What practical issues are disrupting unity in the church today?
In Paul’s day, unity between the Jews and non-Jews was challenging; the issues were most often about the Mosaic Law, circumcision, allowable foods, and holy days. They held strong convictions over these topics. Because these are not our issues, sometimes the passage in Romans 14:1 – 15:13 doesn’t seem to apply. What principles of Christian unity can we take from this passage?
Strong vs. Weak
First, notice that Paul uses a comparison between those with weak and strong faith. He is not judging those with weaker faith or applauding the stronger one. He is noting that we are all on a faith journey, and our faith falls on a scale from weak to strong. We do not boast in our faith, or hopefully not! We boast in the object of our faith! For without the grace of God, none of us would have faith!
The main idea in this comparison of strong vs. weak is that those who may be experiencing stronger faith must be willing to surrender their rights to honor and not trip up those with weaker faith. Obviously, Paul noted that we have a tendency to judge those with weaker faith. This thought is convicting, “Who are we to judge another’s servant?” God is the master of His servants, directing their steps, instructing, training, and rebuking as needed. He doesn’t need our help. The scripture says that our weaker sister will stand because the Lord can make her stand.
Undisputed or Personal Conviction
There are undisputed matters in Christianity. These are most often found in creeds, catechisms, or statements of beliefs. These are essential convictions about the nature of God, His Son, the saving work of the cross, and our future glory in the new heavens and new earth. These form the cornerstone of Christian unity.
On the other hand, disputable concerns are ones that are not prerequisites for Christian fellowship. Disputable concerns might be gray areas not spelled out in scripture. They are matters of personal conviction – not essential to salvation. You may have heard some people shun certain movies, dancing, drinking alcoholic beverages, using certain language, or judging some clothing. Others caution against Halloween, choose not to have Christmas trees and don’t attend Easter egg hunts. Disputable matters extend to ways to worship, how to educate our children, and even the political party you support. These are personal matters of conviction, and they can vary in locale and denomination.
An example of blaspheming the good news of Christ!
I heard of a church some time ago that got into an unholy argument over whether they ought to have a Christmas tree at their Christmas program. Some thought that a tree was fine; others thought it was a pagan practice, and they got so angry at each other that they actually got into fist fights over it. One group dragged the tree out, then the other group dragged it back in. They ended up suing each other in a court of law and, of course, the whole thing was spread in the newspapers for the entire community to read. … They made such an important issue over it, they were ready to physically attack one another.Ray Stedman
Covid closures, masks, and vaccines, oh my!
In the past few years, Christians have argued over wearing masks, closing church buildings for a season, getting a Covid vaccine, and more. We had an opportunity to put Romans 14 – 15 into practice but, in some cases, chose to “assert our rights” instead. Our lack of unity was disheartening. Undoubtedly, our unbelieving neighbors wondered what difference Christianity makes if we could not treat one another kindly in the light of a global pandemic.
Paul warns us against forcing our opinions or our convictions on others. In recent years, the idea of “cancel” culture has come into the foreground. Dictionary.com says, “In a cancel culture, we appoint ourselves the arbiters of right and wrong.” The implication is that even in disputable matters, we want to profess how “right” we are.
Maybe you have experienced “cancel culture.” I have. Because my opinions did not match others, I was canceled. So nothing I said, no testimony of mine, was worthwhile. I’ve struggled with that. Andy Stanley wrote, “Cancel culture lowers the IQ of the entire culture. It lowers our IQ because we are no longer willing to listen to or learn from individuals or groups who don’t see, interpret, and experience the world the way we do” (Stanley, 2022).
I believe Paul is addressing our propensity toward cancel culture in this passage. In Romans 14:1 and 15:7, Paul says to welcome one another. In welcoming one another, we engage in conversation, listen intently, seek to find common ground, and live harmoniously.
The Key Idea
Those weak in the faith tend to condemn those who experience more liberty in their faith. And the strong in the faith tend to be arrogant or superior.
I like Matt Smethurst‘s admonition. He says to dust off your documents, meaning know, understand, be firm about the indisputable matters and get a table – the perfect place to explore convictions in honest, open dialogue. Be hospitable, engage your neighbors, and seek to understand!
Is it possible for us, as Christians, to disagree about all sorts of issues and still live in unity? The scripture says how we treat one another, our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is the identifying mark of a Christian! Our challenge is to love, forgive, provide for, celebrate, and pray for people we disagree with. Our unity as members of His body is crucial!
God is sovereign over your brother or sister’s
actions and spiritual growth.
We love each other and choose not to
dismiss, judge, or persuade others.
We extend mercy to our family in light
of the mercies we received from God.
Being right is not our prime directive — love is!
Stanley, A. (2022, May 10). Not in It to Win It. Zondervan Reflective.