There are as many opinions, convictions, and beliefs as there are people. Whether it is at the workplace, in the family, or in the family of God, the church, the differences among us are legion. In New Testament times, Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus were very different from one another, and did not understand each other.
Even though the Jewish Christians had come to embrace Jesus, they did not abandon their two-thousand year history of being with God. They still held to their food laws and special days. The Jewish believers thought the Gentiles should be like them, and they wanted the Gentiles to begin holding to the same ritualistic behavior that they had done for centuries. The Gentiles did not comply. So, the Jewish believers passed judgment on them and condemned them for the lack of sensitivity to the things of God (Romans 14:1-12).
On the other hand, the Gentile believers felt no reason to have such rules and regulations concerning their Christian lives, and they ate what they pleased and saw no need to hold to special Jewish days. They could not understand why the Jewish Christians were so stuck in their traditions, and so the Gentiles looked down on the Jews as hopelessly misguided. It was a potentially explosive situation.
It may not be the first-century, but the church has struggled with this teaching for its long two-thousand year history. In fact, every church I have served has had their particular issues of “disputable matters” that they felt so strongly about that it crowded Jesus out of the center. In my first pastorate, education was the big issue. Some believed in Christian schools as the only real way to educate their kids. Some felt that home-schooling was the only way to go because of the rottenness of the culture. Others thought that public education needed the light of Christians participating and sent their kids to the local schools. The problem was that each group sincerely believed they were right and everyone else was wrong. It was a potentially explosive situation.
In another church I served, there were hard feelings about the place of men and women in the church who had been divorced and remarried. In yet another church, the issue was about whether church members could drink alcohol or not. And yet another church’s issue dealt with how we dress and what our attire is at church. I still remember vividly one lady in that church talking with a woman who had just two weeks before given her life to Christ out of a life of prostitution. The woman was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The church lady was giving her a lecture about how she should be dressing up for Jesus. And the whole time I am thinking to myself: “Lady, I’m not sure you are going to like the woman’s idea of dressing up for Jesus….”
Whenever we want to place “disputable matters” on people’s must-do list, then there will be trouble.
What is more, we will judge others who do not do as we do because we have the mistaken notion that our way of doing things is equal to the death and resurrection of Christ, as if not doing it our way will destroy the church.
Is being right so important that we judge and condemn others who disagree with us?
Here’s the deal: we do not need to necessarily change our views on disputable matters; but we do need to change our attitude and our behavior toward those we disagree with.
For the Apostle Paul, the issues that divide Christians are very important, not because he championed one over the other, but because the church’s identity was at stake. For Paul, the really important question was this:
Will the church be, at its center and core, a community of redeemed persons by the grace of God who center all their lives in the person and work of Jesus, or will the church be a community of opinionated individuals and groups all jockeying for power to have their way on how they think things should go?
We need to use our freedom responsibly through basic human civility. In a nation where we feel free to say whatever we want, we do. In doing so, we elevate self-expression and our opinions over self-control and the mission of the church. The need we have is for a “generous spaciousness” which allows room for us to discuss issues and disputable matters in an atmosphere of generosity, hospitality, and acceptance – seeking to first listen and understand before responding. Our goal as Christians and followers of Jesus is not to win an argument or have our way; our goal is to uphold Jesus as Lord of everything and maintain our center in him, and him alone. It is on this basis that we will be held accountable by God. So, let us live wisely and well, knowing and pursuing Jesus with all heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7).