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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

On Offending the Weak

In recent days Fr. Beane has masterfully recast the issue of the weaker brother, and demonstrated that the "weaker brother" is often a bully in disguise (see here, here and here. His essays follow an argument which arose when Fr. Petersen offered advice to new pastors on how to introduce catholic ceremonies(here).

The controversy has reminded me of the origin of the "weaker brother" concept. It comes from St. Paul: "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (I Corinthians 9:22). We Gottesdienst editors agree that St. Paul did not say, "to the strong I became as strong," and hence Fr. Beane's rejoinder is very helpful.

Not only so, but I am reminded of St. Paul's own example in a matter which in itself would have to be considered an adiaphoron, namely the question of circumcision. The Apostle circumcised Timothy "because of the Jews" who were in the place to which they were about to go, "for they knew all that his father was a Greek" (Acts 16). On the other hand Titus, who was himself a Greek, he did not compel to be circumcised (Galatians 2).

What accounts for this difference? Context: In the case of Titus, they were headed for Jerusalem, land of the Jews, and in the case of Timothy, for Derbe and Lystra, the land of the Gentiles. Thus we find that in both cases, Paul did the 'offensive' things. The uncircumcised Titus was an offense to the Jews who insisted upon circumcision, while the circumcised Timothy was an offense to the Greeks who were inclined to reject Moses altogether.

The evidence here provides a compelling case: St. Paul's counsel against offending the weak should not be interpreted as a willingness to lay off, when Christian customs came into conflict with prevailing paganism, or judaism. On the contrary, he seems to have been eager to confess the Gospel by means of laying an offense in the path of unbelief.

His attack on "circumcision" in Galatians shows a willingness to confront the unbelief of the Jews, and yet his circumcising of Timothy shows a willingness to confront the paganism of the Gentiles.