“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
In Romans 14, the Apostle Paul wades into deep water. He insists that when we judge each other over personal preferences or convictions we “tear down the work of God” (Romans 14:20).
The Church has always comprised a diverse spectrum of people. In Rome, some felt fine about eating meat, likely sacrificed to idols before they bought it. Others chose to be vegetarian for their conscience’ sake. Some believed that Christians should still observe the Sabbath. Others felt no attachment or obligation to the day.
Nothing has changed.
The issues for us may not be diets and days, but we’ve found plenty of other issues to debate; preaching, music, buildings, or youth work. Alcohol, tobacco, dancing, and gambling used to be hot topics. In some places they remain so.
Whatever happened to “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit“? When did we forget Jesus’ earnest prayer that we be one, “so that the world might believe” (John 17:21)?
Convictions, by definition, run deep. We feel strongly. And that serves a purpose. But when our convictions become a test of fellowship with other people, we violate the unity of the Body of Christ. We may feel justified, but so much of what we arm-wrestle about is of secondary consequence.
In its finest days, the Restoration Movement (which defines part of my heritage) held three core values as common ground for unity; the authority of Scripture, the Lordship of Christ, and the unity of the Church. They form a large umbrella (too large for some) which allows for considerable diversity underneath.
Church history shows that when we insist people share our same conclusions and convictions on secondary matters, we fracture the Body and isolate ourselves.
That said, in Romans 14 Paul also appeals to those who have a freer conscience to “accept the one who is weak in faith” (Romans 14:1). A free conscience (someone not bound by the same convictions on secondary matters) might be dismissive or condescending towards others. That’s not helpful or healthy, either.
Whatever we do, we do so for the Lord (Romans 14:6). Our convictions must honor Christ first and foremost. That’s the true test of spiritual formation.
Today, before becoming assertive or judgmental towards others — pastors or elders, brothers or sisters in Christ — listen and understand. Then carefully seek the path that honors Christ and His Body.