominations we "don't agree with" place their members at no disadvantage, compared with the superior theology of our own denomination, before God? Does this mean that when we find ourselves among professing Christians we "don't agree with", that we shouldn't "go out from among them" after all? Does this mean we should actually respect professing Christians even when we "don't agree with" them?
More ominous: do these verses tell us to leave Sodomite churches alone? What about the abortionist who wants to join church and be a deacon so he can distribute communion? Well, no, we aren't asked to leave anyone alone. We aren't asked to stop correcting error. We aren't asked to stop "calling a spade a spade", which requires discerning what it actually is.
We are told that preaching is our job, and judging is God's job.
"Are you saying these verses rule out excommunication?! If we can't pass judgment for doctrinal heresy, or even sexual perversion, then what is left?"
Hmmm. Obviously excommunication is provided for in Scripture, so any interpretation of Romans 14 which rules it out must be suspect. But the excommunication process of Matthew 18:15-17 seems more concerned with relationships than with heresies.
Hmmm. Come to think of it, I can only think of three specific examples of excommunication in the entire New Testament. Out of the thousands of lives described there, three isn't very many, is it? Maybe God meant for excommunication to be rare.
First there was Judas. And yet even so grave a crime as his was only censured posthumously. The apostles selected Stephen to replace him, Acts 1:15-20. Then there were Ananias and Sapphira. They lied and died, Acts 5:1-11. Then there was the Corinthian who fornicated with his mother, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. That was it, wasn't it? Are any other specific examples given in the New Testament?
In all three of these cases, the gravity of the sin was obvious to the sinner.
Judas didn't need a church board to vote and tell him that he had sinned! It was so obvious to him that he couldn't live with himself any longer!
Ananias and Sapphira were the same way. Their hearts were already racing with such fear of discovery of so blasphemous a crime as theirs, that when they saw they had been discovered, their hearts literally failed them.
Then there was the Corinthian, whose crime was so scandalous that even Barbarians were embarrassed, 1 Cor 5:1.
By contrast, the scenarios given in Romans 14 are theological differences of opinion where the errors are not at all obvious to those who err. Rather, they are "honest differences of opinion". They may be wrong but they are "sincerely wrong".
THE SINCERITY DEFENSE
Does sincerity count, after all? We tell each other, "those churches may be sincere, but they are sincerely wrong and will burn in hell just as if they were insincerely wrong." Is that not true? Does God want excommunication only after sin has been made obvious to a sinner and there still is no repentance? As long as people we "don't agree with" sincerely think they are standing on the solid ground of God's Word, does God expect us to fellowship with them with all the warmth we reserve for those we agree with? Does God accept people who are sincerely wrong, after all?!
We do it just the opposite today. We won't have anything to do with folks we "don't agree with", even if they are Bible-believing, Christ-proclaiming, salvation-claiming professing Christians. Yet if a heathen Sodomite, who works at Planned Parenthood and spends his money on prostitutes at the Casino, is willing to join our church and pay his tithe and verbally affirm that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and embrace the doctrines of our denomination, we will make him an elder!
In other words, today, we warmly embrace backsliders whose sins are obvious to everybody as well as themselves, while we have nothing to do with professing Christians who are sincere in their beliefs but who have failed to agree with us.
We embrace backsliders whose lives do not agree with their doctrines, but we shun saints whose doctrines do not agree with ours.
Let's look at the Corinthian:
1 Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly [that there is] fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, [concerning] him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Notice a very strange thing. Even in this "Top 3" example of world class backsliding, the purpose of excommunication was to benefit the sinner! If possible, to save him! "To deliver...to Satan for the destruction of the flesh". I'm not sure what that means. Could it be that even Ananias and Sapphira were treated the way they were, in the hope of their salvation? Could it be that in their last seconds, Jesus met them and reconciled with them? Or at least was waiting for them, should they have called out to Him during that miraculous moment, reported by people who have brushed death, when "my whole life passed before me"?
