On Disputable Matters

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul penned what we now refer to as Romans 14 to a church thriving in a culture that hated difference and tolerated everything except intolerance. Roman culture wasn’t against Christianity, it was instead very much for itself – so much so as to not accept nor condone deviation from things considered the “norm.”

Sound familiar?

The Holy Spirit begins this passage admonishing those strong in the faith. How do we know? Because the Holy Spirit tells some to “accept the one whose faith is weak.” the English Standard Version renders this phrase,

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him…” – Romans 14:1a

The Holy Spirit is speaking about those whose faith is weak, He must be addressing those whose faith is not weak.

Note the Holy Spirit does not describe those with weak faith as “new to the Way” or some such, there’s no indication that weak equals new when it comes to faith. Tenure isn’t a thing in Christianity. I’ve had conversations with people who claimed to be “in the Way” for some number of decades… I’ve secretly wished some of them would get “out of the way,” but that’s another post…

The Holy Spirit continues, “without quarreling over disputable matters” (NIV) and “but not to quarrel over opinions.” (ESV). The next part of Romans 14 gives two examples of opinions and disputable matters: eating meat and celebrating holidays.

Applied

I first encountered Romans 14 while attending a non-denominational charismatic church. There was an emphasis on “stuff.” Some of the stuff was spiritual gifts, some was strong faith indicated by discipline in spiritual matters. When I read this passage, my first reaction was, “What?” Verse 2 undid me:

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. – Romans 14:2

That was completely backwards. The strong would exercise such discipline and forego eating meat – especially for the reason they abstained (some meat was from animals sacrificed to false gods). My reaction, “Come on, those are the strong people!”

Wrong.

The chapter closes with:

But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23

Faith. Faith is the key. Before ending the chapter, the Holy Spirit shares:

The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 14:6

So, wait: It’s possible to do two different – opposite, actually – things in practice and both activities and beliefs are acceptable?

According to the Holy Spirit, the answer is, “yes.”

Fast Forward

Is it then possible for we Christians, in our culture today, to believe opposite things? Might we practice support for progressive politics in Jesus’ Name? Might we practice support for conservative politics in Jesus’ Name?

According to the Holy Spirit, the answer is, “yes.”

How Then Ought We To Live?

The Holy Spirit commands us thus:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. – Romans 14:14

What? Nothing is unclean in itself? The Holy Spirit here speaks to conscience. We know this because the strong in the faith are instructed in the very next verse:

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. – Romans 14:15

Please Don’t Miss This:

We Christians may hold mutually exclusive and completely opposing opinions when it comes to matters of culture – including politics – even if those beliefs intersect how we practice faith. This does not mean we (or they) are not Christians. It means our and their conscience leads us and them to differing opinions on disputable matters.

And…

We are to walk in love.

And Please Hear This:

Our command – from the Holy Spirit – is found in Romans 14:20:

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.

Fast-forwarding to today: “Do not, for the sake of culture or politics, destroy the work of God.” This is why I wrote “Cut it out” to the church in this post on Religion and Politics.

Echoing Christ’s splinter/plank command, the Holy Spirit states in verse 4:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

In Practice…

Some questions to consider:

  • Am I walking in love?
  • Am I judging my brother or sister because of their vote?
  • Am I judging my brother or sister because of their position regarding some policy or cause?
  • Am I judging my brother or sister because of their support for – or opposition against – the current or former presidential administration?
  • Am I asking – publicly, even – how my brother or sister can be a Christian and vote for (or support) the candidate I oppose?
  • Am I destroying the work of God for culture?
  • Am I destroying the work of God for politics?
  • Am I denying myself, daily taking up my cross, and following Christ?
  • What’s more important: following Christ or being a friend of the world?

Please note this applies equally to both cultural conservatives and cultural progressives. If, in your opinion, the “other side” is “going to Hell,” I beseech you to examine your beliefs in light of the Holy Spirit’s commands recorded in Romans 14.

Peace.