Is there a climate crisis?
Heavy snow has disrupted normal life in Athens. And more than 245 million Americans are expected to face temperatures below freezing in the continental U.S. over the next seven days. The Arctic air from a polar vortex has already set temperature records in numerous states. Record low temperatures are making life miserable in the U.S. The severe winter weather has sparked emergency declarations in at least seven states, including Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas. Air traffic was halted at a number of airports. Across the country, at least 36 people have died since the punishing winter weather began last week. It must be global cooling! That’s like what we hear when high temperatures are attributed to global warming. But of course this is weather not climate (which is the weather averaged over 30 years).
On 27 January 2021, President Biden took executive actions “to tackle the Climate Crisis” and to restore scientific integrity across the US Federal Government. These Executive Orders follow through on President Biden’s promise to take aggressive action to tackle climate change and build on the executive actions that the President took on his first day in office, including rejoining the Paris Agreement. The order reaffirms that the President will host a “Leaders’ Climate Summit” on Earth Day, 22 April 2021.
The “Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking” directs agencies to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data. But is the declaration of a climate crisis based on “the best available science and data”?
Many scientists believe that the earth is facing a climate emergency (Ripple et al., 2020). This alarmist paper claims that “the climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity. Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature’s reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial) that could lead to a catastrophic “hothouse Earth,” well beyond the control of humans. These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.”
But has the climate crisis arrived and is it accelerating? Or is this like alarmist and sensational medical news that can generate unnecessary anxiety?
This post is based on an article by Batten (2020).
In 2019 I looked into whether climate change is a problem that threatens us all. I found that global temperatures had increased from 1980 to 2020, but was skeptical about extrapolating this trend towards the end of this century. In a complex world, it’s difficult to predict the future!
The Medieval Warm Period (AD 900-1300) indicates that other factors can warm the atmosphere besides the greenhouse effect. And the Little Ice Age (AD 1400-1850) indicates that there are other factors that can cool the atmosphere. Were these associated with variations in solar activity or variations in volcanic activity? By the way, as these periods of warming and cooling persisted for centuries, it is unlikely that they were only local. And historical accounts confirm the worldwide occurrence of the Medieval Warm Period (Easterbrook, 2016), but this is not acknowledged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Life on earth flourished in the past when things were warmer (e.g., during the Medieval Warm Period when the temperature was about 1°C warmer than now, based on several lines of evidence). On the other hand, times of coolness (like The Little Ice Age) caused widespread poverty. But the IPCC doesn’t mention this.
Many parts of nature are robust and resilient, with built-in redundancy. If this principle also applies to the earth’s climate, then the earth’s climate is robust and there will be no real climate emergency. And a scientific investigation into the radiative forcing of greenhouse gases seems to confirm that the earth’s climate is indeed robust and stable.
Consequently, I believe that the atmosphere is designed better than we think. It’s more complex than we think. And it’s designed to be stable and not unstable.
We have a biblical basis for our confidence that the climate is designed to be broadly stable. After the Flood, God promised: “as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen. 8:22NIV). This suggests that earth would quickly recover from the catastrophic climate change that occurred with the flood and the ensuing ice age. This climate change was much greater than what we are experiencing today.
The Bible also teaches that we are stewards of the earth (Gen. 1:15; Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:1-22). Risk assessment techniques can be used to determine the relative importance of environmental issues. What is the risk of climate change? The argument for carbon dioxide (CO2) as the cause of global warming depends on computer modeling. But how accurate are the computer models in predicting climate? And what other variables and feedback mechanisms could be missing from the models? Some of these topics are discussed in this post.
The Bible also says that God designed the earth to be inhabited by plants and animals and people. This means that the earth’s atmosphere is designed so that life can thrive – it is not just the product of random processes that can get out of control. So the atmosphere is regulated for their well-being. For example, the human body regulates its temperature within a tight range. Similarly, because God is in control, I think that the earth’s atmospheric system is designed to be regulated and stable and not unstable.
Climate alarmism appears to be driven more by an anti-Christian worldview than by scientific evidence. The worldview driving the alarmism is not Christian; it is humanistic and neo-Marxist. And, the fake, anti-Bible deep-time evolutionary history of planet Earth (Appendix A), based on naturalism (the belief that nature is all there is), feeds into a radical environmentalist ideology that has embraced climate change.
There are Christians who support climate alarmism (Hayhoe and Farley, 2011) and non-Christians who believe that most of the recent global warming was not human-caused (Curry, 2013).
