A classic example of a stumbling block issue would be drinking alcohol. If a Christian drinks in front of a fellow-believer who thinks alcohol consumption is wrong or if he tries to get the friend to drink, it could cause the person to go against his conscience and sin. In other words, it could cause him to stumble.
Not all issues are so easily decided. How do we determine when we are dealing with a stumbling block issue or not? Here are a number of observations derived from the two main stumbling block passages that I trust will lead us toward an answer.
1. Not all issues or disagreements among Christians in a congregation can be classified as stumbling block matters. Beginning in Cor. 7:1 Paul writes to the Corinthians of “the matters about which you wrote” (7:1). In other words, these are matters that troubled the Corinthians and they wanted to get Paul’s take on them. Of all the matters Paul addresses in this section (being married or not being married, ch. 7; food related to idol/temple worship, 8-10; head coverings, 11:2-16; the Lord’s Supper, 11:17-34; “spirituals” or “spiritual things” [extraordinary spiritual activities, including spiritual gifts], 12:1-14:40; and the resurrection, 15:1-58), there is only one that constitutes a stumbling block issue. In all the others Paul clearly comes down upon a particular side. For example, in regard to whether or not Christians should marry (ch. 7), Paul is clear that though there is the freedom not to marry (if God has gifted and/or called a person to such a single lifestyle), most should marry because of sexual sin. So, Paul does not say, “Hey, if you have people in your church who don’t think any Christian should marry, don’t allow anyone to marry—after all you don’t want to be a stumbling block.” No, Paul is clear that though some may not want to marry, marriage is good and, in many cases, it is the wisest step for Christians to take. Likewise, he doesn’t leave it up to the Corinthians to decide whether or not they practice “spirituals” or spiritual gifts in a way that trumps love for one another and God’s Word (12-14); nor does he leave it up to them whether or not they believe in the resurrection (15).
2. Even in stumbling block issues there tends to be a stronger (more defensible) and weaker (less defensible) position, which appears to be why Paul uses “weak” to refer to the person prohibiting the activity (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:11). The issue in Romans 14 appears to be that of Jewish food and Sabbath laws, and whether or not Christians (Jewish or Gentile) must keep them. The issue in 1 Corinthians 8-10 appears to revolve around the eating of meat related to pagan temples and idol worship. The pagan temples in many first century, A.D., Greco-Roman cities also served as the local butcher. Once meat was sacrificed to pagan gods it would be sold for food. Because of this, many guilds and groups of people would have feasts and get-togethers at pagan temples. Additionally, this meat would also be sold so it could be eaten off-site. In 1 Cor. 8 Paul appears to be addressing the issue of eating at the temples (8:10) and in 1 Cor. 10 eating meat sold at the temple, but eaten off-site (10:25, 28). In both situations, Paul makes it clear that bottom-line there is nothing unethical in and of itself about eating the food some were prohibiting in Rome (Rom. 14:14a) or the meat related to the pagan temples and idols in Corinth (1 Cor. 8:4-6).
3. Because of #2, it appears that Paul felt the freedom to state that in the given issue there was a stronger and weaker position, which implies that discussions could take place among the Christians that may lead to a weaker brother leaving behind his conviction that a particular activity was unethical. So, even in situations in which Christian leaders must be adamant that stronger brothers give up freedoms for weaker brothers, at one and the same time, they can teach weaker brothers with the goal of helping them see that the particular activity is not wrong. This teaching must be done with great care, however. It must be careful to allow God’s Spirit to convince without forcing a person to engage in something against their conscience.
4. Though #3 seems to follow from #2, nevertheless, the accent in both passages is that as long as an activity is thought wrong to a particular Christian or group of Christians, then the stronger brother must give up his freedom for the sake of the weaker brother’s conscience—as a matter of love and glorifying God (e.g. Rom. 14:7-8; 15:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:23-33). This is true as long as there are no stronger theological issues that would trump the opposition by the weaker brother. For example, in Corinth a potential weaker brother might claim, “I am bothered by Christians marrying since my experience with sexual relations among Corinthians-at-large has been so negative and so filled with sin. I think all true Christians should abstain from all sex, including marriage.” (This, by the way, appears to be the situation behind chapter 7) To this, Paul would not say, “Well, o.k. Corinthians, don’t marry because you don’t want to offend the weaker brother.” No, there is a stronger biblical principle in play—namely the potential of dishonoring God through sexual sin if most Christians are not marrying. Likewise, he would not allow the practice of spiritual sensational gifts (such as ecstatic speech) to trump the preservation of love and the priority of God’s Word (1 Cor. 12-14). In other words, he would not allow a Christian to say, “I am offended by those who put the brakes or restraints upon my use of ecstatic speech or utterances, since they are part of my worship of God.” No, in Paul’s mind, there are stronger issues at play.
