It is very necessary to introduce the word before I write of the contents embodied in this word. The reading public will otherwise pass this essay by, thinking it is meant only for a group of students. At least I too thought it strange when this subject was assigned me by our editor-in-chief, who is appointed to assign us these subjects. Strange it was for me, because I never thought at first I could write more than three lines on it, until I got to study it further. So it must also at first appear to the reading public. And I may add that I would never have thought of writing on a subject as this, if it had not been assigned me. But please, Standard Bearer readers, do not be afraid of this word.
The word ADIAPHORA, as far as I know, does not appear in the Bible. However it has been used to express things indifferent, or neutral. For instance, when used by medical men, then adiaphora refers to medicines that are incapable of doing harm or good.
Or when this word is used in religious circles it pertains to matters of either doctrine or practice that may be regarded as non-essential or indifferent. Adiaphorism is therefore religious indifference. It refers to all matters that are regarded as non-essential; things that can, do neither harm nor good, wherein men cannot judge us or condemn us; things that are of such a non-essential nature that it is for every man himself to decide whether they are good or evil. As for instance in a human body there are members that are absolutely essential to the life and existence of that body, so there are also members in the body that can very well be missed and that the body still functions and exists as well as before. One can have his or her tonsils removed, or lose a finger, without essentially impairing the body. So at least it is explained. Then these non-essential members of the body are called adiaphora, n.l., belonging to the non-essential and indifferent things of the body and consequently can also be viewed more or less indifferently. And so adiaphora refers to things non-essential and indifferent to our faith and salvation. During the days of the Lutheran Reformation, there were certain things and practices, yea, even dogmas, which Luther regarded as very sinful and heretical and which he therefore condemned in the strongest terms possible. But Melanchthon and a few other German theologians held these things which were so thoroughly condemned by Luther, as non-essential and therefore viewed them more or less indifferently. Thus these German theologians were called Adiaphorists.
Now the question we see ourselves placed before is: Are we to be adiaphorists, yes or no? Is there anything pertaining to our faith or walk that can be viewed indifferently or of a non-essential nature? Are there things that cannot and may not be judged by others? Are there things neutral? Is there anything in our lives, practically or doctrinally, that can do neither good or evil, and wherein men cannot judge or condemn us? That is the question we must answer. In answering that question we believe that we must distinguish between divine and human authority. Not that there is really a difference between, the two, for after all the authority that humans exercise over others may only be the authority derived from God. A human being may only exercise the authority that God gives him. So that there is essentially no difference between the authority of the Almighty God and that of the human over against other humans. But there is nevertheless a distinction. For is God not the Absolute One? Is He not Everlastingly Perfect and does He not Know all things? Can a mistake ever be attributed to the all-knowing God? God forbid. But with human beings this is different. The most perfect of the saints on earth, must confess that he knows in part only. Only when he shall have attained perfection shall all that is in part be done away with and he shall know as he is known. But that is not yet his portion here below.
Bearing the aforementioned distinction in mind, we believe there are surely adiaphora for human beings in their relations with other human beings, even in the church world. The Scriptures also teach that in certain matters, such as eating and drinking, or regarding another man’s servant, or esteeming one day above another, we cannot and may not judge one another. See in this connection the whole of chapter 14 of Romans. Surely we have obligations toward our neighbor, even in those things that can be reckoned adiaphora. As for instance Paul says in: “Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” But then Paul does not refrain from eating meat because the meat is not good or because it is evil to eat meat in itself, but simply because it would offend the brother, who is weak. “Let us not therefore judge one another anymore; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. I know and am persuaded by our Lord Jesus Christ, that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” . We must remember that Paul is speaking in that passage of the relation of the one to the other and of the judgment of one brother over another in things that should not and cannot be judged. We could multiply the things mentioned by Paul and apply the same rule as Paul does to us. We would mention smoking, drinking, eating, etc. For any man, in his attitude and relations to other men, there are certain things pertaining to his walk and way of doing things that may be considered adiaphora. He cannot and may not judge his brother. This is due not only because of the fact we but know in part and therefore our judgment is imperfect, but it is also due to the fact of sin within us. Because of sin that dwells in even the most holy saint on earth, it is often difficult to bring a brother before the bar of our human judgment. For in our judgment over the other we are plagued with the sins of prejudice, or of jealousy, or of pride, or of favoritisms because of blood ties or of friendships or other likes and dislikes. And though it is true that in all our relations to one another and when we are judging one another, we should be motivated exclusively by the truth and love of God in Christ Jesus, yet the fact remains that there are many such inconsistencies in life that contradict that love of Jesus Christ. And even though it is true, that only the Word of God may and must be the norm of all our everyday activities and practices, and even though that word of God is perfect and clear and draws a very sharp line through our whole life, yet the fact is that human beings do not always measure up to that perfect word. They do not always expound that word perfectly and correctly. So we believe that there are adiaphora, things non-essential and indifferent, in the sphere, of human relations, whether they be religious circles or non-religious circles and therefore of the world.
