In my 20 years of pastoring, I have seen people get upset about the placement of a clock, disagreements about whether we should use Styrofoam or china for coffee (and not great coffee at that!), why we use drums in worship, and many other issues. Behind the clock and cups are far bigger principles at play. But in the moment, personal preferences become absolute requirements. Once we are entrenched in our rightness, division is not far behind.
In 2020, we have entered into a world fraught with divisive topics. Do you wear a mask or not? Is COVID-19 just like the common cold or is it a serious threat? Should you wear masks out in public or not? Does social distancing mean I stay away from everyone or can I have coffee with my friends on the back deck? Do you say “Black lives matter” or “All lives matter”?
In a matter of months, our world has turned upside down. Everyone has their opinions. Many people state their thoughts with great force and dogma. And the potential exists for the Church of Jesus Christ to be ripped apart at the seams.
Paul saw the same potential for division in the church at Rome. Some had strong consciences on what to eat and what Sunday looked like while others had a more tender mind on these matters (Rom. 14:2, 5). The Roman church faced the temptation to judge one another and despise one another (Rom. 14:10).
What does Paul do? He does not demand that people with tender consciences ignore their thoughts and people with stronger opinions about freedom not overrun the tender. He does not demand people change their view.
What Paul commends is an attitude where we welcome one another just as God has welcomed us in Christ (Rom. 14:3). What we are aiming for is the exaltation of Christ, not uniformity in our opinions. This does not mean that all ideas are equal! No, it means that we must understand that no one’s conscience is perfectly aligned to the Lord’s mind on every matter.
The great priority in the church is that we demonstrate our love for one another, even when we disagree on disputable matters. We may be convinced that our opinion about masks or how to resolve racial tensions is right. But if we look down on one another, we will do the exact opposite of what is necessary – displaying to the world that we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another.
As we prepare to reopen, let’s be the church that so dearly loves one another. Let’s treasure the opportunity to meet together and display we are Christ’s disciples by our welcoming of one another. We will have our differences, but what we hold in common is greater – Christ is enough for us!
Looking forward to seeing you soon!
Missional Action Prayer: Lord, I know I have strong opinions about important matters. But where they are not about the gospel, help me to welcome others, be patient with others, and be flexible towards my brothers and sisters in Christ. Please keep me from despising those who think differently than me. Let the love of Christ be seen in me. Amen.