I don't mean to confuse you with unanswerable riddles, but my point is that not even the treatment of Ananias and Sapphira excuses us from conducting our excommunications for the benefit of the excommunicated, in each and every case!
Do we ever conduct excommunications in that spirit?! Do we ever stay in touch with those we excommunicate, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to extend again the right hand of reconciliation?!
The Corinthians excommunicated the offender, as 1 Corinthians urged. But they were so slow to forgive the poor man after he repented, that Paul had to write 2 Corinthians. Considering the time it probably took for letters to go back and forth, the poor man must have waited a year for forgiveness. But he was lucky, compared with excommunicants today, who usually wait until they go to Heaven! Where is Paul today, when we need him?
2 Corinthians 2:6 Sufficient to such a man [is] this punishment, which [was inflicted] of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye [ought] rather to forgive [him], and comfort [him], lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm [your] love toward him. 9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. 10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I [forgive] also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave [it], for your sakes [forgave I it] in the person of Christ; 11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
The following passage proves that sincerity counts, after all. It must be a matter of judgment, and a matter of degree, to discern the point at which stubborn resistance to plain truth betrays rejection of God's truths even after they become obvious. But up until the point we can positively determine our brother "knows better", how dare we judge him for ignorance he cannot help? How dare we risk having God judge ourselves by so severe, so unforgiving a standard! Matthew 7:2.
Romans 14:(13) ....but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in [his] brother's way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that [there is] nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him [it is] unclean. (NIV: Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.)
This is really quite an astonishing statement! Especially when the specific examples given, in this chapter, of things which are "unclean", are major theological controversies!! Can it truly be that there is no heresy capable, by itself, of taking its believers to hell, except to the extent that its believers have some awareness that their beliefs aren't right?
Actually the "Sincerity Standard" isn't a new concept.
Romans 8:1 [There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Actually the previous chapter, Romans 7, had addressed the problem that God's Law does a great job of showing us where we are wrong, but then we find we lack the discipline to correct ourselves. Romans 14 is about the problem of sincere misunderstanding of God's Word on theological issues, and the need for us to be patient with one another's sincere errors. But these familiar, reassuring verses from Romans 8 surely protect our ignorant, sincerely wrong brothers as well as our all-knowing, yet still sinful, selves.
Romans 14:15 But if thy brother be grieved [Gr lupeo: "make sorrowful, grieve, offend, cause him a scruple, make uneasy, affect with sadness"] with [thy] meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ [is] acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace,.... (NIV: 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. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is peleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace...)
Does this mean when we know our theology will upset somebody, we are supposed to conceal it?! That is the traditional interpretation of v. 15, and v. 20-21. But that is too easy! That is what we naturally do: hide from critics! We duck when theological tyrants come storming into our beliefs and demand we answer correctly a set of test questions they have prepared!
It is only to our spiritual inferiors that we "fearlessly" proclaim every jot and tittle of our doctrines! We judge their lack of complicity with them, and cry to God in frustration when they are so hard hearted that they stop up their ears to us, and duck the pure Gospel we offer them!
I guess God wants us to back up and do it the opposite. He wants us to go slow and easy with those easily intimidated by our superior mastery of God's Word. Our fearless confrontation must, apparently, be only for the arrogant, the self-confident, the judgmental, hypocritic bigots. The ones with the power to hurt us for our convictions. This was Jesus' example. He confronted the Scribes, Pharisees and Lawyers with seemingly little reserve, but left average people relatively alone.
Romans 14:19 ....and things wherewith one may edify another. (NIV: ...and to mutual edification.)
This standard saves us from extremes in applying the previous phrases. "Edify" means "building up", literally a house, metaphorically promoting another's growth in areas such as Christian wisdom, happiness, piety, and holiness.
We are not to be so timid about our doctrines -- our understanding of God's Word -- that we withhold them from "spiritual juniors" who might benefit from them! Doctrines are not weapons but medicine. We should not club people with them but feed them.