But we must not forget that even though often man must say: “I do not know and therefore cannot judge or say anything”, yet this can never be attributed to the Almighty Lawgiver Himself. God knows of no adiaphora, There are no non-essential things in the whole of God’s Word or law. Never can anyone assume, an indifferent attitude toward things that are plainly revealed in God’s Holy Word. Human reasoning may fail, and due to various infirmities, we must often put our hand to our mouth and keep silence, yet the unchangeable Word of God suffers no compromise or indifference. For every circumstance of our lives, for all situations, for all conditions and every conceivable sphere, the law of God has a definite, circumscribed demand to do this or do that in obedience to God. Nothing in life may be considered by the child of God as merely technical and thus non-essential. Every law of God, whether pertaining to our eating or drinking, or whether pertaining to our daily work or our obedience to father and mother, or magistrate, is essential. It is God’s demand. That settles it.
O it is true that various forms of difference have been ascribed to the laws of God. There are some that are very important. There are some less important. There are some that are essential and others less essential. There are some that may be considered as Chief, as the main laws, in distinction from other laws, that we may consider more or less indifferently. Thus also the Pharisees sought to bind the consciences of the masses of the people. They taught that the law of Jehovah could be variously divided and subdivided, into great, greater and greatest laws. Therefore also they come to Jesus with the deceptive question: “What is the greatest commandment?” A question which Jesus does not even literally answer. Simply because Christ recognizes no great, greater and greatest commandment of His Father. With Christ there is no more or less. With the Christ no iota or tittle of the law shall pass away until it all be fulfilled.
But with Christ there is not merely a technical fulfillment of the precepts and laws of Jehovah. This was exactly the sin of the Pharisees. They tried to relegate the law of God to technicalities. They hindered the children from entering the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because they taught disobedience to the Laws of God? Of course not. They instead taught strict obedience. But they taught technical obedience to the letter of the law, and not spiritual and divinely prescribed obedience. For what was the divinely prescribed obedience to the Law of Jehovah, which pleased Him? it was, as Jesus Himself teaches over against the Pharisees, that there is essentially but one principle of obedience, which is love to God and the neighbor. Therefore the answer of our Lord to the Pharisees plainly taught that there is not a great and greater or greatest commandment, but that there is but one great command, and that is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And the second commandment is like unto the first. There is no difference at all. And of that one commandment (n.l. to love) all the precepts of Jehovah are products. The entire Word of God is given to us in God’s love, but also can be obeyed by us, only in that same love of God. If there is not that necessary love, then we disobey all the law of Jehovah. We may seemingly be obedient to many precepts, and break only a few of them, yet the word of Jesus tells us that anyone breaking any of the precepts of the law, is a transgressor of the whole law of God. Therefore only Christ fulfilled the law of God. All others are transgressors of the whole law and are therefore also worthy of eternal death and hell. But to those in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation.. And that love of God in Christ Jesus knows of no adiaphora. Oh, it recognizes infirmities and much sin that remains in the saints on earth. As such it will restrain itself, also in judging the brethren, but it recognizes no adiaphora in God’s law. Therefore it will not rest in a leave-it-alone attitude, or in an attitude of indifference toward anything in life, whether of self or of the neighbor. But it will seek the perfect law of Jehovah and strive after its attainment, in himself and in others.
Thus the child of God lives out of faith. His faith, which rests not until it rest in the God of our complete salvation, will strive after perfection, even in this life. Faith will not be complacent. But living out of the love of God which is the fulfillment of the law of Jehovah, the child of grace will seek in all the details of his life to be pleasing to Jehovah, and reject any so-called adiaphora in the perfect law of God. Psalm 1 and 19.