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Accepting Other Christians

January 31st, 2020

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (Romans 14:1 ESV)

Inspired by the Spirit, and with several years of experience with churches and individuals in the Mediterranean world, the apostle Paul gave a practical and blessed teaching on the subject of getting along with other Christians. He did not resolve or even mention every issue that could arise in the Christian family — it would be quite impossible to do so — but he laid down fundamental principles for guiding our thoughts and our conduct with one another.

Before going too far in this study, let me point out what those guiding principles are that the Spirt inspired Paul to give us: (1) Accept one another in Christ for God has accepted us in Christ; (2) It is morally reprehensible to judge another person’s servant, and this is especially true with those who serve the Lord; (3) We will each need to stand before God and give account of our life, so that reality should fill our thoughts, and not the weaknesses of our brother in Christ; (4) we should seek to build up our brother and not tear him down; and (5) we should pursue what leads to peace and mutual edification, not needless division.

Clearly there are somethings we cannot accept, issues that cross the line — the denial of the resurrection for example — and those are decided by the teachings of scripture. But there are other issues where Christians have learned to agree to disagree.

The Possible List Is Endless

When we consider all of the issues that have disturbed Christian fellowship over the centuries — some very serious, some less serious, some regional issues, some more world-wide issues, some doctrinal, some about the practice of faith, some about matters such as the wearing of a colored clothing to church (which seems ridiculous to us today), some about dress lengths, women wearing pants to church, the length of men’s hair, the use of make-up, drinking alcohol, being over weight, etc. — we realize that we can never resolve each and everyone of these matters.

The Bible teaches morality on the basis of principles and not always on precise concrete practices. For example, it says, “Honor your father and mother,” but does not tell us exactly how we are to do that in every circumstance. The Bible commands us to honor, but does not give us titles we must call our parents by, nor certain acts we must perform, etc. Rather it entrusts us to the Holy Spirit to guide each generation of believers in each nation and culture, to be able to work out for themselves what shape honoring parents will take.

The Old Testament goes into more specific detail about the use and abuse of property than it does about the rules of romantic conduct between two young people who might be in love. It forbids adultery, and commands those courting one another to act responsibly and respectfully toward each other, but does not give specific commands about premarital touching or carressing. Like honoring parents, we have to work out these matters on our own as the Spirit guide us.

And therein is the rub, that it is simply not always easy to find agreement on many things. The issues of eating certain foods and observing certain religious days were the “hot potatoes” Paul addressed in Romans 14, but each generation deals with something.

What about Church Practices?

Here is where much of the Christian world is today, what are the proper practices of  New Testament church? What are the issues where Christians must all stand together, and what are the issues where an individual church must stand united in, and what are the issues where individual church members must accept differences between one another? Good questions but difficult questions to answer.

First, it should be acknowledged that every church needs peace. Every church needs to be united not only along theological lines but also along the lines of church practice, and the basic issues of the Christian moral life. There is room for some differences but not for every difference.

Second, these issues must be understood by most of the people. They must be explained and understood in ways that make sense to the average lay people of the church — and that might be the most difficult part of this entire process. To simply say, “Well, the pastor said…” and for the average lay person not to understand what the issue was all about will not go well in a church, at least not on the weightier issues.

I remember an interview several years ago with a certain man was being interviewed to serve as a deacon of the church I then pastored. The interview went well, but then near the end he said that he thought he should let us know that from time to time he smoked a cigarette or two and drank a beer. After he left the interview a long discussion ensued. Finally one present said that if it was just an occasional cigarette, or an occasional beer, that would not be a problem, but he thought that no deacon should have a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. That it was both was the problem.

And whether you or I agree with that perspective, it represents how lay people think. Their thinking is more practical and contemporary. They are less likely to appeal to some theological principle or to refer some church practice of 300 years ago, like us pastors are known to do. Church policies need to make sense to the church people.

Third, we should expect that these things will change from time to time. A trend that is happening across the world today is an anti-denominational mindset. Probably the internet and the capacity for Christian churches to share teaching materials is a large reason for this. There is more cross-polinization between Christian denominations today than ever before. The local and specific issues that contributed to the forming of denominations are slowing disappearing as the world becomes more global.