Nor should we use our doctrines offensively, even against today's Pharisees. Jesus didn't. I said that Jesus attacked the Pharisees with "seemingly little reserve". But actually He was very reserved. Jesus hardly ever attacked them except in His own defense. In fact, most of the time the Pharisees attacked Him, and they accused him of heresies for which the penalty was capital punishment; their next step, had Jesus not defended Himself so eloquently, would have been to stone Him, which they actually attempted on a few occasions. (Rome reserved the exclusive right to crucify, John 18:31-32, but Jews could execute by stoning any time they liked.)
In other words, Jesus did not answer them just out of desire to instruct them. Jesus was subpoenaed and ordered to testify in Court! The "courtroom" of the day was the City Gate, or wherever crowds were. That is where the Pharisees brought their charges. Most of the times Jesus criticized the Pharisees, it was under such circumstances, and in his own legal defense.
Not that we should never go on the offensive unless we are in court! Jesus did a few times. John took on Herod. (So did Jesus, Luke 13:31-32.) But our standard should be, "will this edify them?" Sometimes we need to knock the arrogant on their heads to edify them, but other times that will only cause war and no edification. Most of the time patience, gentle clear reasoning, love, and kindness will create the safest opportunity for edification. (Of course, that is most likely the attitude Jesus and John had when they were "on the attack".)
Romans 14:20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed [are] pure; but [it is] evil for that man who eateth with offence. 21 [It is] good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor [any thing] whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 22 Hast thou faith? have [Gr: lay hold of, cling to] [it] to [Gr: towards] thyself before [Gr: in the presence of] God... (NIV: Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God....)
Notice the NIV says "whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God." Obviously if the NIV is right, this whole chapter that I have written is terribly wrong. And yet see how much it seems like the KJV: "Hast thou faith? have [it] to thyself before God."
Compare with my paraphrase: "You say you have faith? God's blessings? A comfortable relationship with God that lets you live in liberty, with a clear conscience? Clutch them to your breast in the presence of God! It is a blessing to not feel guilty over what you do."
The NIV tells us to keep our doctrines to ourselves! I wonder how many churches which use the NIV, and which honor their denomination's doctrines and make them a condition of church fellowship, have noticed this extreme position of the NIV?!
Oh, I forgot: the traditional interpretation of this chapter is that it has nothing to do with doctrines in general, but only tells Christians to not worry about the two specific controversies about what day to worship, and what to eat! But still, virtually every Christian denomination takes a position on what day to worship, and whether we should worry about Moses' laws about uncleanness, and the NIV tells all of those denominations to not say a word about their positions to anybody!
The KJV says "Hast thou faith?" The Greek agrees, using "pistis", which means "faith". The NIV generalizes and turns "faith" into "whatever you believe about these things". Yes, my paraphrase generalizes too; the word "faith" has come, today, to mean affirmation of a few doctrines, while in Bible days it meant many things, including a relationship of trust in God that shaped your life. In the context of this chapter, and especially of the last half of the verse, ("Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth"), the word seems to mean a comfortable relationship with God that allows one to live in liberty with a clear conscience. But it also seems to mean "faith", so I list both.
What allows us to have a clear conscience? The NIV suggests it is our doctrines. "Whatever you believe about these things." If we have doctrines which assure us an action is OK, then when we do them, we won't condemn ourselves. Indeed, a doctrine will assure us regarding a specific action. But what gives us a comfortable relationship with God, in every other situation, is when our hearts are so dedicated to God, offered to God, that when we think of God we think of our love for Him, in response to His love for us despite our worst sins. And we aren't thinking about how great our actions and choices and doctrines are, in response to which God couldn't help but love us! It is an open heart, hiding nothing, imagining nothing, only trusting the love which brought us this far to bring us the rest of the way, (Romans 5:6-10), which sets our conscience free. It is, in a word, Faith.
The other great imposition which the NIV makes upon the Greek in this verse is "have [Gr: lay hold of, cling to] [it] to [Gr: towards] thyself before [Gr: in the presence of] God." The NIV turns this into: "keep between yourself and God". The Greek, and the KJV, are talking about your personal relationship with God. The NIV is talking about keeping secret, from your Christian brothers, what you believe. The NIV cancels Ezekiel 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 3:15.
