I have to say in my twenty-seven years of ministry, I have not seen a more potentially divisive time as we are in now. I see many Christians vigorously debating various issues related to Covid-19, government overreach, conspiracy theories and so much more. It should not be surprising to us there are various opinions being shared by Christ followers concerning our present day which come from every point across the spectrum. What should surprise us is friendships are being strained (if not broken), sides are being drawn and local churches are in danger of fracturing due to these and other non-Gospel issues.
Opposing opinions in the church are nothing new and the Bible talks about what we should do when there are legitimate disagreements about cultural issues that can divide us.
Chapter fourteen in the book Romans addresses a cultural issue that had the potential of dividing the church. The potentially divisive issue was over a religious observance concerning food and special days of worship. One group in the church argued there were specific rules Christians must follow in terms of the food they were allowed to eat and also the days they consider as important for worship. The other group in the church disagreed and emphasized they were free in Christ in relation to the foods they ate and the days they observed for worship.
How did Paul address this tense situation? Concerning food, the Apostle says, “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them (Romans 14:3). In other words, he tells one group to stop looking down on their fellow Christian for observing dietary restrictions as an act of worship, while at the same time admonishing the other group of Christians to not become overly righteous in their rule keeping by condemning those who don’t observe the same dietary rules. After all, God has made both groups with differing opinions righteous by the blood of Jesus.
Regarding whether or not to keep special days for observance, Paul tells the church “let each one be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5). Thus, if one group sees certain times as obligatory for worship, such people should observe them as a special day. If others disagree, then they should hold fast to their opinion and therefore are not obligated to keep such observances. The bottom line for Paul is each group should avoid disunity in the church at all costs when holding to their opinions. In fact, he tells them to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification…and not destroy the work of God” (14:19-20). The work of God is to build the church and the church remains strong when unity in Christ has a greater weight than personal opinions.
The Gospel is the primary issue of the Church. Having a good relationship with God and our neighbors is central to our faith. Of course we will always have a numerous opportunites to express a diversity of opinions in our information laden age. However, if we let our opinions on the current state of affairs conflict with loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and yes even our enemies (see Matthew 5:44), we’ve moved into a place of judgement and lose our ability to be graceful towards others.
So go ahead, disagree with other’s about issues related to Covid-19, but remember to be kind (and perhaps, in some cases, wearing a mask for someone who has a concern about catching the virus is kinder than not doing so). Feel free to offer your opinion of how to best heal racial brokenness in the twenty-first century, but don’t turn a blind eye to the injustice in our world (justice is central to the Gospel). Just because you disagree with someone, especially someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, does not mean you can pull away from them. In fact, in the Spirit of unity, you should seek to draw closer. If we pull away from our brothers and sisters due to opinions on secondary issues, we inadvertently are pulling away from God who tells us our love for Him and others is inextricable.
Peace and unity in Christ,