Issues of Conscience

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student

Puritan Board Freshman
1 Corinthians 10:23-33 seems to set out how we are to govern grey areas--the issues of conscience. I'm trying to understand these a little better, and so a few questions:
1. When is something an issue of conscience, as opposed to an issue of indifference?
2. The conscience can be weak (Romans 8:12). Can it also err?
3. How does one become fully persuaded in his own mind (Romans 10:5)? To what extent is this caused by upbringing, etc. which, I believe, also shape the conscience?
4. In today's world, people are easily offended (perhaps it's always been so). How do we avoid offence while at the same time not being bound by the conscience of another?
In my context, vaccination is a polarizing issue currently, with some viewing it as a religious issue, some as a conscience issue, and some as a thing indifferent. Pointing to other resources is most welcome!
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
Sounds like you have a good starting point to work through these things. Flesh it out more. But consider this is more than just an issue of vaccination. Which I can tell by your line of questioning you’ve already started to consider.

If you are sincere and thoughtful in your position you may still offend some but you will be true to yourself before God and man.

Personally, I don’t want anyone to be enslaved on my behalf nor do I want to impose myself onto others.
We are entering a strange realm of self sacrifice, almost self denial.

I’m not sure exactly how this line of thinking can be compatible with a biblical understanding of creation, but it’s out there (thus the hard push for vaccines and quarantines): “Anuja Sonalker, CEO of Steer Tech, a Maryland-based company selling self-parking technology, recently summed up the new virus-personalized pitch. “There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology,” she said. “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”

What does it mean to be created by God and what is our duty to our fellow man made in the image of God?

We may save our life with special extra precautions but will we lose ourselves in the process?

Here’s an article on the bigger picture of public health (since vaccination is being touted as our duty for the greater public good.) It’s an interesting read as a conversation starter for the Christian citizen. https://mereorthodoxy.com/public-health-after-christendom/
 
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Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
1: It is an issue of conscience when it involves God's law; everything else is indifferent
2: Yes
3: By knowing God's law; meditating on it; studying it; applying it; not allowing anyone to inform it from any other source than the Scripture
4: It is offence when you rub your liberty in their face. If they cannot drink alcohol in good conscience, you do not invite them over for a glass of wine, nor tell them loudly how much you enjoyed your martini.
As for vaccinations: for it to be a religious issue, you would have to prove that God either absolutely requires or forbids the vaccine. If neither, it's indifferent. There is no difference between a "conscience issue" and a "religious issue."
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
1: It is an issue of conscience when it involves God's law; everything else is indifferent
2: Yes
3: By knowing God's law; meditating on it; studying it; applying it; not allowing anyone to inform it from any other source than the Scripture
4: It is offence when you rub your liberty in their face. If they cannot drink alcohol in good conscience, you do not invite them over for a glass of wine, nor tell them loudly how much you enjoyed your martini.
As for vaccinations: for it to be a religious issue, you would have to prove that God either absolutely requires or forbids the vaccine. If neither, it's indifferent. There is no difference between a "conscience issue" and a "religious issue."
Not following you here on point 1: I'd have thought questions which involve God's law are those which are not issues of conscience. For example, whether or not to commit adultery is not a question of conscience, precisely because it is a matter spoken to in God's law. Perhaps you meant that issues of conscience are those which involve an unclear application of God's law, that I can agree with. If one believes that the precise bearing of God's law on a particular question is x and his neighbour believes it is not x that would describe an issue of conscience, on the assumption of course that God's law does not explicitly speak to the question in a direct sense.

Also not following on point 4. Offence is not hurting someone's feelings (however much the world uses the term like that these days), but biblically, offence is putting a stumbling block (an occasion or cause of sin) into someone's path. As it applies to conscience, this means doing something in itself indifferent, but in a context which would encourage your brother to follow your example, when his conscience is not persuaded that it is allowable. Whether or not someone is outraged that you have, to use your example drank wine, is not really the point, unless it encourages them to sin, for example by also drinking wine when they are not persuaded it is allowable.

All that said, I think whether to be vaccinated is very obviously a conscience issue - if God absolutely required or forbade it then it would be neither a conscience issue nor indifferent, but a matter of duty one way or the other. Given there are no such clear statements about vaccination in God's word, we need to apply God's law to the facts as we understand them - different believers will do that differently (some well and some erroneously for sure), but that makes it a question of conscience.

I absolutely agree with you on questions 2 and 3 - conscience can err (I think that's the same thing as conscience being weak), and the right way to have conscience strengthened, and not to err, is to have conscience informed by God's word.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
Not following you here on point 1: I'd have thought questions which involve God's law are those which are not issues of conscience. For example, whether or not to commit adultery is not a question of conscience, precisely because it is a matter spoken to in God's law. Perhaps you meant that issues of conscience are those which involve an unclear application of God's law, that I can agree with. If one believes that the precise bearing of God's law on a particular question is x and his neighbour believes it is not x that would describe an issue of conscience, on the assumption of course that God's law does not explicitly speak to the question in a direct sense.

