It’s Not Easy Being Gray
How do we Christians live at peace with one another when we have differences of opinion about things? I’m not talking about fighting, or having a brouhaha (I love that word! If I led a rock band, that’d be our name.) I’m talking about gray areas, when we don’t see eye-to-eye.
My wife and I see the world differently. I love to cook but hate cleaning. Janis is not into cooking so much but keeps a great house. So here’s a picture of our kitchen from a few years ago, and I’ve just cooked two pies. Janis walked into the room and screamed audibly, as though she’d seen a hairy spider. She said, to my bewilderment, that the kitchen was a disaster. ‘A disaster?’ I said. “This is art! This is a craftsman at work! This is the canvas when Rembrandt puts down his brush. This is Michelangelo stepping back from David.” She wouldn’t have it.
But this is a part of life that we Christians need to work on with each other if we’re going to have peace. Especially in church life. There are so many areas of our faith where we’re going to have different viewpoints. We’re seeing it right before our eyes with Covid-19. Is this more about the first amendment or about disease? How should we go about reopening our churches? Masks or no masks?
Just add this to the list of all the areas where Christians disagree with each other. Things like politics, Bible translations, worship styles, end-times theories, what movies should we see, should a Christian drink alcohol, roles of men and women, should we observe Halloween and Christmas, gifts of the Spirit, young earth/old earth, Calvinism vs. Arminianism – so many battles, so little time!
Why Do We Struggle So With This?
Part of the problem with us is that because there are very real black and white areas in our faith – there are doctrinal and ethical lines to be drawn; there are hills to die on – we have this reflex to bring this same spirit into every discussion we have. So oftentimes, we bring a blowtorch when a flashlight is called for.
Another thing we do is because we claim that God communicates with us through his Spirit, we frequently have these very strong feelings and thoughts inside of us, so we make the assumption that what we’re feeling must be from God. We ‘canonize our thoughts’, if I can put it that way. We throw around phrases like, “Well God told me this,” and the “Spirit told me that,” and we assume we’re on the inside track with God, rather than what we should say: “Well, here’s what I think God is saying to me. I could be wrong on this, but here’s my take…”
How The Early Church Managed Its Disagreements
This was Paul’s burden in an essential chapter of Scripture, Romans 14. This is must-reading if you say you follow the Prince of Peace. The early church found itself in a transitional period. It was ‘out with the old… in with the new…’ testaments that is. And a lot of things that believers practiced before Jesus’ death and resurrection now were fulfilled in Christ, and no longer were binding on believers. All the Old Testament food laws, all those ceremonial laws about sacrifices and worship feasts, the need for priests, the need for a temple – all these things were on their way out.
But change is hard for many. And so in the early church you had people really struggling with things, like the dietary laws. Imagine – a food fight in the early church!
So Paul says some critical things in Romans 14. First in verse 1 he says, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” So the first thing we need to get into our thick craws is this:
There are such things as ‘disputable matters’.
There are gray areas. Not everything is black and white.
Though we know a lot more about Covid-19 now than we did ten weeks ago, there’s still so much that’s uncertain about it. If you want to throw off your mask in the name of the first amendment, more power to you. But you still don’t know for certain what the next month in our national journey is going to bring. And if you’re unnerved by the thought of 100,000 Americans dying in ten weeks, so you’re all in with the masks for now, then God bless you. It’s not a political statement for you; it’s something that might just keep you safe. For now, this is as far from a black and white issue as it gets.
So show a little humility, because you might very well be the person who’s wrong. Maybe dangerously wrong. Do you know what’s going to be served at dinner on the first day in heaven? Crow. Lots of it.
Then Paul says in verse 3, “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.” Here Paul is saying:
You need to respect the relationship that the other person has with God.
With this, you honor the fact that the position they have arrived at was made in deep reverence for their Lord, and how dare you assume otherwise.
I’ve come to the opinion that many of President Trump’s Christian supporters have been more discipled by him, than he by them. You see it in the discussion threads, comments, and placards of Christians who resort to bullying, name-calling, and other spiteful behaviors rather than offering reasoned arguments for their beliefs. Such ugliness on parade is as far from the Spirit of Christ as can be. The next time you go to hit “reply” or “publish”, don’t just hit spell-check. Why don’t you hit the “Beatitude-check” three or four times as well (i.e. have a read of Matthew 5:1-10).
That we act with such petulance in our engagement with the world belittles our faith and diminishes our testimony as nothing else can. That we do this with each other is shameful beyond description.
Then verse 5. “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Here, Paul is telling us:
You need to respect the thought that the other person has given to this matter.
I teach something called “sound-bite training”. I believe for any truth or conviction you hold, you ought to be able to generate two or three solid reasons why you think that way, and then be able to quickly share it.
The conversation can then deepen from there, as you go back and worth assessing the soundness of each other’s arguments. This is the heart-and-soul of reasoned discourse, and hopefully brings us closer to wisdom.
But even here, great humility is called for. Take each of those areas of debate we mentioned earlier. Once we’re in heaven, we’ll find out that someone was right and someone was wrong. The earth will either be very old or very young. Either Jesus wanted women to be pastors or he didn’t. Someone’s going to get it right, and someone’s going to get it wrong. But the fact is, we’ll all be there in heaven to learn the truth. No one will be left out because they picked the wrong side. As long as we pick Jesus, we’re good to go. There are many Bible-loving, Jesus-worshipping people on all sides of each debate, and we need to learn to respect that fact.
I heard someone say once, “Christians need to be narrow in doctrine, but broad in fellowship.” I like that. Be narrow in doctrine – know what you believe and be able to Scripturally demonstrate why you believe it. But be broad in fellowship. Know how and where to draw lines. Be a good surveyor of the hills around you, and know which are the ones for playing on, and which are the ones for dying on.
As Paul wraps up his teaching in Romans 14, he says in verse 17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking.” And he may as well add, “…not a matter of politics and worship styles and masks…” Here’s what the kingdom of God is about. It’s about “…righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
It’s about how the unmasked party and the masked party should love each other in Christ, and not think poorly or arrogantly or judgmentally of the other. Because honestly, we need each other. We need each other’s wisdom, to get through this current crisis. Our society is blowing apart at the seams precisely at the time when we need to be coming together and caring for each other. At least the Church should be leading the way in this and demonstrating that it is possible.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.