The word “scruple” comes to us, as many words do, from a Latin word (in this case, scrupus) and it literally meant “rough pebble” and figuratively meant “anxiety.” It has come to mean “a feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action” (Apple Dictionary, version 2.2.1, 2005-2015). All of us have scruples that reveal themselves in the standards we set for ourselves. Often, our “doubt” or “hesitation” arises because of Bible teaching. We disapprove of sexual immorality because God forbids it. We shun drunkenness because Scripture condemns it. Where God commands something be done or avoided, we are simply exercising obedience by following His Word and even echoing His will by teaching it to others. In such cases, we are not making law but only seeking to be obedient to what God has already commanded. Yet, there are areas that fall within the realm of judgment where we must be careful to distinguish between our tastes, proclivities, and convictions and what God has actually said about it. In its more serious and sinister form, we may even draw lines of fellowship or form judgments about someone because they violate, not Scripture, but our scruples. Consider a short list of areas and examples:
- That men must wear a suit and/or tie to the assemblies and women must wear a dress to the assemblies (most especially that the preacher must don suit and tie when he preaches).
- Abstaining from watching all TV.
- That putting up a Christmas tree or otherwise celebrating the season is wrong.
- That one must offer an invitation after every sermon.
- That there must be an evening worship assembly offered for a church to be sound.
- Opposing tattoos of any shape, size, or place.
- That children must be educated at home or in the public school system.
- That allowing one’s teenaged children to date is inherently sinful.
- That a preacher must support himself with a secular job.
- That an organized youth program is wrong.
There is no way to be exhaustive with such a list, but what all of these (and other things) have in common is that we cannot find book, chapter, and verse that causes these scruples to rise to the level of commandment. I’m not talking about whether they are wise or unwise, what role principle might play in decision-making, or what is or is not the best judgment. Short of a heavenly mandate, we must tread so carefully. Most of the examples above have been the source of friction between faithful brethren who otherwise stand together upon the gospel foundation. I have strong, decided feelings on most of the matters mentioned above. A few might surprise you, but many may not. When it comes down to the brass tacks of practicality, though, we need to remember to balance Paul’s injunction to not only “bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1) but also “receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). This requires such Christian qualities as wisdom, grace, patience, understanding, and love. Some battles can distract us from the real enemy. Let’s not allow that to happen!