Monday, November 13, 2006

What to Do When You Disagree With a Brother over a Secondary Matter [Romans 14:1-15:13] - (I)

Have you ever thought about how diverse the church is in its make up? In our own congregation are folks from many different countries. Besides these ethnic distinctions, there are some who were born into Christian families, others who are the only Christian in their family. There are old, young, - male, female – educated, non-educated – doctors, mechanics, teachers, analysts, paramedics, tool and dye men, administrators, painters, homemakers, retired bus drivers, engineers, web-site designers, salesmen, students, stock traders, office workers, day-labourers... the diversity is remarkable!

And the rallying point for all these folks is the gospel – that is what binds us together. The cross is the shared experience which causes us to get out of our beds every week and walk into a gym with people we would otherwise have no contact with.

BUT, and this is a large “but,” all this diversity opens wide the door to misunderstanding, division, dissensions, strife, jealousy, anger and disunity, especially when you recall that enemy outpost in our hearts. So many different people with different backgrounds and different ideas and different values means it would be very easy for ruptures to occur in the unity we so treasure.

In Romans 14:1-15:13, the Apostle Paul addresses one kind of disunity that can occur in every church. It is disunity caused by differences on secondary matters – Gospel non-essentials. As saved sinners, we often do not handle differences of conviction on matters like this with much grace! So, we must see what the Lord would have us do when a brother comes to a different conclusion than us.

Now, to understand this passage, you must first grasp five foundational ideas. I will include two with this post.

1. The People Involved: Everyone involved in this disunity is a Christian

The most important thing to understand about this whole section is that the people involved are all Christians. All the terms of reference (“brothers” etc) speak of those who have repented of sin and are trusting in Christ alone for salvation. This is not a division between the saved and lost / the sheep and the wolves. That means:

A) Christians can disagree with one another
That may seem very simple, but I have met too many folks who think if you disagree with someone that means i) the other person is automatically not a Christian and/or, ii) it is time to leave the church!

B) That being “of the same mind” does not require “thinking the exact same” on every issue. There are some issues where we must agree – deity of Jesus, His substitutionary atonement, the reliability of the Word of God... but there can be other issues that we agree to disagree on. More on this afterward.

2. What the Problem is Not...

So, Paul is dealing here with genuine Christians. This is very important to keep in mind when comparing the situation in Rome to that which was taking place in Galatia or Colossae. Paul addresses similar troubles in each of these churches regarding things like what is to be eaten, drank or observed. But in Galatia, Paul curses those who promote the observance of certain days. He does not do anything like this in Romans. In Colossians, he denounces those who take on an ascetic lifestyle. He does no such thing in Romans.

Why? What is the difference?

The difference lies both in the particulars of what these folks were doing and, most importantly, in the motives behind the actions. In Galatia, it was a return to Judaism and the Old Covenant as necessary for justification that Paul cursed (anathema!). Acceptance with God is through Christ alone.

In Colossae, the asceticism being promoted was held up as more important than Christ – the preeminence of Christ as Mediator was being denied. And Paul views these people as non-Christians. Why? Because they replace Jesus with works.

3. What the Problem Is...

So you can see, what is happening in Rome is not this. People are not replacing Christ with vegetarianism. They are not relying on the eating of garden herbs alone to get them to God. They are not adding the Old Covenant rituals to Christ or trusting their asceticism as a better mediator than Christ. Rather, they are viewing their vegetarianism as something good and pleasing to the God they are trusting in, through Jesus Christ. And there is a world of difference.

In Colossae and Galatia, the Gospel was being perverted. Here the problem is a growing disunity caused by very different views on secondary matters. The problem in Rome is disunity caused by differences of opinion on secondary matters among these Christians. It has not escalated to the point of division – although you might say these believers are as close to the line as you can get.