Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

In His Name (Jan-Feb 2001)

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by Bob Russell
January – February, 2001

It’s surprising how harshly some Christians judge others when we are warned explicitly not to do so. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). In the first century, eating meat sacrificed to idols, circumcision, and the observance of Jewish feasts were among the “disputable matters.” Today, the debates center on issues like music styles, appropriate dress for church, order of worship, ministerial titles, women serving communion, and Saturday worship services.

These “disputable matters” can be very divisive in the church. Legalistic Christians tend to judge those who disagree with them as unfaithful. Others flaunt their freedom and have a condescending spirit toward those with a more restricted conscience. There are several very basic principles set forth in Romans 14 and 15 that we all need to practice.

1. Stand firm on truth. There are some matters that are not “disputable.” The inspiration of Scripture, the historical creatio of man, the Deity of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, the second coming of Christ, the reality of heaven and hell are indisputable, absolute doctrines. We are to “stand firm in the faith.” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

2. Refuse to condemn other believers. “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” (Romans 14:10). It is arrogant and divisive to denounce others simply because their opinions differ from ours. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:12-13).

3. Respect your own conscience. “I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14). If you feel guilty doing it, don’t do it.

4. Be aware of your influence. “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are not longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15). Don’t flaunt your freedom. If a particular activity really causes a weaker brother to stumble, avoid it. Don’t flaunt it in his presence.

5. Work hard for harmony. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). Jesus longs for the church to be unified (John 17:20-21). Work at keeping the peace. Guard your words and your tone. Recognize the danger of harsh judgments. Don’t alienate others with your opinions in non-essentials.

6. Keep quiet if need be. “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” (Romans 14:22). If you know that your opinions are going to upset a weak, legalistic or argumentative brother, keep your views to yourself. Don’t deliberately create controversy.

7. Have fellowship with those who disagree with you. “Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). The ability to disagree without isolating ourselves from other believers is a mark of spiritual maturity. If we fellowship only with those who agree with us on every matter, our circle of Christian brothers and sisters is going to be limited in size and discussion. No one would dare express a disagreement for fear of being excluded.

A Christian brother told me recently “I can’t find anything in the Bible against Saturday night worship. But when I don’t go to church on Sunday morning, I feel terribly guilty. Maybe it’s my tradition, but I’m going to stick with it. I’ll let others decide for themselves.”

His gracious spirit was a positive expression of Romans 14 and 15. It avoided controversy, gave the church room to grow, and led to peace and mutual edification.

Bob Russell is Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. This article first appeared in The Southeast Outlook, and is used by permission.

Bob Russell

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