The Church – Unity

The Church – Unity
October 11, 2015
Romans 14:1-13

Throughout history churches have split for the craziest reasons ~~

Holy Creek Baptist – piano bench — they had 4 separate services — moving piano bench to a different location for each one.
Centerville, Ga – presbyterian church split in 1911 – offering before / after sermon
has now split 47 times since.
Church splits over alleulia/hallelujah
Name of the church — Is it spelled Immanuel or Emmanuel.
Pews or chairs

We find it very easy to argue and speak out on what we believe are absolutes.  One of the problems I see in our churches is a careless belief that we are free to judge one another, and make demands even when we don’t fully understand the situation.  We don’t consider the damage it does to others, nor do we often care.  We believe it’s acceptable to judge others and proclaim what we believe is the truth, based on self-righteousness, pride and arrogance . . . all in the name of Jesus.

We are far too quick to judge a person or come up with conclusions based on limited knowledge.  We hurt the reputation and character of others.  Once that happens, we cannot take it back.

We can easily bite one another, in fact, as I was researching this message, I came upon this . . .

An issue of National Geographic included a photograph of the fossil remains of two saber-tooth cats locked in combat.  The article stated, “One had bitten deep into the leg bone of the other, a thrust that trapped both in a common fate.”  The cause of the death of the two cats – they were too busy fighting each other.  Can the same be said of the church.

As the apostle Paul put it: 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. — Galatians 5:15

Isn’t that what happens when we are consumed with devouring one another.  Both parties end up consumed by their desire to defeat the other.  That’s what happened to the saber tooth tigers, and that can happen within the church as well.

We need to understand that satan is a master at using controversial issues to distract the church from her true mission in the world.  A former police officer tells of the tactics of a group of thieves: “They enter the store as a group.  One or two separate themselves from the group, and the others start a loud commotion in another section of the store.  This grabs the attention of the clerks and customers.  As all eyes are turned to the disturbance, the accomplices fill their pockets with merchandise and cash, leaving before anyone suspects.  Only later does the merchant realize they have been robbed.”  How often this strategy is used by the Evil One! (Tom McHaffie)

We are seduced into paying attention to the distractions, while our churches are ransacked.  We don’t lose merchandise, we lose our mission and focus.

For the past 4 weeks we’ve been looking at the church and what it means to be a unified body.  It’s very easy for a church to become distracted with what is not essential.  Remember the quote of Rupertus Meldenius that we’ve looked at for the past 2 weeks ~

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

That’s a great reminder for us.  We must focus on what is essential.  Yet, it becomes too easy to focus on what is not essential, so we lose our focus and frankly end up wasting our time over things which really have no bearing on growing the Kingdom.

At times the early church was also stuck in disputing the nonessentials.  Paul addressed this in Romans 14-15.  Last week we spent our time looking at verse 1.  Learning we are to open our hearts to one another, not to pass judgement on one another and to hold our personal opinions to ourselves.

Paul’s goal was to help the church learn how to live out the gospel when they had different opinions.  He wanted to help them see what the bigger picture was.

Paul wanted them to understand ~

5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,

6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Romans 15:5–7

There are so many things we can disagree on — politics, dating, education, alcohol, worship style, clothing choices, smoking, movies, dancing, tattoos, divorce and remarriage, gambling.

We tend to argue and fight over what is minor than over what is really important and crucial to the church.  There will always be disagreements, there will always be different ways to think about every topic.

Yet, as Paul stated, with one voice we are called to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  To keep the harmony and unity can be taxing and challenging and messy . . . . . . YET, it’s worth it.  I also believe it’s the job of your pastor to always seek to protect you from the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

So, how do we seek to maintain the unity Paul spoke about in Ephesians 4?

The body of Christ is to demonstrate a unique love for one another because of our common relationship through Jesus Christ.  This is part of the essentials which bring unity.  Because of our experience of the gospel and our shared allegiance to Christ, we are brothers and sisters in the family of God.  There is something greater than our differences:  the gospel — the Good News of Jesus, the Christ!

Differences can lead to disagreements and these can lead to divisiveness.  A lack of love can lead to people no longer welcoming one another, and when that happens, the gospel message suffers.  Paul is concerned with helping people learn how to get along.  This is about our common unity — Jesus Christ!  That must always be our starting point, and really that’s our ending point. It must always come back to Jesus.

Keep that in mind the next time there is a difference of opinion in the church.  Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to be critical, defensive, or judgmental.  Remember that underneath all the differences is the gospel and a call to love one another.  Understand how you treat people in disagreements and differences says something about the gospel.  It says something about who you are in Christ.

So, as we look at Romans 14, there were a couple of issues going on ~~
2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.

So, this was the issue.  It’s about dietary restrictions and the observance of certain days or festivals.

