Thursday, December 18, 2008

KEEP OPINIONS OUT OF THE CHURCH, ROMANS 14

Romans, chapter 14, address matters of private opinion. First of all, one can see that it is matters of opinion being addressed from the first verse which states, “Now be receiving the one being weak in the faith, not for disputes over opinions.” (ALT) Secondly, it is clear that these opinions are to be matters of private practice. Here is verse 22 in 3 translations. "You have faith? Be having [it] to yourself before God. Happy is the one not judging himself in what he approves [of]. (ALT)"; "Keep what you believe about this matter, then, between yourself and God. Happy are those who do not feel guilty when they do something they judge is right! (GNB)"; "The faith which thou hast, have thou to thyself before God. Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth. (ASV)"

Many self-proclaimed "Change Agents", as well as other misinformed individuals, have Romans 14 as a favorite jump off point for justifying new innovations to the worship of God. Usually the lessons they offer begin with legitimate issues where individuality and free will have been curtailed, but at a certain point in their lesson the discussion turns to the real issue at hand: the legitimacy of introducing any number of things to church's worship. These teachers turn to Romans 14 to justify anything from clapping to "praise singers" and instruments. Romans 14 does not permit one individual or group to force something into the church that is a matter of opinion.

The verses quoted above from Romans 14 indicate that some opinions are to be held between oneself and God. Otherwise, division would result if they were forced on others. It is clear that if the practice of these opinions became public, say in the church assembly, the opinion would no longer be "between yourself and God". That is to say, the action of publicly practicing an opinion becomes a public doctrinal statement. Let me give three examples where opinions need to be kept quiet. First, drinking a beer without being drunk is not, in and of itself, a sin (Paul told Timothy to have a little "wine" and the Elders are told not to be "addicted to wine"). My personal opinion, and one that I don't mind stating publicly, is that alcoholic consumption is unnecessary and something to avoid being something that brings many pains and pitfalls. Most Christians would agree, believing that any consumption of alcohol is a violation of their conscience and is sin. It would be a sin for them to consume it. Most of these Christians have the additional concerns for their children, youths, and young Christians who might be led into the practice of drinking. Their concern is legitimate. Now the one who drinks alcohol, without getting drunk, should curtail his liberty for the sake of his example to others. It would be wholly inappropriate at a potluck or other fellowship activity. This is because every Christian should be sensitive to the kind of example he is setting and avoid any public consumption. Obviously, there are sensitive issues where our concern for people's souls ought to be factored in to what we believe about our own private liberties. Second, another example where public concerns override one's perceived private liberties has to do with religious music. A Christian may be fully convinced in his own mind that privately listening to religious music that incorporates instruments is acceptable. For me, there is not separate guidelines in the Bible: one for public worship and another for private. But if someone has decided that he or she may privately worship God with instruments, say by listening to the radio of compact discs, that opinion must never be brought into the church or division would occur. Most of the time, these Christians would not try or want to incorporate the instrument into the church's worship. As long as the private opinion remains private, the church should not engage in rooting out the practice under the threat of disfellowship. If the opinion is kept private, it should do not harm to the unity of the church. Third, clapping and making noises with the tongue and mouth is included as one of these matters of opinion. This has become a problem in Christian music. In some church's it is accepted in the worship assembly. This goes against Paul's admonition in Romans 14, going against the admonition that it be "to yourself and God". If there is a Biblical case to be made for the use of instruments and instrument sounds, other Biblical text must be used.

The unity and acceptance that the Bible calls for is impossible if Paul meant in Romans 14 for the stronger brothers to keep quiet while permitting the weaker brethren to introduce their opinions into worship and church. Permitting these issues into worship would invite the kind of trouble seen in the Corinthian church where the Lord's Supper was turned into a gluttonous feast. The New Testament offers a number of examples of trouble arising when opinion was elevated to doctrine (see Acts 6 and Gal 2 where the Old Testament is an illegitimate justification for Christian practice). Wise and loving use of Christian liberty allows for all sorts of practices to be privately offered to God. Paul said, "Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). He said that allowed that one man might consider one day to be more holy than another while another man considers the all the same. God is fine with their individual belief on this. But, it's also true what someone said: "One man's liberty ends where another man's nose begins." If one man considers "Christmas" to be a holy day, that's fine. Let him keep that between himself and God. The public expression of such controversial liberties, bringing it into the church, touches on the very legalism that the "Change Agents" claim to be against because their opinion is made the church's practice. The statement to everyone would be, “You must accept my worship and be in unity with me. And if you object, keep it to yourself or leave.” And it is more than legalistic, it is presumptuous, uncaring, and unloving to require everyone else to accept an opinion into the worship. It defiles the conscience of many. Some former churches of Christ (recently in San Antonio, TX and Oklahoma City, OK) have made their private opinion to be part of the public worship and they forced their many members to be corrupted or to leave.

In the church, there must be unity. The issues and examples addressed by Paul in Romans 14 were happening outside and kept outside of the assembly. And we can see from the issues in Paul's discussion that there wouldn't be unity over the opinions. Thus they had to be kept outside of the church. Allowing the practice of these opinions into the assembly would not only elevate the opinion into doctrine, but it would be divisive. The issues of Romans 14 were private opinions and not doctrinal divisions. Just as today there are a number of cultural issues which have no bearing on doctrine or worship. Things like opinions on hair, clothing, and education should be kept to oneself.

Romans 14 does not justify the introduction of innovations to worship. Romans 14 is an instruction to keep private opinions private and to not judge others who do.

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