Is it a heaven or hell issue is such a big question. It is certainly one we need to ask ourselves when looking at matters on which we might disagree as Christians. We’ve been looking at Romans 14 in these studies since it is the longest and most detailed of any discussion on the topic in the Bible. Paul was telling the church how to handle things that were not right or wrong in and of themselves but matters on which some had strong feelings and even felt others were wrong and in danger of hell if they disagreed or practiced differently than they did.
In Verses 19-22 he said, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” This is obviously part of his conclusion to the entire argument he has been making in this chapter on not judging each other and remembering that the kingdom isn’t about food and drink but about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. So focus on this part of his conclusion.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace.” Since the letter to Romans was written not just for a congregation but for an area of churches and since it was laid out to be a declaration of Christianity for people generally, this plea does extend beyond just seeking peace in the local congregation of people. It certainly applies heavily there. But not only there. It also applies to peace among the churches. Instead of looking for ways to cut down or undercut another church we should be looking for ways to have peace with them. But what if I feel that a church down the way is doing something wrong? What if our whole church feels like that church is wrong in what they are doing?
Lots of things are happening today and have always happened I suppose that make this extremely relevant. I’ve seen all kinds of letters and notes on Facebook and Twitter lately of people declaring that some church that has started a new practice is no longer one of our fellowship and not now a true church. Here are some questions we need to answer before jumping into the discussion. Is what that church is doing worse than any of the things the church in Corinth was doing or believing when Paul addressed them as the church of God and those called to be saints in Christ Jesus in I Corinthians 1:2? They were involved in some pretty awful things but he still called them God’s church. Or look at the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3. Some were in danger of losing their candlestick meaning they would no longer be the Lord’s church, but with each there was a chance to repent and overcome. In most there was a notice that some in the church were still true to the Lord and accepted by him. We need to remember that the Lord is still the judge of a church or an individual and if God accepts a place or church that we reject we are putting ourselves ahead of and perhaps even above God. “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?”
A second question should be, does God give any church the right to decide if another church is in the wrong or should be disfellowshipped? The only time I see any discussion of disfellowshipping anyone in the Bible is about those in a local church and they were individuals who wouldn’t repent. Each church is under the oversight of it’s own elders or shepherds and one eldership is never given the authority to oversee another church. Look closely at Acts 20:28 or I Peter 5:1-4. It is “The elders that are among you.” “Take the oversight of those among you.” The only one with oversight over all the churches is Jesus. So one had better walk very slowly in saying that some church can’t any longer be a real church of the Lord.
We are to work for peace. Make every effort to have peace. Every congregation of people is unique and that is as it should be. A person may visit several places and think to themselves I don’t fit in there and try another. It doesn’t mean that church isn’t right with God. It means I didn’t fit there. Pursue peace.
Also he said to make every effort to have mutual edification or to work hard at building one another up. Barnabas was a hero in how he built up others. No wonder the church in Jerusalem sent him to Antioch when they heard the church had been started among the Gentiles. If many others had gone they would have seen problems and matters to criticize. He saw they were devoted to the Lord and that God was at work among them and built them up. It was Barnabas who went to find Saul and bring him down there to work with him in building up that church.
Here is Paul’s application to the point on trying to build up and have peace. “Don’t destroy the work of God for the sake of food.” Sure some felt some foods were just wrong for a Christian to eat. Others felt the whole thing was silly and nothing was wrong with any food. Notice Paul said the ones who felt there was nothing wrong with any food were right. All foods are clean before God. But if I think it is unclean, it is for me. Because of some notions people may have they may believe all kinds of things are wrong that really aren’t wrong at all but if they feel that way they shouldn’t do them. BUT DON’T CONDEMN OTHERS WHEN THEY DON’T BUY INTO YOUR PREJUDICES. I’ve read some of the goofiest articles imaginable by folks who feel that it is wrong to clap in church or wrong for someone to raise their hands or any number of other things. I suspect if they sat with me while we are singing and saw that I always pat my feet they would think that was wrong as well. If you feel that way don’t do it. If you have a whole church that feels that way, then don’t do it. But you have absolutely no right before God to judge other Christians or other churches who don’t agree with your thoughts on the matter.
But what about causing others to stumble? We certainly don’t want to cause anyone for whom Christ died to stumble. Since he died for everyone then we don’t want to cause anyone to stumble. But most of the time what we are doing isn’t going to cause anyone to stumble and fall away from God, it just causes them to disagree and perhaps seek out another church that they feel more in agreement with. This text cannot be used to try to force a church to not do anything that any member doesn’t agree with. If such were the case Paul would have been wrong when he went to Jerusalem as described in Galatians two and took Titus with him but absolutely refused to give in to those who thought he had to circumcise Titus for him to be right with God. Paul’s words were, “I gave place to them, no not for an hour.”
What then is a person to do if they come to church and there are things there that they don’t agree with or feel are right? The first thing would be to ask the question of yourself as to why you disagree with them or feel they aren’t right. Is it because you’ve just never done it that way? Is it that you feel it violates your comfort zone? Or is it because there is actually some Scriptural principle it violates? If it is one of the first two, I need to rethink it and change myself instead of trying to get the church to change. Also if it is a personal thing then don’t do it yourself but don’t judge others who do it. If it is something you feel is not Biblical then make a time to talk with the leaders of the congregation about it to see if they have a good answer and they may help you to see that it is right and your thinking is wrong. If you continue to feel a thing is wrong and it isn’t something you can live with then it would be best to seek out another church that does things as you feel are right. But never find yourself fighting against the church that God is happy with or working with.
Remember God has been using flawed people to do amazing things from the beginning and he continues to do so today.