“Variety is the spice of life”
You have heard it said that variety is the “spice of life”; well, spice might taste good on our
food but sometimes it makes us sweat and gives us heartburn. I like Mexican food, and salsa provided that it is mild, I have to be careful. That doesn’t mean that I throw away all spice. Fox News reported on a UK reporter who was put into the hospital recently for eating a “XXX hot chili burger” reportedly “hotter than pepper spray”. The owner of the restaurant had to warn his customers not to eat it.
Cultural differences in people within the church are a good thing, but they can drive us crazy and we have to be careful how we deal with their differences. Differences do however give us a chance to practice grace in the midst of diversity. Unfortunately, they also tend to bring out the pride in us about our own ways of doing things. You have heard the saying, “if you want something done right do it yourself”; but I have heard it said that “if you want something done perfect, let a German do it”. Yet in Christianity, like with foods that are different than what we prefer, our human pride wants to throw out anything different than what we are used to. The Jewish Christians were (and still are) trying to get Gentiles to come back into Jewish traditions and rituals. Thus Romans 14, 15 are talking about the interrelationships of Jew and Gentile within the church, but we can apply it to many things which drive a wedge in our Christian fellowship. Paul is asking us what is more important, rituals and customs; or grace, righteousness and peace in the Holy Spirit?
The Weak and the Strong
Romans 14:1-12 Use this link for the NIV version or use your favorite version but highlight verses 1b, 3b, 5b, 6, 10a 11, 12.
As we ponder God’s character from the above passage, I wonder if God would answer our signature question below in the following way…
Who are you Lord?
I AM the God of unity but not unity at the cost of truth. I desire that you may be one as we are one. As you are one in me, and my blood has cleansed you from all sin, you can have fellowship together as brothers and sisters as joint heirs in me. Anything that is not about me will become points of contention and will break your fellowship and unity. You will have many influences on your faith, but anything that takes you away from my Gospel needs to be laid aside for the sake of unity in truth. Speak the truth in love, building each other up in my Word. “Watch your life and doctrine carefully and you will save not only your own life but those who are your hearers as well.” You have an enemy who wants nothing more than to ruin your testimony by causing dissension between you and get your eyes off of the real battle for lost souls.
I AM the God who is The Lord of The Church, and all will bow before me to me alone; there is no mediator between man and myself save the Lord Jesus only. Do not think that because others are not as good, dedicated or faithful as you, that you will escape your accountability to me. You will give an answer to me for anything in your life that is not by faith and according to my word. No pastor, priest or teacher can remove you from your responsibility to personally know my Word. I will not hear the excuse that says “well my pastor/ priest told me…” They will be held accountable for what they teach accordingly. It is your responsibility to know what my Word says; that is why I gave it to you – to know me personally. Only three things will last for eternity; me, my Word and people. You don’t have to wait to get to heaven to know me; through my Word, you can know me truly now.
The True Gospel verses Church Ritualism
We need to remember what is essential to salvation. What the Gospel is (I am not talking about church ritual). We need to remember how God accepts us. It is solely because of the work of Christ on our behalf 2000 years ago. The Gospel is what God did for us historically and objectively – outside of us. The Gospel itself is what God did, not what we do. Thus there is no room for spiritual pride, or how can we boast about His gift of Salvation that was freely given to us and simply received by us. The person forgiven cannot boast of his forgiveness. When you put religious attachments to the gospel, it ceases to be the True Gospel of God. Then you open Pandora’s Box of arguments as to whose version of the gospel is better. The Gospel is not subjective, nor feeling based as to be conjured up from within us. The Truth of the Gospel is objective and revealed to us by God not as some claim to be discovered from within our minds. It is also imperative that we not mix or confuse the benefits which result from the Gospel with the Gospel itself. Stick to the Death, Burial, resurrection and ascension of God incarnate, The Lord Jesus Christ. He came to establish his church and not just to build a building. Once this ground work is assured, we can fellowship together in unity and not argue about color schemes of curtains and carpets. Then and only then does the cross of Christ become more than just decoration on the church wall. Paul said “I would know nothing of you except Christ and him crucified.”
The Cross is not just for decoration
There are many different flavors of genuine faith in Christianity around the world, but because they worship differently than we do, we don’t like them. I am not saying that they must all worship together the same way; however, what we see is that, “birds of a feather do tend to flock together”. Unfortunately, this attitude does not go unnoticed by the secular world and is used as one of the excuses for why they do not become Christian. As long as someone is a true believer, we should not look down on his way of worshiping God simply because it is different than ours. Unity without diversity is just called conformity; and is not ideal because it caters to legalism and ritualism (some say that if you are not baptized in their particular church, you are not saved). God is glorified best in the eyes of the world when our unity is typified by its cultural diversity in truth. Our focus should be on the central person of Christianity – Christ, rather than all the cultural differences. I am not talking about Ecumenicism. Paul actually said “If anyone comes to you with a Gospel other than the one which you have received from me, let him be accursed…” In another place he calls it (sic) “my gospel”. As long as we stick to the true Gospel (which is the only power of God for our salvation and the only thing necessary for our personal righteousness), we have common ground. Then we can throw out the aspects in differing denominations which are not essential to salvation and tend to lead to disunity, contention and controversy. Differences are good. However, they should not drive a wedge in the fellowship if dealt with in grace. Throw out ritualistic forms that differ from others, and what do you have left? Salvation because of Christ crucified through grace solely by faith. If this is not what you are hearing in your church, then I would advise you to find one which does teach the simplicity of Christ and him crucified.
We tend to make Christianity about us as humans. We tend to ritualize the truths of God’s word and Christ with activities to hold and remember, but often those become mindless rituals to blindly observe; then the next thing you know is that we think by observing them, we are accepted in God’s eyes. This truth is portrayed by the Jews who eventually came to burn incense to the brazen serpent (2 kings 18:4) which Moses had made in the desert (Nu 21:8). I imagine that they originally thought of it as a symbol to remind them of God’s help, but Hezekiah had to destroy it because it usurped its original purpose. How many symbols do we tote around in our churches that have done as much? Get back to Christ, who is the meaning behind your symbols that you cling to in your denominational separatism.
Jew Gentile dispute
This passage must have really upset the Jewish believers because they grew up observing special days and celebrations, and had many foods which were previously forbidden by the very God that Paul is proclaiming says is OK to eat. Their culture embraced the Old Testament Old Covenant Mosaic Law and now God is seemingly saying to not bother any more. He is telling them to get along with the Gentile uncircumcised “dogs” as they are all part of the same family… No wonder the Jews wanted to kill Paul. Yet this argument is still raging today. Remember anything we add to “Paul’s Gospel of Christ and him crucified” actually detracts from it and is punishable by condemnation. Beware of your rituals.
More to come,