Also not following on point 4. Offence is not hurting someone's feelings (however much the world uses the term like that these days), but biblically, offence is putting a stumbling block (an occasion or cause of sin) into someone's path. As it applies to conscience, this means doing something in itself indifferent, but in a context which would encourage your brother to follow your example, when his conscience is not persuaded that it is allowable. Whether or not someone is outraged that you have, to use your example drank wine, is not really the point, unless it encourages them to sin, for example by also drinking wine when they are not persuaded it is allowable.

All that said, I think whether to be vaccinated is very obviously a conscience issue - if God absolutely required or forbade it then it would be neither a conscience issue nor indifferent, but a matter of duty one way or the other. Given there are no such clear statements about vaccination in God's word, we need to apply God's law to the facts as we understand them - different believers will do that differently (some well and some erroneously for sure), but that makes it a question of conscience.

I absolutely agree with you on questions 2 and 3 - conscience can err (I think that's the same thing as conscience being weak), and the right way to have conscience strengthened, and not to err, is to have conscience informed by God's word.
As for point one, our conscience should ONLY be bound to the Scripture: therefore, whatever the Law enjoins, we must do; what it forbids we must avoid, else our conscience will have cause to give us grief. The conscience exists not to make arbitrary decisions, but to accuse when we stray from the path of revealed obedience. A weak conscience is one that is not properly informed according to scripture, therefore does not know what is truly commanded or forbidden, and thus doesn't know whether to accuse or affirm.

As for point four, didn't I say in my example that I wouldn't invite a weak brother over for a glass of wine? Asking him to drink with me against conscience IS encouraging him to follow my example. And if someone forbids himself a liberty that I can indulge, isn't it unkind of me to flaunt it at him? I guess this is really case-by-case, but if someone was still overcoming a fundamentalist background that forbade smoking, I wouldn't whip out a box of Cuban cigars and smoke them in his presence, even though I could in another context (if they didn't make me nauseous). It's not hypocrisy--I make no secret that I have freedom to do anything lawful--it's charity: a stronger brother giving up an indifferent liberty for the sake of a weaker soul.

As for vaccines: if God had required or forbidden, that would absolutely make it a matter of conscience: you would be conscience-bound to obey. Since it is indifferent, you can get the shot with a clean conscience, if you want it: there is no violation of God's law. I'm not accusing anyone on this board, but I have seen in my circle those who seek to claim a weak conscience as a pretext not to do something they simply don't want to. One pastor wanted to claim a religious exemption to his employer's vaccine mandate, but couldn't cough up any Scriptural reason why THIS vaccine is different than all the others he's had. There are political reasons (I don't want the government telling me what to take); personal reasons (I'm scared of needles); but to claim a religious exemption without a clear prohibition, or at least good and necessary consequence, is to use God's things for a purpose profane.
 

student

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks for the replies. I appreciate the comments on vaccination, and the article, but am not looking to address that directly, but rather the bigger picture. What are the issues that you've come across, that you would consider issues of conscience, rather than where God's law is clear?

There may be an issue where two Christians would come to the opposite side of an issue of conscience. Is that because the Biblical interpretation of one believer is less complete or clear than the other?

Finally, looking at some issues (for example, on this board regulative principle issues) what for one is an issue of principle (e.g. a cappella EP, celebration of Christmas) is for another an issue of conscience or indifference. Again, is that do to a poor understanding of the Scriptural principles involved, or is something else at work here?
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
1. When is something an issue of conscience, as opposed to an issue of indifference?

When your conscience tells you that it is wrong, it's wrong, and equally a sin as a declared sin is sin.
Consciences can change in two ways. The good way is when you see that the thing you considered sinful is not sinful.
The bad way is to sin against your conscience repeatedly to a point when it is seared and stops functioning. (1 Timothy 4:2)
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for the replies. I appreciate the comments on vaccination, and the article, but am not looking to address that directly, but rather the bigger picture. What are the issues that you've come across, that you would consider issues of conscience, rather than where God's law is clear?

There may be an issue where two Christians would come to the opposite side of an issue of conscience. Is that because the Biblical interpretation of one believer is less complete or clear than the other?