Fourth, there is a general lack of interest in theology and doctrine. Christianity has become more experiential based and worship more vertical than horizontal. People are more personally empowered than ever before and some of this is good and some of this is not good. It is good that people want a vibrant relationship with God, and that they respect themselves and stand up for themselves. However, there are concerns that people are neglecting doctrinal teaching and moving more toward a strictly personalized religious experience.  This creates a “Who cares?” attitude about many important church issues.

We Need Wisdom

The great need in today’s church, and especially in today’s international or multicultural church, is for the leaders to have wisdom in how to proceed in these areas, to bring unity and concensus about in the church body. Of course, none of this is possible without the leadership of the Spirit. I will end this here today, because now the discussion must be specific and local.

But let me encourage us all that the Lord has been building His church for 2,000 years and He knows what He is doing. We may not always be able to sort out what is an unimportant issue, but He can.

BLOG: pastor's blog

The Bible and the Church

January 21st, 2020

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine as lights in the world as you hold forth the word of life, in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16 BSB)

The Bible is to have a central place in the life of the Christian and in the life of the local church. The Christian, having originally been found and saved by God through the word of God, finds in the word the truth of God and spiritual meat for the spiritual sustenance of his soul. The church finds the word to be the tool of God for their witness and for their spiritual development. By teaching, proclaiming, and believing the word of God the church finds unity, leadership, clarity, efficiency, purpose, truth, and life.

The word of life

These words are strong here and have a remarkable history behind them. Words by themselves, as we all know, are often empty and meaningless, the powerless promises of an egotist. Words can by themselves alone be deceptive, leading us to believe and act upon lies and ruses. But the words of Christ bring life, as His disciples testified, Christ has the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68), and, in fact, is that word of eternal life that shined into the darkness of the world in His incarnation (John 1:1-4), and He remains the “word of life” for those who believe in Him (1 John 1:1).

The life that Christ gives is not merely a better life, but a pure life that is eternal in its nature. The nature of this life is the continual growth in intimate knowledge of Christ, as He said: “And this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). All that we know of Jesus, apart from a few obscure outside historical references, is found in the Bible. To to know Christ, and thereby to know God and to have true spiritual life, requires us to know the Bible.

Holding forth the word of life

The words of the text above are also instructive of the church’s ministry and witness. In what we do we are not only to hold upon the word of God ourselves, but we are to hold it forth as our message,  testament, and ministry. The word of the original Greek is epecho, a combination of epi and echo, or “upon” and “hold.” It carries the meaning of “holding onto,” “paying attention to,” and “holding forth.” Ellicott’s Commentary is especially helpful here, seeing a connection between “holding forth” or “holding out” the word and the words in the preceding verse about the church “you shine like stars in the world”:

Holding forth the word of life.—This translation seems correct, and the reference is to the comparison above. There may, indeed, be (as has been supposed) a reference, involving a change of metaphor, to the holding forth of a torch, for guidance, or for transmission, as in the celebrated torch race of ancient times. But this supposed change of metaphor is unnecessary. The “luminaries” hold forth their light to men, and that light is the “word of life.”

So Ellicott’s Commentary sees a continuation between “shining like stars in the universe” and “holding out the word of life.” The word translated “universe” or “world” is kosmos in Greek and either word is a fair translation. The night sky shows the shining stars against the backdrop of the blackness of nothingness, and Christians shine like that in this world. The blackness of the world is the darkness of unbelief and confusion, the anger and hatred and selfishness of the world. And the light of the Christian is the word of light.

Why is the Christian different? He is different because he has the word of God and has trusted in the Christ of the word, and has received divine illumination in his soul. He holds forth the “word of God,” the “gospel of Jesus Christ,” or the “word of life,” as the hope of the world because it is his hope as well, and the clearest explanation for why he is different from others. As Heinrich Meyer saw it: “That those, who have a longing for life, may let it (the gospel of Christ) be the light which shall guide them to life.”

Hold on as we hold forth

The Bible is the book we hold on to as we hold it forth to others. The church should keep the Bible in the forefront of its life and not hide it under mountains of other programming. It is not something we should apologize for teaching, rather it is the best thing the church has for its own edification and for its message to the lost. Through teaching the Word, we present Christ who can save, and Christ who can give true life, and the beautiful teachings of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

There is no conflict, or there should be none, in the teachings of the Word and the work of the Spirit. He is the Author of the book, and works in our lives through the Bible to lead us and teach us.

 

 

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