I picked out one of the posts from the PuritanBoard to discuss an issue with respect to liberty. bfrank writes:
A few years ago I was sitting outside on a patio enjoying a pint with a buddy, having theological and personal discussions…there was absolutely no problem in my conscience or faith about the issue. I knew the Scriptures did not condemn alcohol, but drunkeness. One thing we both gleaned from the afternoon was that if Jesus Christ Himself walked into the place we would have no problem whatsoever. However, if some of the members from church walked in it would be a very uncomfortable situation. Of course this caused further study on my part so that I was certain I wasn't using my liberty for license and that I was on solid biblical ground. I had a friend who was meeting with a pastor friend. The pastor told him that drinking in any form should not be tolerated. He said that the Christian should avoid the appearance of evil, so as to not cause a weaker brother to stumble. He preceded to order a virgin strawberry daquiri. My friend began to scratch his head in disbelief…thinking, "Isn't this the appearance of "evil"? LOL
First, I want to correct the "pastor friend" in the story above. The "weaker brother" in Paul's Epistles is the Pastor! The weaker brother is the Christian who is overly scrupulous where God permits liberty of conscience. Jews who were still convicted, for instance, that they had to abstain from pork were "weaker brothers" and Paul is commanding the Gentile brethren not to give unnecessary offense to cause them to stumble.
NOW, here is the rub. I'm starting to think that I am probably too tolerant of what is not a "weaker brother" spirit with respect to things indifferent but a PHARASAICAL spirit with respect to things indifferent. I believe the response to the weaker brother ought to be done carefully and tenderly but the Pharisee ought to be withstood to his face as a Scriptural pattern.
Calvin's treatment of Christian liberty is quoted in part below and he does a great job of differentiating between a personal scruple and a human tradition that super-adds to the Scriptures that binds the consciences of men. Does the Southern Baptist Conventions' ruling that those who consume alchohol should be excluded from Church Office constitute something that Christians should condemn as Pharasaical? Incidentally, the ruling says that a Southern Baptist is not even permitted to work at an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages.
More basically, however, what if a pastor is teaching this? Should we, like Paul did to Peter, withstand that spirit and, if so, how? Pastors and Elders, after all, are not supposed to be those that are weak in the faith. It is, frankly, a sad state of affairs that those who ought to be teachers of men (and are in such positions) need to be taught on the basic principles of the Gospel. For make no mistake about it: the issue of Christian Liberty stabs at the very heart of the Gospel and those who begin on the path of the Pharisee run the risk of losing far more than their Christian Liberty.
Without further ado, here is John Calvin from his treatment on Christian Liberty in the Instituties of the Christian Religion
11. I will here make some observations on offenses, what distinctions are to be made between them, what kind are to be avoided and what disregarded. This will afterwards enable us to determine what scope there is for our liberty among men. We are pleased with the common division into offense given and offense taken, since it has the plain sanction of Scripture, and not improperly expresses what is meant. If from unseasonable levity or wantonness, or rashness, you do any thing out of order or not in its own place, by which the weak or unskillful are offended, it may be said that offense has been given by you, since the ground of offense is owing to your fault. And in general, offense is said to be given in any matter where the person from whom it has proceeded is in fault. Offense is said to be taken when a thing otherwise done, not wickedly or unseasonably, is made an occasion of offense from malevolence or some sinister feeling. For here offense was not given, but sinister interpreters ceaselessly take offense. By the former kind, the weak only, by the latter, the ill-tempered and Pharisaical are offended. Wherefore, we shall call the one the offense of the weak, the other the offense of Pharisees, and we will so temper the use of our liberty as to make it yield to the ignorance of weak brethren, but not to the austerity of Pharisees. What is due to infirmity is fully shown by Paul in many passages. “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye.” Again, “Let us not judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in his brother’s way;” and many others to the same effect in the same place, to which, instead of quoting them here, we refer the reader. The sum is, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.” elsewhere he says, “Take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak.” Again “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake.” “Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other.” Finally, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles nor to the Church of God.” Also in another passage, “Brethren, ye have been called into liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”46 455455 61 461 Rom. 14:1, 13; 16:1; 1 Cor. 8:9; 10:25, 29, 32; Gal. 5:13. Thus, indeed, it is: our liberty was not given us against our weak neighbors, whom charity enjoins us to serve in all things, but rather that, having peace with God in our minds, we should live peaceably among men. What value is to be set upon the offense of the Pharisees we learn from the words of our Lord, in which he says, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind,” (Mt. 15:14). The disciples had intimated that the Pharisees were offended at his words. He answers that they are to be let alone that their offense is not to be regarded.
12. The matter still remains uncertain, unless we understand who are the weak and who the Pharisees: for if this distinction is destroyed, I see not how, in regard to offenses, any liberty at all would remain without being constantly in the greatest danger. But Paul seems to me to have marked out most clearly, as well by example as by doctrine, how far our liberty, in the case of offense, is to be modified or maintained. When he adopts Timothy as his companion, he circumcises him: nothing can induce him to circumcise Titus (Acts 16:3; Gal. 2:3). The acts are different, but there is no difference in the purpose or intention; in circumcising Timothy, as he was free from all men, he made himself the servant of all: “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law. 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” (1 Cor. 9:20-22). We have here the proper modification of liberty, when in things indifferent it can be restrained with some advantage. What he had in view in firmly resisting the circumcision of Titus, he himself testifies when he thus writes: “But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you,” (Gal. 2:3-5). We here see the necessity of vindicating our liberty when, by the unjust exactions of false apostles, it is brought into danger with weak consciences. In all cases we must study charity, and look to the edification of our neighbor. “All things are lawful for me,” says he, “but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth,” (1 Cor. 10:23, 24). There is nothing plainer than this rule, that we are to use our liberty if it tends to the edification of our neighbor, but if inexpedient for our neighbor, we are to abstain from it. There are some who pretend to imitate this prudence of Paul by abstinence from liberty, while there is nothing for which they less employ it than for purposes of charity. Consulting their own ease, they would have all mention of liberty buried, though it is not less for the interest of our neighbor to use liberty for their good and edification, than to modify it occasionally for their advantage. It is the part of a pious man to think, that the free power conceded to him in external things is to make him the readier in all offices of charity.