Finally, looking at some issues (for example, on this board regulative principle issues) what for one is an issue of principle (e.g. a cappella EP, celebration of Christmas) is for another an issue of conscience or indifference. Again, is that do to a poor understanding of the Scriptural principles involved, or is something else at work here?
Exactly: the Biblical interpretation of one believer is less complete or clear. Nice wording.
If we all understood the Scriptures perfectly, we would all regard the same things as wrong, and keep God's law the same way in every respect.
One issue of conscience that I started a thread on recently regarded the eating of blood sausage. The Noahic covenant seems to forbid it, and the Jerusalem counsel to affirm that prohibition; but in another place Paul says that anything may be eaten, and Christ said that it's not what enters that defiles. If I receive Paul and Jesus at face value, then I may eat blood; if I believe there is a limit to what they meant, I better stay away. I wish I knew for sure it was wrong, 'cause I'd like an excuse never to eat blood sausage again. So....for him, at least, who believes that eating blood is prohibited, it would be a sin to eat blood sausage. If he (and me) understood Scripture completely, we'd know definitely either way.
 

student

Puritan Board Freshman
Exactly: the Biblical interpretation of one believer is less complete or clear. Nice wording.
If we all understood the Scriptures perfectly, we would all regard the same things as wrong, and keep God's law the same way in every respect.
One issue of conscience that I started a thread on recently regarded the eating of blood sausage. The Noahic covenant seems to forbid it, and the Jerusalem counsel to affirm that prohibition; but in another place Paul says that anything may be eaten, and Christ said that it's not what enters that defiles. If I receive Paul and Jesus at face value, then I may eat blood; if I believe there is a limit to what they meant, I better stay away. I wish I knew for sure it was wrong, 'cause I'd like an excuse never to eat blood sausage again. So....for him, at least, who believes that eating blood is prohibited, it would be a sin to eat blood sausage. If he (and me) understood Scripture completely, we'd know definitely either way.
I had the same experience meeting black pudding in the UK. Pudding for breakfast sounded like a good thing, but it definitely wasn't.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
1 Corinthians 10:23-33 seems to set out how we are to govern grey areas--the issues of conscience. I'm trying to understand these a little better, and so a few questions:
1. When is something an issue of conscience, as opposed to an issue of indifference?
2. The conscience can be weak (Romans 8:12). Can it also err?
3. How does one become fully persuaded in his own mind (Romans 10:5)? To what extent is this caused by upbringing, etc. which, I believe, also shape the conscience?
4. In today's world, people are easily offended (perhaps it's always been so). How do we avoid offence while at the same time not being bound by the conscience of another?
In my context, vaccination is a polarizing issue currently, with some viewing it as a religious issue, some as a conscience issue, and some as a thing indifferent. Pointing to other resources is most welcome!
1. I suppose something is only a matter of "indifference" if none of the parties involved considers it an issue of conscience. For example if you have a business with 10 partners (Christians) and making a certain decision would afflict even one of the partners' consciences, then it becomes a matter of conscience for all, for this means that if you push him down that path, then his conscience would be afflicted. We must be careful that we avoid this if at all possible. However, practically speaking it may not be possible to always accommodate everyone, so at times it may be necessary to divide in order to not "force" anyone to go against his or her conscience.

2. Yes, I believe the conscience can err. In this, I believe it is important to distinguish between faith and feelings. Our feelings are notoriously unreliable and fallen. Our faith is more objective, because it is based on God's revealed word. Personally I have struggled tremendously in trying to identify what exactly is my conscience? If I feel anxiety doing a thing - is that my conscience speaking? I have come to the conclusion that a feeling of anxiety is not the same as the pricking of my conscience, because if the anxiety is not grounded in a principle in God's word, then it is just an unreliable feeling.

3. One becomes fully persuaded in his own mind by a careful study of God's word, and when doubts or fears arise, preaching to oneself the truths that you know to be true. Sadly, our fallen nature will always mean that doubts will at times arise. I do not think that this should always mean that we are immobilized until we achieve 100% certainty. Such a standard is practically impossible, because there is always a "what if" scenario? Even John the Baptist sent disciples to Jesus who asked "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?"? And yet this is the man of whom Christ said "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist".

4. People are indeed very easily offended. I think this sermon may be helpful:

Best regards,

Izaak De Jager
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for the replies. I appreciate the comments on vaccination, and the article, but am not looking to address that directly, but rather the bigger picture. What are the issues that you've come across, that you would consider issues of conscience, rather than where God's law is clear?

There may be an issue where two Christians would come to the opposite side of an issue of conscience. Is that because the Biblical interpretation of one believer is less complete or clear than the other?

Finally, looking at some issues (for example, on this board regulative principle issues) what for one is an issue of principle (e.g. a cappella EP, celebration of Christmas) is for another an issue of conscience or indifference. Again, is that do to a poor understanding of the Scriptural principles involved, or is something else at work here?
Yes, it all comes down to our understanding of scriptures.

For example, a young Christian may not feel pricked by his conscience to observe the Sabbath Day, but just because his conscience is not pricked, does not mean he is in the clear. In this way, our consciences can err. They are not infallible. Our conscience on an issue is essentially our conclusion on a matter given our understanding of the relevant scriptures and principles. Our consciences can be ignorant, but they can also be over-zealous. The gentiles would tend to have ignorant consciences, while the Jews would tend to have over-zealous consciences. Those who grow up in loose, non-confessional traditions tend to have ignorant consciences, while those in strict confessional traditions may tend towards an over-zealous conscience. You can err in either direction.
 
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