The call for unity in the church is found throughout the New Testament. We, as Believers, are called by God to belong to one body. The one body we are called to belong to is strong and has integrity in the eyes of the world to the degree that it functions in harmony, with every member playing his/her essential role (see: Rom 12:3-8). Yet, time and again, the church is marked more by division and distrust than by unity and singleness in purpose.
Do not get me wrong. Peace and unity are not the only virtues of the church. Peace and unity are not to be held at all cost. The church is also called to maintain the truth while attempting to keep peace and unity. There does come a time when unity might have to be sacrificed for the sake of truth. However, most disruptions of peace and unity in a church do not take place over serious doctrinal matters (biblical truth) but petty arguments over the style of worship, personality of leadership, carpeting color, and the like.
I find this story of a pastor entirely fitting. The church where he served had just laid new carpet. At an Elder Board meeting, several complaints were aired that “certain people” were dirtying the new carpet by wearing dirty shoes, and the ominous “many” people would like for the church leadership to ask them not to attend. The pastor politely requested to be excused from the meeting. The Elder Board was astonished and intrigued. They followed the pastor, who proceeded to begin pulling up the carpet. The elders asked him to stop. They got the point. Our mission to know God and make Him known trumps clean carpets.
Now, please understand me. I believe we are to take care of the facilities with which the Lord has blessed us. But, we must never put things before people. We must never put minor things before the main thing, the main thing of knowing God and making Him known.
Paul in Romans 14:1-15:13 addresses a Christian’s responsibility towards other believers. He begins in Romans 14:1-13 by stating the principles of Christian freedom, by making a call for unity. His instructions are given in light of Romans 12:1, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” as well as Romans 13:8, “Don’t owe anything to anyone except to love each other.” He writes, assuming that those addressed have already sacrificed their bodies (whole selves) to God as living sacrifices and, as a result, are very desirous of expressing love to their fellow Believers.
We discover two principles in Romans 14:1-13 of Christian freedom. The first is that believers need to accommodate one another. Paul assumes a plurality of Christian lifestyles. Paul understands that Christians serving the same God, filled with the same Spirit, will inevitably, due to culture, background, mentorship, and the sort, have differing ideas of what constitutes a proper Christian lifestyle. It is not that teachings such as the importance of modesty and humility are not to be followed by all believers. Still, the practical application of how these teachings are to be present in a given Christ-follower’s life can and will differ. Paul also understands that these issues can cause division in a church.
The second principle of Christian freedom is that believers are not to be a stumbling block to another. At the center of this issue, I believe, is when people fallaciously make an opinion a biblical mandate. This flaw causes many conflicts. The believer is to be careful not to engage in a practice that might cause another Christian to compromise what they believe in their hearts ought not to be done.
Remember, Paul is sharing common principles. It is not always possible to accommodate all believers. It is not always possible to not cause other believers to stumble. But, we need to do everything in our power to fulfill these principles, honoring God and expressing love to others.
How about you? How do you handle your Christian responsibility toward other believers? How do you exercise your Christian freedom? I pray that all of us as believers will strive for unity and peace. I hope that we will not allow pettiness to drive us apart as a whole or as individual believers. I pray we will allow our commitment to biblical truth and love to fill us with unity until it overflows into the streets. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!