It is said that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive and then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked down, but when the land forces arrived, and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.”
Unfortunately, there are times when churches relate all too well to this story. Instead of experiencing unity and peace, they are skirmishing over petty issues. When God calls on them to do something great for Him, they have nothing left to give, for they have used up their ammunition shooting at the saints. This leaves the Christian depleted and a church disgraced in plain view of the world around them. God has a better plan for His church. It is very important that Christians get along with one another.
How do we deal with the different opinions about minor issues that separate Christians and make it difficult for them to serve or even worship together? How should we get along? What are the God-given techniques? What are the biblical examples? Paul offers us answers to these questions in Romans 15:1-13.
Paul challenges the stronger Christian, in verses 1-6, to be understanding of the weaker ones. “Stronger” and “weaker” speaking of stronger in faith and theology and weaker in the same. We are to respond to other believers who differ with us in petty issues (nonessential issues) in love. Our example of this selfless act is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our example of self-denying love, being willing to endure the curse of sin rather than to please Himself. Therefore, Paul continues in Romans 15:7-13 that Christians must accept one another as Christ has accepted Jew and Gentile alike.
Jesus receives us to bring glory to God. We are to accept others to glorify our Lord as well. As we glorify God through the power of oneness in Christ and together through power of the Holy Spirit, we can more effectively serve unreached peoples in the hope they too will come to receive Christ. By trusting in God, we find that the Holy Spirit produces an overflow of hope and joy in our lives. God uses a unified church.
During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren Assemblies, half complied, and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time—those who did not faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups, and there was much tension. Finally, they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together. Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, “What did you do then?” “We were just one,” he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.
When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents the world with an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ. When love does not prevail among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world…well, you know what it presents to the world. The real question is, “What will we Christ’s church present to the world?” Rupertus Meldenius, a Lutheran theologian and educator of the 17th century, declared, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” We must never compromise the Gospel. But, we must never allow nonessentials to bring disunity. I pray we will follow the practices of Christian freedom laid out in Romans 15:1-13. I pray we will seek to be understanding of others as well as truly accept one another. I pray we will be one in Christ united in peace and unity. Such a church will prevail, impacting the world with the Gospel by attracting others to our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!