Quarreling Over Non-Essentials
DG Blog #33
The early church was rife with controversial teachings and false doctrine. Paul addressed them in matters of divorce, sexual immorality, homosexuality, drinking wine, circumcision, the pattern of church services, whether to eat meat offered to idols, which day was more holy than others, the proper protocol for communion, Jesus’ return, the resurrection of the dead, and so forth.
Today, controversies dividing the church fall under a range of subjects such as conditional or eternal security, whether hell exists or not, differing political ideologies, women in ministry, speaking in tongues, pre-marital sex, end-time views, same-sex marriage in the church, Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath day to meet—and the list goes on.
In my earliest years as a Christian, I loved to debate other believers in the game of “who can stump who first?” Intellectual stimulation this way was fun, however, my motives were wrong. My aim was to expose foolish thinking, faulty interpretations, and serious deception—all in the name of truth. Yet, I did so without love. Did I win arguments? Sometimes I did. But did I win hearts? Not much. I might have won in the game of wits, but nothing more.
Today, I do my best to avoid foolish arguments and debates. They rarely convince, convict, or change anyone’s beliefs. On a scale of 1-10, changing someone’s mind on a teaching that isn’t a “heaven-or-hell” issue profits little. If it is a “heaven-or-hell issue” over the absolutes of doctrine or moral issues, then I am more inclined to engage—in a spirit of love and meekness—if they are willing to listen.
In Paul’s day, one controversial matter was over eating meat sold in the market place that had been offered to idols. The Christian Gentiles of Rome weren’t raised on the Mosaic Law as the Christian Jews in Rome had been. Often the Mosaic traditions of the converted Jews spilled over into their Christian faith and practices which clashed with the Gentiles who were raised differently. The Jews, therefore, tried to impose their Mosaic Law traditions onto the Gentiles. Paul had to address this many times in his letters.
Our different upbringings in doctrine, tradition, politics, etc., spill over into our Christian faith in which we might inadvertently impose on others. Many of which are non-essentials that have nothing to do with the free gift of salvation. Consider Paul’s advice in Romans 14 for how to engage in “disputable” matters without being judgmental. The stricter person he speaks to is the Christian Jew, the freer person is the Christian Gentile:
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord [his Master] is able to make him stand.
“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'”
“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God [about what we believe].
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone [disagrees with me and] regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
Note that Paul does not judge people who disagree with him in “disputable matters.” He simply concludes that if a person is “fully convinced” in their own mind about a non-essential doctrine or cultural preference (worship-styles), and feels no Holy Spirit conviction or condemnation regarding their convictions, then they should keep their beliefs between themselves and God, instead of judging others who see things differently.
Grace and Peace!