If the concern was truly about saving the planet from global warming due to human-generated CO2, surely the greatest sources of the CO2 should be the main target for the action? Then why, when China is the world’s largest CO2 producer, is no one protesting outside Chinese embassies? Neither China nor India have any target to reduce their total CO2 emissions under the Paris Accord. And if climate change activists were really concerned about saving the planet from the effects of human-produced CO2, why are they not generally supporting nuclear power?
The greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect is a natural process that warms the Earth’s surface. When the sun’s energy reaches the earth’s atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases keep earth livable. The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the Earth. This process maintains the Earth’s temperature at around 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it would otherwise be. But the process is more complicated than most people realize. For example, there is a logarithmic relation between CO2 and temperature. The main greenhouse gases are water vapor and CO2.
The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased since 1860 from about 285 ppm (parts-per-million; 0.029%) to 410 ppm (0.041%) in 2020. The rate of rise (in recent years) is about 2 ppm per year , and there has been a 45% rise over 160 years.
The human contribution to CO2 emissions through the burning of fossil fuels is less than 5% of the total global carbon budget. Other sources include changes in land use (e.g., deforestation), volcanoes, the weathering of rocks, the release of carbon dioxide from the oceans (any warming of the oceans results in CO2 being less soluble and therefore it is released into the atmosphere), the breakdown of organic remains (dead wood in forests) etc. Because of Henry’s law, the oceans are a sink for CO2 (higher atmospheric concentrations cause more CO2 to be dissolved in the oceans). And because the natural sources of CO2 are believed to be balanced with the natural sinks, it believed that the increasing trend in global concentrations is due to the increasing trend in anthropogenic (caused by humans) emissions.
But is human-generated CO2 contributing to global warming? Is this causing an enhanced greenhouse effect? If it is, how much of the warming is due to human activity?
Over the past 70 years, cloud seeding has been used in efforts to increase precipitation. However, there is no statistical evidence that it can reliably increase precipitation. If we can’t modify local weather, then I doubt we can modify global climate. In fact, it could be arrogant to claim that humanity can influence global climate significantly by simply reducing their emission of CO2.
Saturation of carbon dioxide and water vapor?
Physicists William Happer and William van Wijngaarden have determined that the present levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapor are almost completely saturated (Appendix B). In radiation physics the technical term “saturated” implies that adding more molecules will not cause more warming.
This means that from now on our emissions from burning fossil fuels would have little or no further impact on global warming. There would be no climate emergency. No threat at all. We could emit as much CO2 as we like with no effect. That’s why these findings have been censored from publication so far!
According to homogenized data, the planet has warmed by about 1.0°C since 1880 and some of this warming occurred before there was any significant change in the CO2 (that is, this part of the warming could not be due to human activity). Was it due to variations in solar activity? But the global temperature is not rising consistently with the increased production of human-generated CO2. The amount of anthropogenic CO2 has risen fairly consistently since 1880, but the global temperature has not; there have been periods of warming and cooling (see Figure; Evans 2011). There are arguments about just how much warming has occurred. These observations cast doubt on the claim that human-generated CO2 is the prime cause of periods of global warming since 1880.
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), over the past 40 years the earth’s surface has warmed by 0.16 deg C/decade (See Fig.). But before this there is a 40-year period (1940-1980) with no net warming! As the amount of anthropogenic CO2 rose appreciable between 1940 and 1980, this indicates that there are other factors that can cool the atmosphere. Was it due to variations in aerosols in the atmosphere?
How objective are the surface temperature trends? The terrestrial (surface) thermometer records are problematic because of changes in circumstances and equipment, combined with questionable adjustments made to the historical record (see “Data manipulation” below). This could make the longer-term trend unreliable. Unfortunately, the historical data are massaged by those with a vested interest in global warming!
Temperatures of the lower atmosphere are also determined by balloon-born (radiosondes) and satellite (microwave radiometers) instrumentation. The global trend in these temperatures is shown below (Ades M et al. 2020; Spencer, 2021). These show that over the past 40 years the lower atmosphere has warmed by 0.2 deg C/decade (radiosonde) and 0.14-0.15 deg C/decade (satellite).
So, the temperature data show a consistent increase in global atmospheric temp over the past 40 years. But what is causing the increased global temperatures? Is it mainly natural or mainly human-caused? And what is the earth’s “Normal” temperature? Could our current temperatures be more “normal” than those alleged to have occurred 100-150 years ago?
To put the situation into perspective, the amount of warming to date is insignificant. You and I can’t sense a temperature difference of 1.0°C. And two locations that had a mean temperature difference of 1.0°C would be deemed to have the same thermal climate.
The fact is that in the past 40 years the earth has warmed slightly. This is not surprising as the earth is almost always warming or cooling. From these data, inferences have been made about the cause of this change (natural variation or human activity) and the value of temperatures in the future (by extrapolation).
The UN’s IPCC stated in 2001 that: “The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” Nevertheless, that is exactly what they did, predict the future temperature!
Temperature predictions by mathematical models
We need to know how much Earth will warm in response to an increase in CO2. The ‘Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity’ (ECS) is the amount of warming expected from a doubling of the CO2 level. If this is unacceptably high, then an appropriate response might be to take steps to reduce human-generated CO2 emissions. If the ECS is acceptably small, then there is little point in acting to limit emissions.
The direct greenhouse effect of CO2 (without considering any secondary, or knock-on effects) is generally agreed upon, at about 1.1°C increase for a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Some even argue for an even lower figure of 0.8°C.
Importantly, this is not a linear relationship. There is a diminishing effect of adding more CO2 because it absorbs only certain infrared frequencies and most of those are already absorbed. In other words, climate sensitivity decreases as the CO2 concentration increases. But this diminishing effect was omitted from the IPCC’s summary provided for government policymakers.
Furthermore, even assuming that all of the 2 ppm per year increase in CO2 is due to human activity, it would take nearly 200 years to double the atmospheric CO2 level to 800 ppm!
Why the panic? It comes from the IPCC’s climate models that add positive feedback (amplification) to the ~1 degree C of warming expected from CO2 alone. Thus, the IPCC AR5 (2013) places the ECS at between 1.5 and 4.5°C.
But nearly all the mathematical models seriously over-predict global surface temperature response to rising CO2 (see Appendix C and Appendix D). The models overshoot historical warming from the near-surface through the upper troposphere, in the tropics and globally. They exaggerate climate sensitivity by having positive feedback for water vapor (which has not been verified in the atmosphere). Because of this, the models systematically exaggerate CO2’s warming effect. In fact, because atmospheric water vapor is almost completely saturated, its feedback would be insignificant (Appendix B).
When the erroneous modelling of water vapor (positive feedback) is disregarded, the maximum climate sensitivity (ECS) is 1.1°C (this is the amount of warming expected from a doubling of the level of CO₂). The bottom line is that we don’t have to take any drastic action to limit the warming due to human-generated CO2 to less than 1.5 degrees C.
The IPCC’s models show warming about 4 times that due to CO2 alone (Hayden, 2020). This amplification is assumed to be due to a positive feedback process (due to changes in the properties of water vapor and clouds) where hot weather leads to even hotter weather. But there was no runaway warming during the Medieval Warm Period because the climate is controlled by negative feedback which keeps the surface of the earth within a few percent of its present 288 K (150 C). And atmospheric water vapor is almost completely saturated (Appendix B), which only leaves cloud cover as a potential positive feedback process.
As these temperature predictions involve extrapolation, they are unreliable. Extrapolation involves more uncertainty than interpolation.
Data manipulation – surface temperatures
There is strong evidence that institutions have been adjusting historical terrestrial temperature records to support the case for CO₂-driven global warming. Instances of inappropriate data manipulation are evident in adjustments made to Australian surface temperature data.
Data homogenization is carried out in order to remove “non-climatic” impacts. For example, the following changes have occurred in the temperature measurement methods and instrumentation:
- Fast-response electronic temperature sensors have replaced the slow-response mercury bulb thermometer.
- Small plastic screens have replaced the larger timber Stevenson screens. The temperature sensor is mounted inside these screens to enable the sensor to be shaded and ventilated naturally by the wind.
- Automatic data logging (e.g., data every second or minute) has replaced manual observations (e.g., every 3 hours or less often).
All these changes should result in the measurement of higher maximum temperatures than previously. Therefore, to adjust the previous measurements to remove these changes (due to measurement methods and instrumentation) from temperature trends, the historical temperature data should be adjusted upwards. But many of the actual adjustments made by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) decrease the historical data! So, these virtual temperature data give an apparent increase in temperatures with time. The adjustment gives a false warming trend, which is claimed to be evidence of global warming! Unfortunately, a flawed method of data adjustment can create a false warming trend from the adjustments alone. This makes me skeptical of the official Australian surface temperature trends (1910 to 2020) on the BOM website.
