We are just beginning our look at the fourteenth chapter of Romans, and I want to discuss the favorite indoor sport of Christians: trying to change each other. I know some folks are more adept at that than others . . . and some who continue to try it anyway. Some like to think this is a recent concern, but I think it is safe to say that it has been a major problem in the church for centuries.
All through the history of the church, the problem arises from the attitude that most of us share. I am sure that our Lord is clearly pleased with the way we live—but there are those others around. You know who they are. They drink beer and play cards; they go to movies; they smoke cigars; they work on Sundays; they wear lipstick; they dance; they play musical instruments; they use zippers instead of buttons. Oh, I could on with this because there is an endless list of things that can be included. These are things that have been debated and the church has never been able to settle because of misunderstanding the principles that are set down here in this chapter.
We are dealing, of course, with the problem of Christian taboos, all the “no-no”s of the Christian life. We are facing the question of how much fellowship you can have with somebody who lives in a different way than you do, who does things that you do not approve of as a Christian.
We can find this everywhere. I grew up in Kalamazoo, MI (yes, there really is a Kalamazoo) and the Dutch Reformed Church which holds a dogmatic Calvinist belief. In High School, I began attending a “Bible Church,” and after high school, I came to the Lord in 1979. I began attending a “First Assembly of God.” In all of those churches, I came to believe that if you did not believe our way, you were not saved. For instance, you could not be a Catholic, and be Christian. It was simply impossible.
I read and devoured Keith Green’s “Catholic Chronicles.” One thing that should be noted on that . . . before Keith died, the Lord was expanding his understanding of who the Church was, and was discovering that you can be right in your dogma, but greatly in error in your heart. He was in the process of rewriting the “Chronicles,” and was sadly unable to finish the rewrite.
As I said, I grew up in traditional Kalamazoo, and moved to Ann Arbor (which we affectionately refer to as, “The People Republic of Ann Arbor”) to attend Emmaus Fellowship, which was a fellowship with an active outreach to the Hebrew community.
While I was there, we attended an Ecumenical Community, known as the Word of God Community. There I met many believers who belonged to the Catholic Church and loved Jesus with all their hearts. They possessed as strong a love and faith in the Messiah, as any “tongue speaking” charismatic I had met. My experience was much like Peter’s when the Lord said, “Clean and eat, clean and eat—do not call unclean, what I have cleansed.”
This is the problem of Christian ethics, the problem of so-called legalistic behavior, and Paul covers this area rather extensively in this chapter. His comments run all the way through Chapter 14, and through the first fourteen verses of Chapter 15.
One thing I have learned over the past 25 years living in Ann Arbor is that we believers tend to focus on all the wrong things. I have learned that whenever I run into a difference, something that could easily become a conflict, I immediately ask, “Does our Salvation depend on this?”
Let me give you an example. I have known my pastor for all of those 25 years, and for a couple of years we would go Disc Golfing every Monday and we could spend hours together and have excellent discussions. Although many would describe us as good friends, we have vastly divergent views on several topics including the “rapture,” and “end time” events; and many political views such as “global warming,” and “Government run health care,” to name a few. I could list more, but we know that we both love the Lord with our whole being, and that is what we focus on.
These differences could lead many to refuse “fellowship” with others, but that has never been something Ken and I have ever even remotely considered. We both love our Lord with all our heart and all of those other “things,” are meaningless because our Salvation does not hinge on whether or not we will be raptured—but it does matter whether we believe that Jesus is the sole source of Salvation.
This is what Paul seems to focus on in this chapter, and that is what we will focus on as well.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome