Romans 14 (NIV; emphasis added)
“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters (1). . . . for God accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand (3b-4). . . . For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the LORD; and if we die, we die to the LORD. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the LORD. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the LORD of both the dead and the living (7-9). . . . It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the LORD Jesus, I am fully convinced that [nothing (see translation note)] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. LET US THEREFORE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE AND TO MUTUAL EDIFICATION (11-19). . . . 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. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (22-23).
Romans 15 (NIV; emphasis added)
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (1-2). . . . For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ. ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, THEN, AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU, IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD (4-7).”
What is Paul really writing about in this passage?
Now, I must submit that I am no Biblical scholar; I am an artist and historian. I have, however, read the entire Scriptures a number of times (I do not mean to boast, but simply to demonstrate some credibility), and heard from those who teach about them, thus overall seeking to be ever learning toward an understanding of Truth. In other words, it is by faith, and by discernment through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that I continue to seek True understanding of the Gospel, and I believe that is most Believers’ general approach or limitation.
I writing not to break down every idea to its smallest point, but rather to try and present the fundamental principle Paul is hoping to instill in his readers in Rome.
Therefore, I believe that Paul’s purpose in the aforementioned passage is predominantly to respond internal division (“disputable matters”) already arising amidst the growing Christian [and Judeo-Christian] Church. How quickly a body unified in one Truth and hope (the Gospel, or “Good News”, of Jesus Christ) loses sight of what is really important, what originally drew it together. Church division is no new reality, a point demonstrating the nature of the Spiritual War in which we all as Believers fight (for the Enemy’s primary purpose is to divide that which Christ has united). Amidst that spiritual war, the Enemy arguably most often stirs up the root of human nature (i.e. the world/sin) that is self-absorbed pride.
Are not pride (in the negative sense: an inability or unwillingness to “seek first to understand and then to be understood”—Stephen Covey) and selfishness (concerned only with one’s own agenda, such as power status and influence) the roots of Church division? Now, I am referring to those “Christian traditions” that do, at their core, hold to the undisputable claims of the Gospel (i.e. Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and all that pertains to those signs—e.g. broadly, the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant church divisions). How has the Enemy successfully divided the Church so thoroughly, to the point that the term “Christian” is even almost useless, without further clarification or definition, and where historically “Christians” have committed atrocities, whether physically, socially, or emotionally (an all-expansive and complex history)? Much of early history was steeped in attempts at combining politics and religion (another discussion, however very much connected in various contexts); however, currently, it seems that social or emotional division is predominant.
Even while present divisions are rooted in political history, that to me is not enough to justify the continually growing disunity experienced in the Western Church (the global Church is a much larger complex religious, historical, and spiritually-influenced discussion).
I believe there are very few individuals who have objectively studied, understood, and explained the cause of such division through careful study of each major Christian worldview (as mentioned above). In all honesty, few have the time, resources, or desire to undertake such an expansive journey. So what can we do instead, in the face of such diversities of the Church?
I believe the answer is generally rather simple, and that Paul provides it, and I believe it was really Christ speaking through him.
LOVE: which offers grace, peace, and hope for those who choose to give and accept it. It’s about returning to the core of Christian orthodoxy, remembering what is truly important in this world: God the Father’s people and the community He desires for them in light of His Son and the work of the Holy Spirit. There is so much in the Bible that is unclear, subject to various interpretations, personal preferences, etc. Are they worth killing and dying physically, socially, and emotionally for? I do not think so, and I do not think the Apostles (including Paul) or Christ would have us die for the “grey areas” (i.e. “disputable matters”) either.
Below are some examples of divisive and seemingly judgment-spurning “grey areas” that I have witnessed or observed personally.
Orthodoxy (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant (with its myriad of sub-divisions); Lutheran, etc.)
“Trans-bloc Grouping” (e.g. Evangelical vs. Charismatic—Pentecostal)
Liturgy (e.g. praise and worship, use of the Spiritual Gifts, baptism, etc.)
Doctrines/Dogmas (e.g. free will/predestination, Heaven & Hell, Communion, etc.)
Biblical Translations (i.e., which one is the “best”—e.g. NIV, TNIV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NESV, NLT, The Message, etc.)
[NOTE: I may be inaccurately categorizing some of these topics, but hopefully the general idea is clear]
Is not God glorified by all of these at times, and at different places to different people? Naturally, each “category” has positive aspects and negative; because humanity is imperfect, our interpretations are imperfect (i.e. not always Christ-like by action and heart, giving God true glory—another discussion).
It’s about remembering that these “grey areas” are grey, that the world is superficially not black and white (i.e. fundamentally it is: one follows Christ fully or does not), however, and there the path grows cloudy over time. There are many issues in life that I am unsure about, though I do have a personal views about. But I try to live with an open heart and mind to hearing others’ personal views on such subjects as well. Such personal views have been established because of a number of factors (i.e. family, experience, discernment). Paul writes on this above, and makes everything a bit more complicated by not negating the fact that Christians often come to different Spirit-led conclusions regarding these “grey areas”. He seems to allude to the nature that the Spirit can be with either “party” (e.g. Calvinists and Armenians) in its influence.
This does not mean we are necessarily to agree with everyone—that differences are wrong. The problem arises when disagreements are demonstrated without humility and respect to the other “party”—when love is caste aside for prideful selfishness, thus resulting in broken community. Again, it is not about post-modernism, where “to each his own” is used as an escape from healthy discussion and debate; there must be, however, love in the process (in the above passage, Paul writes a lack of judgment). We are being of the world, and succumbing to the lies of Satan, when we overtly distance ourselves from those who hold different “surface” views from ourselves. We are not going to be friends with everyone, but we are to love them. People are different, but those differences must not divide us from being united in the ultimate Truth of Christ.
Again, we must try to see past the surface of such “disputable” differences, and to rather see the true heart (or soul, if you will) of each individual. It is human nature to stop at the surface of things, to place them in personally developed boxes, and to fail to really see the person how God see him or her, but through Christ we have been made new and can no longer act (or justify) as though we live in that state. We are to pursue Christ-likeness, writes Oswald Chambers, and I have not seen enough of that in the writings, words, and actions of the various Church sub-groups and members. I believe that before the Church can really make an offensive attack alongside the Triune God against the Enemy, we must become better allied in heart.