Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many churches are like the two cats, whose tails were tied together, and thrown over a clothesline. They had union, but no unity. Yet in Romans 15, the apostle Paul insists we must have unity in the church. Why is unity so important?
- Because Christ set the example
Sadly, we pastors are put on a pedestal, and then when we fail or fall, members are disappointed and sometimes divided. Even the best ministers are not perfect examples. The great American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who was fat, met the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon. Moody asked Spurgeon when he would give up his awful cigars. Spurgeon pointed at Moody’s belly: “When you get rid of this, I’ll get rid of these.” Even the greatest preachers are not perfect: Jesus is our example. And Christ set an example of unity. Thus Romans 15:2-3 says, “Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.”
- Because scripture teaches it
In Romans 15:4 Paul mentions “the Scriptures.” Then in verse 5, he shows how this helps “you to live in harmony with one another.” Listen to the scriptures: John 13:35 says others will “know you are my disciples” by your love for each other. In John 17:22, Jesus prays “they may be one as we are one.” In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul appeals that “all of you agree.. that there may be no divisions.” In Philippians 4:2, Paul publicly named two women: “I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”
- Because it glorifies God
In Romans 15:6, Paul says, “so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” In the next verse, he stresses again how unity glorifies God: “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.” Thom & Jess Rainer published a study of the 78 million-member generation born between 1980 and 2000: The Millennials. In their book, they said 70% of millennials think that the American church is irrelevant today; the number one reason they gave was that they see religion as divisive and argumentative. But unity glorifies God!
Someone might object, but what if someone is denying the gospel or the inspiration of the Bible? What if someone is immoral? Please do not misunderstand: I am not calling for unity at all costs, but I am calling for unity at great sacrifice! Sadly, many Christians are not willing to swallow their pride and eat humble pie for the sake of unity. We should be willing to make any sacrifice for unity that does not sacrifice truth or morality. It is that important.
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Two churches were located a few blocks from each other in the same small community. The leadership of the two churches felt it would be wise to merge into one larger, stronger congregation, and so plans were set in motion. But it never happened. Why? They could not agree on the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. One group preferred “forgive us our trespasses” while the other wanted “forgive us our debts.” A newspaper article reporting the failed merger noted that one group went back to its “trespasses” while the other returned to its “debts” (Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier, Holman New Testament Commentary: Romans, p. 417-418.)
Unfortunately, churches and church members often divide over many minor matters.
In Romans 14:1 (NIV84), Paul says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”
There are all kinds of disputable matters that come up in churches today. Church members debate over the translation of the Bible. Church members debate over whether to use organ and piano or use guitars and drums in worship. Church members debate over how much of the budget should go to missions, whether to tithe the gross or the net, and what Sunday School literature to use. Church members debate about whether it is proper for a Christian to have a tattoo or whether to wear dress clothes or casual clothes to church. Some churches debate over whether or not it is proper for a man to wear short sleeves and a woman to wear makeup. Some even debate over the color of the carpet.
So how do we handle it when disputable matters come up in the church?
Romans 14:4 asks, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” The point Paul is making is that the Lord Jesus is the Master, not you or me, so don’t get critical over sideline issues.
How do we define a disputable matter?
This raises a question, however. How do we define what is a disputable matter? After all, most people would agree that whether I preach from the King James Version or some other translation of the Bible is a disputable matter, but for some people, it’s not even open for debate. How can we know? Here are some guidelines:
1) What does the Bible teach on the subject?
First, what does the Bible teach on the subject? Take the example of drinking alcohol. Some Christians drink alcohol, while others feel you cannot be a true Christian and drink alcohol. So what does the Bible teach? The Bible says in some passages that wine was consumed by good people (Melchizedek brought out wine and bread to Abraham in Genesis 14:18; Jesus turned water into wine in John 2:1-11), but it also says that drunkenness is sinful and foolish (Proverbs 20:1; 23:20, Isaiah 5:11). So according to the Bible, drinking alcohol is not a sin, but getting drunk is a sin. So the first principle is to ask what the Bible teaches on the subject.
Of course, there are some areas where sincere Christians have honest differences of opinion about what the Bible teaches on a subject. For example, I believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus’ Second Coming is premillenial. However, I used to believe it was amillenial, and I finally changed my mind after continual study. The reason for differences of opinion is that a person can take scripture and make arguments for both sides, based on scripture. And if two Bible-believing Christians can back up their viewpoints from scripture, then they should respect their differences of opinion.
2) Is the dispute over a practice or a principle?
There is a second guideline that can help us, however. Paul says later in this chapter, in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Notice that he is making a distinction between practices and principles. “Eating and drinking” are practices. “Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” are principles. Worshiping the Lord is a principle; playing the organ or playing the guitar are practices. We should stand on our principles but be flexible in our practices.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
I heard about a church that called a pastor with a vote of 200-3. The pastor spent his first six months trying to find out the names of the three who voted against him. Then he spent the next six months trying to please those three. At the end of the year, the church voted to fire the pastor. The vote was three to keep him, and 200 to get rid of him!
There’s an old saying that you can’t please everybody, and that is certainly true in church, which is why we need to try to please the Lord first. However, if the church is evenly divided, it is wise to back off a decision and seek to bring spiritual unity before proceeding, especially when voting on a pastor.
A pastor told me an interesting story about a close vote to call a pastor in a rural Baptist church near Claxton, Georgia. The church voted 51% in favor and 49% against calling a man as their pastor. Ignoring conventional wisdom, the preacher accepted the call, and came to the church as their pastor. After a couple of years, however, he resigned. Upon his resignation, he said, “I have unified the church. When I came, half of them were against me. Now all of them are against me.”
Elections can either unite people or divide people. Unfortunately, our country is pretty divided over politics. But as Christians, God calls us to be uniters, not dividers. In fact, however we voted, we are called upon to pray for those in leadership. Scripture says, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV). Someone might say, “Yeah, but our politicians are so bad these days.” I would remind that person that in New Testament days, the politicians threw the Christians to the lions, but the Christians still prayed for them.
We can do no less.