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This may be one of the most ignored and most abused passages in scripture. Ignored by those who are mature so that they can continue to look down on, criticize and ridicule those who are not, and abused by the immature to force the mature to stoop to their level.
The mature ignore it because they would have to swallow their pride and their greater understanding of ‘freedom in Christ’ for the sake of their brother. They are right, not just in their own mind, but this passage implies that they do have a greater and deeper understanding of God’s plan and heart. But they ignore this passage, written primarily to them, warning them not to use their greater understanding too freely. Consider this paraphrase of the ESV version of Romans 14:15:
For if your brother is grieved by what you [do], you are no longer walking in love. By what you [do], do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.
So, for those with a more enlightened, perhaps more liberal, view of things, are you willing to give up that view for your weaker brother?
The immature abuse this passage by placing them in the seat of protection and throwing Romans 14 in the face of those with more liberal interpretations. “You need to accept me on this because of Romans 14!” They fail to recognize that they’ve just labeled themselves as “the one who is weak in faith”. In doing so, do they seek deeper understanding form those who are stronger or more mature? Do they seek to grow? No, it is frequently used to entrench their position and to guarantee it’s acceptance as valid & right. (Ironically, by putting themselves in the ‘weaker’ position in this passage, aren’t they essentially admitting that they are wrong?) They do not seek to accept those who’s faith is stronger or to grow in their own. They seem to say “I’m weak, I’m staying that way, and you need to deal with it.” So, to those who are weak, or perhaps more conservative, are you willing to admit that you may have something to learn from the more liberal among us?
We are to welcome those who’s faith is weak and requires external things to hold it up – like special days, abstinence from certain foods and other rules and regulations. There is no exception, no circumstance for not welcoming them. This is hard, because you and I can start talking about things that we think are big enough to say something like “Well, that now falls outside of Christianity.” Maybe so, but that is for God to decide not us. We can discuss and debate if we like. We may even feel that the person has crossed the boundary of Christianity into something else, but we are told to ‘welcome him’.
Are we doing so with each other within our own narrow fellowship? Think about issues like dating outside the church, giving levels, the level of importance assigned to evangelism, attendance expectations, Kip & Portland or even, dare I say, signing agreements. If we cannot respectfully welcome each other on these things, still welcoming each other, what hope is there for our relationship with the other COC’s? If you’re not in the ICOC, what about your tribe, be it COC, Baptist, Catholic, etc.
Usually my QT notes aren’t’ so ‘preachy’, but this is one of modern, divided Christianity’s biggest downfalls, in my view. And I am not exempt. Recently, my brother Clarke posted here about the call of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 10,000 disciples to pray for their fellowship. Clarke (not a member of a Disciples of Christ church) challenged “every COC, ICOC, and ICC blogger to sign up, commit to pray, and advertise the program on their blogs.” I followed the link and found that their “General Minister and President” was a woman, which gave me pause. Based on my understanding of scripture, I don’t believe that women should be ministers or in positions of authority, so I was hesitant to sign up for this. But Clarke and my friend Alan who have indicated that they feel the same way, have signed up, seemingly without hesitation. I am not being asked to validate their doctrine, but simply to pray for them. Why should that be hard to stomach? It should not, but it is. Even as I type this, I know that I ought to go, sign up and give them my heart, yet I remain hesitant. God help my prideful, judgmental heart!. I will commit to praying for these brothers and sisters.
As long as we refuse to accept those who’s faith requires more rules and regulations or those who have a more liberal view, Christianity will remain deeply divided and each particular group will remain entrenched in the safety of their own convictions. And we will be no different than the world. And we will not grow.