22 ...Happy [is] he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because [he eateth] not of faith: for whatsoever [is] not of faith is sin. (NIV: ...Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.)
Is this the Sincerety Defense enthroned? It really is. The Sincerity Defense is in disrepute, but the only legitimate criticism of it is that sinners (such as Sodomites and abortionists, or anyone who is just too "busy" to hear "criticism" of "what they have a right to believe") claim the defense, whose own ignorance of the truth is shielded by their own stubborn refusal to face facts. But they have no right to the defense. They aren't sincere at all. But when a belief is truly held sincerely, verse 23 says God honors it! Verse 23 even says that, conversely, when someone does something he sincerely believes is wrong, then he is condemned, even if it isn't otherwise wrong after all!
Yes, the Sincerity Defense is Biblical. We must take it into account as we deal with our brothers.
Before we have a personal right to condemn, ostracize, separate ourselves from, shun, or excommunicate anyone for heresy, we have a personal duty to witness to them until their heresy is obvious to them.
And yet our passion to root out heresy must not become so oppressive to our spiritual juniors that they are afraid to see us coming, and they duck, and avoid our offers to edify them. We must strike the right balance so that we may inspire, and edify, and bring peace.
Romans 14:22 Hast thou faith? have [it] to thyself before God. Happy [is] he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
Before verse 22, Paul has been looking at how we judge others. But now that Paul has offered others protection from us, Paul is able to offer a gift to us: protection of us from ourselves.
Paul had to do it in this order, because we cannot stop judging ourselves until we stop judging others. As Jesus explained,
Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Here again Jesus judges us, for judging others. How, indeed, can we so mercilessly stuff rigorous doctrines down the throats of others which we ourselves are guilty of violating, and yet come with confidence before the Throne of God while in the act of violating them? But Jesus is not judging us for its own sake, but to set us free!
Matthew 6:10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 14 FOR IF YE FORGIVE MEN THEIR TRESPASSES, YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER WILL ALSO FORGIVE YOU: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
The examples Paul gives in Romans 14, of doctrines we are not to judge others for, are doctrines concerning things we physically do. Which day we choose to rest, and what we eat. Anything we try to do, we will try to screw up. Paul wants us to not set standards, for others, regarding what we are allowed to do.
The principle also applies to doctrines which have nothing to do with how we physically behave. Such as whether we believe in the Trinity. According to Vatican estimates, the Roman Catholic Church has slaughtered 68 million Christians for rejecting Catholic doctrines such as the Trinity, as well as doctrines regulating physical actions. We know the slaughtered were Christians, because unbelieving pagans would not die to stand up for a doctrine! They would just go along with it, and pretend. No one would die unless they had an opposing belief worth, in their estimation, dying for. A doctrine, in order to oppose a Catholic doctrine, must be a competing interpretation of Scripture. No one dies to defend an interpretation of Scripture unless they really love Scripture's Author.
The Catholic slaughter of Protestants, and the American persecution by Protestants of other Protestants prior to the American Revolution, when each state had its own state-supported and protected denomination, was a grievous crime according to Romans 14. Not, by this standard, because one or the other position was correct. But because for our own sakes, as we anticipate our own judgment, we need to defer to the sincerely held doctrines of others when our own efforts to persuade them fail to make any defect in their doctrines clear. We need to be as merciful with them as we pray God will be with ourselves. And as merciful as we pray our own consciences will be with ourselves.
Judging others (emotionally; that is, feeling superior to others) is the most terrible burden a human being can carry, in my own personal experience. Throw it off, and feel a freedom of which you have only dreamed!
On January 14, 1999, the Des Moines Register (Iowa) reported that Rev. David Holmes, a former United Methodist pastor but still ordained, will participate with 79 other Methodist pastors in a Lesbian "marriage" in Sacramento, California.