The BOM claims that “The Bureau’s methods [of homogenization] have been extensively peer-reviewed and found to be among the best in the world”. But Jennifer Marohasy has compared the raw and homogenized data. Clear examples of the reduction in historical temperatures are evident in places like Laverton airport and West Wyalong airport, although these weather stations have not been relocated.
Furthermore, there are proven instances of the deletion of high temperatures from the past records—such as Australia’s hottest day on record, being 125°F (51.7°C) at Bourke on 3 January 1909. The BOM claimed that it was anomalous because the nearest stations failed to record a similar temperature. However, nearby Brewarrina recorded 123°F (50.6°C) for the same day. Similarly, the second hottest on record, 124°F (51.1°C), recorded at White Cliffs on 12th January 1939, has been deleted. Yet these temperatures were recorded at an official BOM weather station and using a mercury thermometer in a Stevenson screen.
But this data homogenization can give the impression of catastrophic global warming. Jennifer Marohasy claimed that, “Until something is done about data homogenization we are stuck with a paradigm full of clever tricks”. The BOM keeps reporting catastrophic warming. This is achieved in part by making many adjustments to the historical data so the past appears cooler than it actually was. And claims about the ‘hottest year on record’ that are periodically released to the media are based on these ‘adjusted’ (homogenized) historical data sets.
My pathology laboratory has changed to the Alinity analyzer for total Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) and free PSA testing. Because of this change in instrumentation, for total PSA results >0.2 ug/L, results are 20% higher compared to the previous method. I have more confidence in this data homogenization than in the one used by the BOM for adjusting surface temperatures.
There is also evidence of fraudulent manipulation of tidal data to give an acceleration in the increase in sea levels, compared to what the raw data have shown over the last 100 years, which is nothing dramatic.
Can climate science be trusted?
Dr Judith Curry was a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology but resigned because of what was going on in “climate science”. She was critical of the IPCC reports because of “pretty shoddy science and overconfidence in their expert judgment”. “And now we have way too much confidence in some very dubious climate models and inadequate data sets”. “It’s [climate change] a very complex problem and we don’t have the answers yet”. “The alarmists seem to be completely intolerant to disagreement and criticism”. “At some point we’re going to hit another slowdown in warming. And then maybe that will wake people up a little bit more”.
Dr Jay Wile (2021) claims that the IPCC has reinforced “shoddy science”. “Consider, for example, their view of how humans have impacted the earth’s climate. In 2001, they said that human-emitted greenhouse gases are ‘likely’ responsible for more than half of the earth’s temperature increase since 1951. By 2007, climate scientists had shown that the models used in 2001 were wrong, and they also found new variables related to climate which were poorly understood. Nevertheless, in their 2007 report, the IPCC said that human-emitted greenhouse gases are ‘very likely’ responsible. Over the next six years, climate scientists continued to show that the models used by the IPCC were wrong and continued to find more uncertainties in our understanding of climate. But over that same period, the IPCC decided that that human-emitted greenhouse gases are ‘extremely likely’ responsible.”
“In real science, when uncertainties grow, the conclusions become more and more tentative. In climate science, the reverse seems to be the case. More uncertainties seem to lead to more confidence in the conclusions. That’s pretty much the definition of shoddy science.”
Is climate change a debatable matter?
As there are a range of views on global warming, on temperature predictions decades ahead and on the human impact on global warming, these could be debatable matters (like politics or tattoos). These are secondary matters that are not essential to the Christian faith (Rom. 14:1 – 15:7; 1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:23-33). The Biblical principles that can help us determine God’s will in debatable matters are given in the Appendix E.
The climate crisis is a false alarm. There is a need to fix the science of the greenhouse effect to improve predictions before we can assess the magnitude of any global warming. To start reducing emissions of greenhouse gases before this is done (as recommended by the IPCC), is putting the cart before the horse.
The declaration of a climate emergency seems to be based on poor science and poor data. And talk of “climatic chain reactions” is scaremongering. This ignores the near-saturation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change is a very complex problem. And dubious climate models and inadequate data limit our current understanding. The best way to improve the situation is to improve the science of the greenhouse effect.
Measurements show that the lower atmosphere has warmed slightly over the past 40 years. But the global temperature is not rising consistently with the increased production of human-generated CO2. For example, there was a 40-year period (1940-1980) with no net warming.
Homogenization of historical temperature records in Australia seems to have added false warming to some sites and made it easier to record new temperature records (as old ones were deemed to be unreliable).
