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  • Love and Liberty

Unity Not Uniformity

Romans 14 - 15:7

Here’s a newsflash. Christians disagree! Unfortunately, these disagreements have led to many professing Christians being disagreeable, and it has caused many believers and unbelievers to look on local churches with disdain. Christians come from different backgrounds and cultures and sometimes they have different convictions. Truth is truth for everyone, but there are some matters that are not specifically addressed in the scriptures, yet some professing Christians will ridicule others based on their personal views. There is a difference between uniformity and unity. Christ prayed that his followers might be one, that is, unified. He does not expect us to be copies of one another. Some Christians abstain from certain practices and partake in others, and if we don’t agree with them then we are wrong. Read these words from the Book of Proverbs:

“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”

God hates those that sow discord among brethren. Sobering words. If we have done this, we must repent. This does not mean that we should not rebuke a professing Christian that is living in sin, for this would contradict the Word. Instead, we must realize that we are not to be meddlesome troublemakers who stir up trouble by pushing for our own wants and wishes to be accepted by others.

In the churches, there are “weaker brothers” and there are “stronger brothers.” Nobody could be much different than a Jew and a Gentile in those days, yet they were to strive for unity. The Jewish Christians were saved out of a strict legalistic background. Many Jews thought righteousness came by the Law (circumcision, observing specific diets and days). The Gentiles served false gods. When they all came together in the local church, their backgrounds clashed. They were divided over what you could eat or drink and over holy days. They began criticizing one another, for they knew they were right, and the others were wrong.

We know that some activities are wrong because the Bible condemns them. Some we know are right because the Bible commands them. We are to hold the line on these matters. But when it comes to matters that are not clearly defined in the Word of God, we must not be divisive. We may not argue about diets and holy days anymore, but many of us have our lists by which we judge our brethren, and when we do, we are the weak brethren mentioned in the scriptures.

Paul addressed those who were strong in the faith, those who understood their liberty in Christ and were not enslaved to unnecessary rules. The weak were those who had to have it their way, or else. They thought everyone was obligated to observe the rules they observed. The weak Christians were judging and condemning the strong Christians, and the strong Christians were despising the weak. “Receive one another!”, Paul said.

It’s not our responsibility to decide requirements for Christian fellowship in a local church, though I have been places where this is a big problem. We are not authorized to go beyond the Word when it comes to Christian fellowship. To be sure, what the Lord commands we are to uphold without compromise. But to set up man-made restrictions on the basis of personal prejudices is to go beyond the Word of God. The weak must not condemn the strong because they don’t conform to their opinions and the strong must not despise the weak because of their lack of knowledge. If we have yielded to the Lordship of Christ, God has received us both, therefore we are to receive each other.

Paul condemned the actions of the weak Christians because it is wrong for any Christian to try and take the place of God in another Christian’s life. God is the Master and we are the servants. We are to march forward in the name of Christ, not in the name of church or family traditions. We can pray for one another, advise one another, and even admonish one another, but we can’t put ourselves in place of the Lord. What makes a “day”, or anything else for that matter, “holy?” Only the fact that we relate it to the Lord. The Christian who abstains from a practice gives thanks to God and does it “unto the Lord.” The Christian who partakes in a practice gives thanks to God and does it “unto the Lord.” Whatever we do or don’t do, every man is to be “fully persuaded in his own mind” that it is acceptable, but also realize it is not mandatory for others. Believe it or not, God can be pleased with people that you disagree with.

Paul asked the weak Christian, “Why are you judging your brother?” He asked the strong Christian, “Why are you despising your brother?” What good does it do? How constructive is it? Both will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. On that day, our works will be judged. Every work done in the name of Christ will be brought to judgment and the result will either be loss or reward for the believer, depending on how valuable it was. Our criticisms of other Christians will be called into account at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Will they be based on the Lord’s Word or our own opinions? How ashamed many are going to be. Truly, dealing with self is enough to keep us busy and humble.

We should not get the impression that we are supposed to “leave other Christians alone” in the church fellowship and let them do as they please. Christian love will lead us to seek to edify one another and to build each other up in the faith. As professing Christians, we are either stumbling blocks or steppingstones in our relation to others. Some professing Christians cause others to stumble with their negativity and unbiblical criticisms. Some may have knowledge but may lack goodwill toward others. Without charity (Christian benevolence, love) we will accomplish nothing.

To be steppingstones, sometimes we need to ask how our actions are going to affect others in the local church. We must act in such a way that our brethren are built up, not torn down. A rebuke when it is needed is a good thing, but often people disregard the impact their actions or words will have on other Christians because they have an axe to grind. This is unfortunate. As the Bible tells us, the kingdom of God is not about food and drinks, it is about righteousness, peace, and joy, and these can only stem from a life in which Jesus Christ is Lord. When Christ is Lord of my life and Lord of your life, we will not be living selfishly but for the good of others. Churches need to provide the kind of atmosphere that will protect the minds of Christians and that will encourage them to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” There are certain truths that all Christians must accept: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins and rose again, that he is the living Lord, and that submission to him is necessary for salvation. One cannot reject his moral laws and be right with him. But when it comes to personal opinions, we can’t force everybody else to accept them. Unless we practice our convictions, we are sinning, but we can’t force our convictions on others. No doubt, some people have some uninformed convictions, but it would be wrong for one person to cause another person to violate his conscience.

In the assemblies in Rome, mature Christians knew that an idol fashioned from wood or stone is nothing, so it had no significance to them that the meat they bought from the market had been “offered” to an idol. But a Christian just converted out of pagan idolatry would have serious problems with it. If the one Christian tried to force the other Christian to eat that food, it would violate his conscience. This reminds us that we should be considerate of the background and circumstances of Christian converts. Speak the Word and call others to align themselves with its teachings, but don’t expect them to mold themselves according to your likes and dislikes. I must reemphasize that this is referring to matters that are not specifically dealt with in the scriptures. This does not mean that people can redefine godly relationships, dress immodestly, fry their brains on drugs, watch and listen to the world’s filth, and so on. The issue of drinking alcoholic beverages is a good example. Some people condemn drinking alcoholic beverages altogether, and if that is their conviction, that drinking is dangerous, they should abstain. There is good reason for some people to abstain. But others, while acknowledging the wrongness of overuse, see the many references to alcoholic drinks being a gift from God to be enjoyed and they partake of them responsibly. This issue should not cause division, but it often does. We should not be critical of those whose opinion differs from ours, but we are right to rebuke those who try to make their way the only right way.

Selfishness has no place in the Christian life. This doesn’t mean that we have to continually give in to a weak brother’s way of thinking, but it does mean that we are to treat him in a way that will be for his benefit. The Lord Jesus lived to please God and to help and serve mankind. He did not tolerate sin but he was patient and kind. Yet he was murdered by the rulers of the political and religious establishments of his day. How small is any inconvenience we may suffer due to doing what is good for someone else instead of ourselves. The qualities for harmony in the church are found in the Lord, who is holy and longsuffering, so we need to know the Lord better. Following him will rid local churches of strife.

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