Some people in the church had chosen not to eat meat or drink wine, they only ate vegetables so they would not sin.  These were most likely Jewish Christians, who felt a loyalty to the Old Testament dietary laws.  Others felt the freedom to eat anything.  They were not restricted by the laws.

Some viewed only one day as the Lord’s day, while others viewed everyday as the Lord’s day.

These issues are classified by Paul as “opinions” and not an essential issue since in verse 6, Paul said — both groups honor the Lord in their actions (v.6).  So this was not a sin issue.  In fact, Paul later commends both groups.

The weak person was placing too much emphasis on foods and festivals.  They may have believed if they followed the rules, this would be a sign of their righteousness and they would be viewed more favorably by God.

Paul compassionately and gently wants the weaker brother to know “it’s just food.”  He doesn’t wants them to make a bigger deal about this than what it should be.

Paul’s helping us see that not all issues are of equal importance.  Loving one another and welcoming one another is more important than these laws.  You see, your brother or sister’s soul is more valuable than meat, wine, or festivals.

Biblical wisdom is more than just knowing truth; it is getting truth in the right order of importance.  Every church is going to have differing views on a variety of topics, and we have to understand how to think about those issues.  We have to balance these — — and at times it can be difficult.  As I prepared for today I listened to a message on this topic by Mark Vroegop.  He broke down disagreements into 3 categories, which I really found helpful.

Now, each category is important and useful.  In the first category, what I might call the center of the bullseye are ABSOLUTES.

Absolutes define the essence of the Christian life.  You must believe these in order to be a Christian.  We may call them ABSOLUTE TRUTH.  If you wanted to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ, then you must proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God, the Messiah.  You must believe He died for our sins, so we could be forgiven, and He rose from the dead.

Those are absolutes.  There really is no room for a discussion on this.

In the next concentric circle would be CONVICTIONS.

Convictions are strongly held scriptural beliefs that have a significant impact on the effectiveness and the health and effectiveness of a church.  A conviction is a firm or fixed belief.  Examples of convictions would be the belief that people should join a church to become members, that people should be baptize after they believe in Jesus.  A conviction would be the belief in Believer’s baptism over infant baptism.

The last concentric circle would be PREFERENCES.

Preferences occur when we place one thing as more important than another, in our opinion.  These are less-clear issues.  We may find some preferences more rooted in Scriptures than others.

Preferences may include the style of music; the type of church governance; the style of sermons; the style of clothes we wear.  It would include what you prefer to eat at the pitch in after church today.  Some will prefer butter cream frosting, others will prefer whipped cream.

Understand your preference is your self-based opinion.  That’s it!

Here’s where the problems come in within many churches, and this was the problem in the early church . . .

There is the struggle when people take an absolute treat it like it’s a preference.  It would be like saying belief in Jesus is not an absolute for eternal life.  It’s saying it’s a preferred thing to believe but you don’t have to.  It’s like saying it’s acceptable to say you don’t have to love your neighbor.  Or you can steal and kill, if you want.

On the other hand, we easily venture into legalism and self-righteousness when we take a preference and turn it into an absolute.  That would be saying we can only sing certain types of songs in worship, or we must have a certain style of church governance.

These are part of the non-essentials which we think are essentials, but they are not.  So, we argue over what is not an absolute within the church.  We make our preference — absolutes.  And we get stuck in that legalistic trap.

This is what the early church was dealing with.  Convictions were being made into preferences and preferences were becoming absolutes and everything was out of focus.

When this happens the church becomes a place filled with drama, trauma; and is very painful.  And the potential for sin issues to mount is overwhelming.

Paul tells us in verse 3 ~ Let not the one who eats DESPISE the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains PASS JUDGMENT on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  – Romans 14:3

The two sins issues are despising and judging one another.  Both are rooted in pride and self righteousness.  The strong one, who is less restrictive in his actions, can be tempted to despise or look down on the one who abstains.  He can view the weaker brother as morally inferior, uninformed, and stuck in old ways.  He can be viewed with contempt and disdain instead of with patience and compassion.

Verse 3 teaches us to accept those God accepts even if their practice or opinions differ from ours.  That’s not always an easy thing to do.  We often like to think of our preferences and convictions as absolutes.  Yet, they are not!  We need to realize that.  It’s vital wherever we are, whatever we do.  Whether at home, in school, at work, in church . . . wherever.  Understanding the difference in all 3 is crucial to how we view and treat others.

Paul’s greatest concern is over the reaction to the disagreement.  We are not to look down on others because their preference or opinion is different than ours.  We have no right to pass judgment.

Instead with one voice we are called to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The world needs to see Christians — you and I — burning, not with self-righteous fury at one another — — but with a burning passion for God.

The call is always for the church to fight, not against one another, but against all that will pull us away from maintaining the unity which was created for us in Christ Jesus.

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