5. It appears that stumbling blocks can exist merely by one’s presence at a place associated with an offensive activity (1 Cor. 8:10). Also, a stumbling blocks can exist at the level of engaging in an action when a particular person is present for whom the activity is a problem (1 Cor. 10:25, 28). As an example in the first case, when a person is part of a congregation that largely believes any alcohol consumption is wrong, the wisest approach for a Christian who affirms moderate alcohol consumption is not to go to the town liquor store. Such in and of itself can be a stumbling block, especially if the Christian going to the store is in a position of authority.
As an example in the latter case, if a person is part of a congregation that does not have a corporate position on drinking one way or the other, yet they invite over to their house a brother or sister who believes abstinence is the only ethical position, it would be wrong to drink in front of them or to offer them alcohol when the host knows they have this stance.
6. In both of the key biblical texts (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8-10), it appears that a stumbling block is present when Christians are legitimately concerned that an activity may involve or lead to sin. In each case the most likely concern on the part of the weaker Christian was that those who held on to the freedom would be involved in idolatry. Paul’s contention in both cases was that this would not necessarily arise, but the stronger believer must take into consideration the conscience of the weaker brother who feared the possible sin.
Very different from this would be a group of Christians who were concerned that the surrounding town was offended by non-sinful activities of fellow Christians. If such concern led to the first group of Christians being offended by the actions of the second group, this would not constitute a stumbling block issue. For example, let’s say a church had a number of college-age students who like to go onto the local campus to preach on the sidewalks. A second Christian group believes such preaching is more harmful than helpful—based upon the reactions of their co-workers in town. In such a situation no potential stumbling block is present—at least as defined by Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8-10.
7. Based upon experience in the Church, it seems clear that though many potential stumbling block issues can be decided based upon the above principles, there will remain disagreement on a minority of issues among Christians. In other words, there will be some issues that some say are stumbling block issues and some will say there are greater biblical issues at play and cannot be constituted as stumbling block issues. In such issues all involved must do their best to preserve love among each other to the glory of God, even when they must agree to disagree. In such cases, biblical guidelines for working through differences must be followed (e.g. Mt. 5:23-24; 18:15ff.) and those involved must do their best by the grace of God to give each other the benefit of the doubt (see 1 Cor. 13:7). The wisest approach may even be for church leaders and/or the congregation to draw up a statement upon the congregation’s position—one which would formulate the key biblical boundaries to be followed and then leave room for freedom of conscience in the details (e.g. Acts 15:1-35).
 To give parallels from other areas of congregational life, whether or not pastors teach on God’s sovereign grace is not a stumbling block issue. In other words, a pastor should not refrain from such teaching simply because some might not like it or be offended. There are larger issues (doctrinal fidelity) at play than one’s offense. Additionally, it cannot be deemed a stumbling block issue whether or not a person follows biblical guidelines of conflict resolution and whether or not they release resentment against others. The Bible is clear on these issues. Though the biblical steps might be uncomfortable for some Christians, they are absolutely necessary.
Another Pauline example of a disagreement that could not be classified a stumbling block issue was his account of the time he confronted Peter who capitulated to Judaizers from
and ceased having table fellowship with Gentiles. Paul confronted his fellow
Apostle in the presence of others because what he was doing was not in step
with truth that flowed out of the gospel. See Galatians 2:11-14. Though the
Judaizers might be offended by Jew/Gentile table fellowship, it could not be
classified a stumbling block issue. Clear and greater theological principles
were in play. Jerusalem
 It appears that some in
had taken Jewish
food laws and extended them to a point of demanding vegetarianism, perhaps b/c
so much meat might be considered unclean or connected into idol worship (cf. 1
Cor. 8-10). This is the case even though the Old Testament never demanded
vegetarianism (although it was present in Daniel 1). Rome
 Because Revelation 2:14 mentions eating food sacrificed to idols in a negative light, some Bible readers might ask, “What is going on there? Does this contradict Paul who seems to say that eating such food is not wrong in and of itself unless it causes another to stumble?” Upon closer inspection of Revelation 2:14 the reader will notice that John is not writing that those in Pergamum are eating such food. This eating of such food was engaged in by the Israelites in the wilderness at the instigation of Balaam. If the reader goes back to that incident, he will find out that the Israelites were actually engaging in idol worship (Nu. 25:2). So, in the case of Rev. 2:14, the eating of food sacrificed to idols stands for actual idolatry. The point is that the false teaching present in Pergamum was leading people both to idolatry and sexual sin, as did the false teaching of Balaam with Israel in the wilderness. So, there is no contradiction with what Paul writes.
Most likely the “food sacrificed to idols” in the subsequent context (Rev. 2:20) is meant to carry the same meaning as 2:14, namely there was actual idolatry taking place among the believers of Thyatira whenever they participate in such meals. It was not merely eating the food or being at the place that was under consideration. So, again, there is no contradiction with what Paul writes.
 In either case it seems most likely to me that there is a known problem among the group or the individual against the activity. For example, a generation or two ago many Christians opposed going to movies b/c a Christian from anywhere might drive by and see a Christian attending a theater and be offended. That is a misapplication or over-application of this teaching. It would only apply if a person was part of a congregation who wrestled with this issue or if a Christian tried to “drag” along with him to a theater a Christian brother who was bothered by going to such a place.