Most climatic models seriously over-predict the global surface temperature response to rising CO2. They exaggerate climate sensitivity by having false positive feedback for water vapor. Because of this, the models systematically exaggerate CO2’s warming effect.
How much of the global warming is due to anthropogenic CO2? Only time will tell. The climate has warmed by about 10C over the past century – that’s climate variability, not a climate crisis. Consequently, I’m skeptical of the alarmist climate story/scenario being told by the IPCC and government authorities.
According to Van Wijngaarden and Happer (2020), there is no climate “crisis” now and that there would be no climate crisis in the future, regardless of the quantity of additional anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
Appendix A: Deep time applied to climate change
Here is an example of how a belief in deep-time fuels climate alarmism.
According to NOAA, “Carbon dioxide concentrations are rising mostly because of the fossil fuels that people are burning for energy. Fossil fuels like coal and oil contain carbon that plants pulled out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis over the span of many millions of years; we are returning that carbon to the atmosphere in just a few hundred years.”
And it is stated that:
– Atmospheric CO2 is at its highest level in 15 to 20 million years (Tripati et al., 2009).
– A natural change of 100ppm normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years. The recent increase of 100ppm has taken just 120 years.
Appendix B: Thermal radiation and greenhouse gases
This is adapted from the Heartland Institute.
While the standard studies treat the absorption of radiation by greenhouse molecules using crude absorption bands of radiation energy, Wijngaarden and Happer (2020) analyze the millions of distinct energies, called spectral lines, which make up these bands. This line-by-line approach has been an emerging field of analysis, often giving dramatically new results.
Nor do they just look at absorption. Thermal emission of greenhouse gases is just as important as absorption. And how the temperature of the atmosphere varies with altitude is as important as the concentration of greenhouse gases.
Their central conclusion is this:
“For the most abundant greenhouse gases, H2O and CO2, the saturation effects are extreme, with per-molecule forcing powers suppressed by four orders of magnitude at standard concentrations...”
Their graphical conclusions are especially telling:
“Fig. 9 as well as Tables 2 and 4 show that at current concentrations, the forcings from all greenhouse gases are saturated. The saturations of the abundant greenhouse gases H2O and CO2 are so extreme that the per-molecule forcing is attenuated by four orders of magnitude…”
The other three greenhouse gases they analyzed are ozone, nitrous oxide and methane. These are also saturated but not extremely so like water vapor and carbon dioxide. They are also relatively minor in abundance compared to CO2, which in turn is small compared to H2O.
Clearly this is work that the climate science community needs to carefully consider. This may not be easy given that three major physics journals have refused to publish it. The reviews have been defensive and antagonistic, neither thoughtful nor helpful. Alarmism is in control of the journals, censoring contrary findings, hence the preprint version.
Wijngaarden and Happer are now extending their analysis to include clouds. Alarmist climate science gets dangerous global warming, not from the CO2 increase alone, but also using positive water vapor and cloud feedbacks. Given that carbon dioxide and water vapor are both extremely saturated, it is highly unlikely that cloud feedbacks alone can do much damage, but it requires careful analysis to know this for sure.
I have yet to see any critical review on the web of Wijngaarden and Happer’s paper that is reputable. There are some critical comments saying that their findings differ from what is accepted by climate scientists, but no-one else has attempted to check their calculations.
Will the IPCC consider the studies of Wijngaarden and Happer (2020) in their 2021 meetings? I doubt it.
Appendix C: McKitrick and Christy’s (2020) findings
They compare post-1979 lower-troposphere and mid-troposphere hindcasts in 38 CMIP6 model runs to satellite, balloon, and reanalysis observations. All model runs warmed faster than observations both globally and in the tropics, in most cases significantly. Models can be grouped by ECS value, but even low-ECS models exhibit too much tropospheric warming post-1979.
Appendix D: Mitchell et al’s (2020) findings
Tropospheric and stratospheric tropical temperature trends in recent decades have been notoriously hard to simulate using climate models, particularly in the upper troposphere. Aside from the warming trend itself, this has broader implications, e.g., atmospheric circulation trends depend on latitudinal temperature gradients. In this study, tropical temperature trends in the CMIP6 models are examined, from 1979 to 2014, and contrasted with trends from the RICH/RAOBCORE radiosondes, and the ERA5/5.1 reanalysis. As in earlier studies, they find considerable warming biases in the CMIP6 modeled trends, and they show that these biases are linked to biases in surface temperature. They also uncover previously undocumented biases in the lower-middle stratosphere: the CMIP6 models appear unable to capture the time evolution of stratospheric cooling, which is non-monotonic owing to the Montreal Protocol. Finally, using models with large ensembles, they show that their standard deviation in tropospheric temperature trends, which is due to internal variability alone, explains ~ 50% (± 20%) of that from the CMIP6 models.