Sodomite "theologians" twist Scriptures mercilessly, resist scrutiny, and then attack the remaining "problem verses" as less than inspired. So the case can be made that their ultimate authority is not Scripture but their own reasoning, so they are not even Christian by definition. However, even such extreme mental contortions are not outside general Christian experience, 1 Corinthians 10:13. Who among us has not at some time held the Word of God at bay with what seemed like the most sensible arguments?
God can and does work even among perverts; even among "lukewarm" Christians who do not yet accept every word of Scripture as inspired by God. Our duty is to discern hearts, for purposes of discerning Membership in the Church Triumphant, not brains. By patience, persuasion, and prayer, we try to heal each other's brains, by the doctrinal self-correcting interaction described in 1 Corinthians 14.
Sodomites have left no stone unturned in their effort to legitimize their behavior. They are even trying to pry up that Stone beneath which men are ground to powder, Luke 20:18, Matthew 21:44. They have hired Bible wizards to make the best case possible, under the circumstances, that sodomy isn't a sin.
They say the sin of Sodom was not that the Sodomites were homosexuals, but that they weren't "hospitable to strangers".
They say subsequent references to "sodomy" should be translated "unfriendliness".
They say the Greek words in the New Testament which specifically refer to homosexuality, in verses which condemn it, really mean something else.
Several church denominations have already bought into this heresy. A few even ordain Sodomites! So much literature has been published along this line that there probably really are Sodomites today who sincerely believe God's Word does not condemn their behavior.
So what would we do, if we had a New Testament church meeting, and a Sodomite couple waltzed in, in a wardrobe ordered from Hell, and they insisted they were deeply committed Christians, and when we questioned how such a thing could be possible they started justifying themselves from Scripture? What if they expected all the benefits of fellowship as members of the Church of Yourcity, since they had the Spirit of Christ, which their life of sodomy did not disprove?
Paul faced a similar problem with the Corinthians. One of their upstanding members was a man who was fornicating with his mother! Romans 14 tells us to have some latitude in judging our brothers. They are Christ's servants, not ours, Romans 14 tells us. That applied even to such intense controversies as which day to worship, and what kind of meat to eat, if any. But it sure didn't apply to fornicating with your mother!
We can't even argue that sodomy is a more serious crime than Sabbath-breaking. God's judgment for Sabbath-breaking was stoning to death, too, Numbers 15:32-36.
Obviously, not everyone who makes a public, self-righteous stand for perversion is sincere before God. These, we must approach, to the extent of our resources, and try to reconcile. We need always to publicly censure a publicly proclaimed perversion. When we discern that such a pervert is actually sincere, we can state publicly that his position is perverse, but his heart may be sincere. When we discern that such a pervert is not sincere, we can state publicly that he is not only wrong but he knows he is wrong, and we pray for his soul, which appears on the path to Hell.
Let our words and deeds be in love. Let us save the lost, and set our own souls free. Let us throw off the heavy yoke of unauthorized judgment of others. Let us contemplate how we want to be judged, by God and conscience, and so judge others, and so be free!
The Traditional Interpretation of Romans 14
The Traditional Interpretation of Romans 14 links this chapter with 1 Corinthians 8. That chapter is about eating meat offered to idols. It concerns activities which are wholesome for us, but which can tempt others to addictions. The traditional interpretation says chapter 14 has the same subject; there is no hint in the traditional interpretation that it is about denominational turf building.
1 Corinthians 8 describes how meat sacrificed to idols is just like any other meat, so there is nothing intrinsically unsafe or unrighteous about eating it; but nevertheless people half drawn to idols, seeing us eat such meat, would think it must be OK for them too, and would be drawn back in to paganism.
A modern application of this principle would be a restaurant in a casino. Gambling is worship of a pagan deity called "Number" in Isaiah 5:11.
(Isaiah 65:11, KJV, with definitions from Strongs:
("But ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, ["fortune"; connotes distribution; comes from a word meaning "to crowd around"] and that furnish the drink offering ["mixture; i.e. (specifically) wine mixed (with water or spices)"] unto that number ["The Apportioner, i.e. Fate (as an idol): number."].
