Healthy Congregations, Part 3

“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:1-6).

The apostle to the gentiles who wrote this held the clothes of those who killed Stephen (Acts 7:58), confronted the apostle Peter face-to-face (Galatians 2:11), and sharply disagreed with his mentor, Barnabas (Acts 15:39). My point is not that Paul’s belief and actions were inconsistent. My point is that respect is difficult to maintain.

When Paul [Saul] held the clothing of those who killed Stephen, Paul was not a Christian—killing Stephen was “right” (Acts 8:1). When, as a Christian, he confronted Peter, Peter’s behavior was inconsistent with God’s revelation to Peter. When Paul and Barnabas disagreed sharply, they had an extreme difference of opinion about John Mark. In Romans 14, Paul wrote about the enormous gulf between Jewish and gentile Christians—a major problem in first-century congregations (see Acts 15:1-5).

Yet, the Christian who confronted could redirect. Years later as an imprisoned Paul neared death, he asked Timothy to bring Mark to him. Nearing death, he asked for the man who had been at the center of his controversy with his best friend and work companion!

Regarding the enormous controversy in the first congregations, this man who had been the “Jews’ Jew” (Galatians 1:14) understood God could save anyone (including gentiles) on the basis of faith that Jesus was the resurrected Christ. A Jew did not need to cease to be culturally a Jew to accept Jesus was God’s Christ. A gentile did not need to cease to be culturally a gentile to accept that the living God resurrected the dead Jesus to be the living Christ.

That was extremely difficult for Jews, including Jewish Christians, to accept! The teaching that gentiles could be saved without circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14) or the Jewish dietary restrictions (Leviticus 11) were just plain offensive to Jewish converts! They felt so strongly about this that they made the apostle Peter afraid of them (see Galatians 2:11-13). Paul understood when he wrote Romans 14 that God’s acts were not hostage to human logic, human desires, and human opinions. God could and would save Christians who, in God, did contrasting things. Why? God knows motives, the whys.

A healthy congregation is a growing organism composed of every level of spiritual maturity. Only with respect for each other can we become what God intended.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 10 April 2008

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