Once upon time, there were two pastors in a small town. The town had only two churches one on one end of town, and one on the other. One was Methodist and the other Presbyterian. The two pastors often argued over predestination and free will. The Presbyterian argued that God predestined everything because God was all-powerful and all knowing. The Methodist pastor always argued that God was also all loving and had given each of us a free will to make decision.
Despite their differences, they were friends and decided to exchange pulpits. So, on one Sunday morning the Methodist pastor left on horseback from his church to go preach at the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian pastor also left on horseback from his church to go to the Methodist Church. So, they met up in the middle of town.
They greeted one another. But the Presbyterian pastor said, “I want you to know it was predestined from the foundations of the world that I preach in your church today and you preach in mine.” The Methodist pastor just said, “O yeah” and turned around and went back.
Wherever two or more Christians are gathered - there will be a difference of opinion. We Christians have our disagreements from time to time. We have differences in theology or practice. One group feels things should be done one way - and another group feels they should be done another way. Sometimes it makes for good-natured humor. Sometimes it creates fighting and hurt feelings and divisions in the body of Christ.
John Wesley said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” So, disagreement within the body of Christ is necessary. Where we are if Martin Luther had not stood up against the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church of his day? And where we are if John Wesley had not stood up against the apathy of the Anglican Church of his day.
Tension between Christians is usual as we grow and try to remain faithful. But it need not rip us apart. There are some truths that we need to stick to, and there are some we can let go. But in all - we must live love.
When Paul was still around - there were no Christian denominations. There was one church. But there were still disagreements. The diversity in the early church was misunderstandings and disagreements. Some of the early Christians were raised Jewish. They were taught never to associate with Gentiles for fear of unclean. They were raised to keep the Sabbath holy and set apart and not to eat certain thing.
Some of the early Christians had grown up worshipping the Greek and Roman gods. They had grown up treating all days the same and eating whatever they wanted. They had an issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. In the ancient Gentile world, if you go to the meat shop, chances are the meat there had been sacrificed to idol. The Gentiles believe the god of idol entered the sacrifice and all who ate it. Good Jew didn’t agree with it.
So, there were disagreements with the early Christians about eating meat and which meat could be eaten and what days were more holy than others. Should the Gentile Christians keep the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays and should the Jewish Christians look down on the Gentiles if they didn’t? Should the Gentiles stop eating bacon for breakfast or should the Jews just lighten up? Should Christians stop eating all meat sacrificed to idols or should they do whatever they wanted?
Paul addresses this matter very simple - love. He says if someone who is weaker in the faith and has quirks about eating meat comes, then welcome them. Don’t make it your mission to convert him to your way of seeing the issue. He is obviously trying to serve God by abstaining from meat. And don’t let those who abstain look down on those who are not dedicated to making that sacrifice.
The same is true concerning keeping certain days holy like Sabbath. What matters is - that we are living for Christ. Paul advises the Romans not to argue and fight about those things. What is important is - that they love one another and try to serve the Lord. Agree to disagree!
Paul tells us not to fight. There is a balancing act going on here. There are certain things that are essential: “Love God and love your neighbor.” “Jesus is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world.”
But other things are not essential. Does our church have candles and stained-glass windows? Do we speak in tongues in our church or shout “Amen”? Do we sprinkle or immerse when doing baptism?
It is obvious that some of these things are not things that we should debate on. We should approach it just as Wesley did. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” And agree to disagree!
I know growing up in the Methodist Church I heard that over and over again. “It doesn’t matter what church we go to - just that we know the Lord.” Does that mean that we just ignore things that are wrong in other churches or our own? Do we just ignore - while other churches refuse to recognize that women are important part of the church? Do we just ignore - while churches condemn certain groups of people? Or when they are supporting lifestyles that are hurtful and sinful?
How do we deal with other Christians whose attitudes are so different from ours? Is it right to ignore them even though we believe they are hurting themselves and others? Of course not! We have a duty to tell them what we believe is right. But we must do so in love.
Paul knew what he was talking about. For essential things, he stood his ground and proclaimed the Gospel even though it got him beaten and stoned and eventually killed. But he always did it in love. Let us love one another and not judge one another. Shalom and Amen!
Scripture: Romans 14:1-12