(Or, "You forsake God, and forget Church, when you crowd around the crap tables and drink toasts to that fraud, that goddess Lady Luck!"
(The New American Bible (Catholic) reads: "But you who forsake the Lord, forgetting my Holy Mountain, you who spread a table for Fortune, and fill cups of blended wine for Destiny, 12 you I will destine for the sword; you shall all go down in slaughter..."
(THE BOOK says, Isaiah 65:11 But because the rest of you have forsaken the Lord and his Temple and worship gods of "Fate" and "Destiny", 12 therefore I will "destine" you to the sword, and your "fate" shall be a dark one;...)
There are many gods today, and many activities related to them which a solidly grounded Christian can do safely, for himself, but which might tempt an observer who is struggling with an addiction related to that activity.
Your "god" is the one who gives you courage in a dangerous world. Insurance? Investments? A monthly government check? Karate lessons? Missiles? Beer? Hatha Yoga? or God?
Could new Christians, watching your life for tips on what a Christian life consists of, be encouraged to rely on created things rather than the Creator?
Your "god" is the one you turn to for important advice. Palm readers? Horoscopes? Psychologists? Counselors? Ann Landers? Bartenders? Channelers? or Scripture?
How strong is your habit of testing every notion of man by the Word of God?
Your "god" is the one you turn to for satisfaction or meaning in life. Sex? Power? Fame? Food? Substances? Levitation? or serving Jesus, which we do by serving the least of His brethren?
How clear is it, to those who covet the joy in your heart, that it is based on your life in Jesus?
Your "god" is the one whose philosophies guide your relationships with your neighbors. Humanism? Hedonism? Satanism? Barroom ethics? Situational Ethics? or Christianity?
(End of digression)
The overriding emphasis of the traditional interpretation is how you should not drink even a sip of wine because your "brother" will see you and turn into a drunken bum. It is about not going to good movies because someone will see you going in and think it must be OK to go to any movie. It is about not working on Sunday, because someone will see you not worshipping God and "spoil your witness".
In other words, the "stumblingblock" of Romans 14 is traditionally understood as an activity which a solidly grounded Christian can do safely, for himself, but which might tempt an observer, who is struggling with an addiction related to that activity.
Not that the concerns of the Traditional Interpretation are not Biblical concerns. They are just not what chapter 14 is about. The concerns raised in the Traditional Interpretation of chapter 14 are what chapter 8 is about. In fact, what that chapter says about meat eating is similar enough to what this chapter says to account for one reason why the concerns there have been mistaken for concerns here.
Denominational turf building is what chapter 14 is about. But that is not the traditional interpretation of what this chapter is about. Well, such ideas are sort of mushed into the traditional interpretation, but the traditional interpretation doesn't have a single bad word to say about denominational turf building.
What must new Christians think when they see denominational champions battling for turf? Must they not conclude (1) how can I know the truth, if these champions, who have studied, more than I will ever have time to study, can't agree? And (2), if it is impossible to know which set of doctrines are correct, then which denomination can I trust to tell me the correct requirements of salvation? If I cannot be sure of the correct requirements of salvation, I am damned! I am lost! No matter how much I try, I cry, I yearn, I love God! Lost! There is no use even trying. I'm just wasting my time. I'm sacrificing treasures here, in order to lay up treasures in Heaven, but with no hope anything of mine will reach Heaven! It's just a guess. A coin toss, whether I can ever see Heaven!"
Paul encourages the "weak in faith" who fall victim to denominational turf builders:
22 Hast thou faith? have [it] to thyself before God. Happy [is] he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
Paul rebukes denominational turf builders:
Romans 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in [his] brother's way.
It's not that presenters of the Traditional Interpretation strike out words in Scripture. But several clues that the chapter is about denominational turf building seem never to quite register. For example, the middle of verse 13:
Romans 14:13 Let us not [therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man] put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in [his] brother's way.
Chapter 14 ----- (Not yet posted)
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