Appendix E: Biblical principles for debatable matters
The Bible gives principles that can help us determine God’s will in debatable matters.
First, we are to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20). When Paul said to “flee from sexual immorality”, he gave the following reason: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This means considering questions such as: Will it honor or dishonor God? Will His reputation be enhanced or harmed? Will God be exalted or disgraced? Will others think less of God, His church or of His word?
A related principle is that whatever we do should be done for the glory of God. When Paul discussed whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols he concluded, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
The next six principles involve the welfare of others.
Acting in love (Rom. 14:15)
With regard to debatable matters, Paul wrote, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor. 10:23-24). In this area, although there is freedom of action, acting in love means that we consider the impact on others, particularly those whose conscience is weak or strict (1 Cor. 8:7). As a result of this we may need to modify our behavior and not enjoy all the liberties that we could otherwise.
Acting in love means forbearing those with a stricter conscience, not insisting on doing what we want without considering the views of those around us, in order to build them up; “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please Himself …” (Rom. 15:1-3a).
The practice of acceptance features in the passage in Romans, which begins with “accept those whose faith is weak” (Rom. 14:1). Those whose convictions allow them more freedom are to accept those with stricter consciences on debatable matters. Despite our differences of opinion with regard to debatable matters, believers should accept one another just as Christ has accepted us; “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).
Our fellowship with one another shouldn’t depend on one’s viewpoint on such matters. As Christ died for all believers and they have been accepted as His children, we should accept them as well (Rom. 14:15). The call to the Christian is to accept every other believer without having to pass judgment on every opinion they hold. In other words, we are to allow for differing opinions, because differing opinions do not necessarily mean a differing faith.
With regard to debatable matters Paul wrote, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). This means promoting peace and spiritual growth and determining whether the matter would help or hinder the harmony of believers.
Paul also wrote, “Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable (or debatable) matters” (Rom. 14:1). One way of accepting other believers is to not engage in disputes about their strict views and not force our convictions on them (Rom 14:22). We can share our opinion, but it is important to give others space to grow and to allow for the possibility that we may be wrong.
Those with a strong conscience shouldn’t despise those with a strict conscience; “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not” (Rom. 14:3a). On the other hand, those with a strict conscience are not to judge others as being sinners; “the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Rom. 14:3b).
As far as our service goes as the Lord’s servants we are all accountable to Him, not to each other (Rom. 14:4, 10-13). This means respecting each other’s opinion as we can have differing views on what pleases the Lord (1 Th. 4:1). We are to allow for differing conclusions of honest believers seeking the mind of Christ, without criticism, without contempt, and without judgment (Rom. 14:10). Don’t judge one another critically to put others down (Rom. 14:13). React with love not criticism. Remember, God has accepted them. He is the judge in these matters, not us.
Note that these verses are dealing with debatable matters. We can certainly make judgements about matters that involve the fundamentals of the faith and sinful behavior.
Don’t hinder spiritual growth
There are many references to not stumbling a weaker believer (Rom. 14:13, 15, 20-21; 1 Cor. 8:9-13; 1 Cor. 10:32-33). This means refraining from doing something that is not forbidden in Scripture if it hinders the spiritual progress of those with a strict conscience, by causing them to act against their conscience. Otherwise, both parties sin.
Don’t let debatable matters destroy the work of God. Paul even extends this principle to unbelievers because he wanted them to accept Christ as their Savior; “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33). It’s loving and unselfish to think of others above ourselves (Rom. 14:15; 15:1-2).
Order in the Church
Finally, there should be unity within the local church. When he was addressing disorder in the meetings of the church in Corinth, Paul wrote; “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” and “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:33; 40). In this situation, Paul imposed some boundaries to ensure there was order instead of disorder.
Some debatable matters can affect the unity or functioning of the local church. Because the local church is to operate in an orderly way, in the case of debatable matters that directly affect the unity or functioning of the local church, there should be boundaries on what is taught and practiced. In these situations, what is taught and practiced within the church needs to be consistent and it will not always match everyone’s opinion because after all, we can have various opinions on these topics.
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This post is based on an article by Batten (2020) and benefited from helpful discussions with Tom Murphy.
Posted, February 2021