by John Weston | May 16, 2018
Baptism: sprinkle or immersion?
Bible: King James or any other English translation?
Food: always pray before eating, sometimes pray, or only on special occasions?
Prayer: eyes open or closed?
Music: classical hymns or contemporary choruses?
Worship atmosphere: quiet & contemplative or loud & lively?
Worship day: Saturday or Sunday or any day?
Worship posture: hands raised or hands down?
This is just the beginning of a long list of traditions and rituals that Christians don't agree on. Have you ever had an awkward moment where you were with another Christian and one of you was following a ritual or practice in a moment where the other wasn't? Yesterday I was at a Christian conference and we ate lunch together, and it was a gradual, staggered start for the food line. One of my table mates and I were the first to get back with our food. The rest of our table was out talking, in line, or out of the room. I was going to start eating without prayer, but my table mate said she would pray, so she bowed her head, and prayed, and I put my utensils down, put my head down, joined her in prayer and offered a prayer out loud as well when she finished.
When the church was merely years, not centuries old, there were a lot of traditions of man and commandments of God to sort through and figure what stays and what goes? Jesus had ushered in a new covenant, and some of the Law of Moses continued to be in effect (ethical statutes on matters like sexuality) while others became optional or passe (ceremonial statutes for things like worship format and dietary restrictions). But Jesus didn't spell out each individual rule. The church had to figure it out with the aid of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 15). So there were a lot of awkward moments and also a lot of heated arguments over what things were important and essential and what weren't. The Apostle Paul knew this, and after giving perhaps his greatest and most complete explanation of people, sin, the Holy Spirit, and how salvation works in Romans 1-12, he attends to some housekeeping matters in the last few chapters including this matter:
Romans 14:1-4 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.
Before Jesus came, dietary restrictions were a big deal to the pre-Christian Jews. If you didn't keep kosher, you couldn't go to the temple and people might whisper about you behind your back or worse. But Paul says essentially, “Keep your salvation in Christ center stage, and don't waste time bickering about stuff in the store room.” Sometimes it may mean humoring someone and not eating pork when sharing a meal with them. Or it might be the other way around: someone keeps their mouth shut when bacon is on the breakfast menu but they are still keeping kosher. Some Christians call this line of thinking the principle of “the weaker brother,” referring to Christians who may not understand that a particular opinion they hold is not a command of God.
Give other Christians a break, and I'm guessing that over time we will give you a break too.
(I can report that a few minutes after my table mate and I gave thanks for our meal a pastor got on the microphone and offered a blessing for the meal in progress. Phew! Double coverage...!)