Skip to main content

Less policy; more gospel theology

People who follow Jesus differ. Maintaining unity isn't easy. How do you do it? We need something better than requiring conformity.

In Romans 14, Paul identifies one cause of difference as being due to the strength/weakness of faith. He anticipates in Rome's church that people will look at the cleanness of food and the specialness of certain days differently. All food is clean and all days are holy for someone who follows Jesus, but some have weaker faith and don't embrace that freedom.

Principle 1. Welcome as God welcomed you (neither the weak or the strong in faith should judge the conservatism or liberty of the other).
Paul addresses how they welcome one another - 14:1-3. Knowing God's welcome of someone else (and yourself) defines your welcome of others. A strong faith appreciates God's welcome deeply, and is surely exponentially welcoming.

Principle 2. God cares about the heart more than its actions (tick box pastoral care isn't the gospel way).
We can want to keep everyone in line - but people aren't meant to live for people. We live for Jesus. And you need to get what you do right with him...  which can look deeply contradictory as one person's read on what will honour Jesus isn't quite the same as another person. The question is - what can I do with thanksgiving, what can I do worshipfully... for one they eat, another doesn't... one keeps a day special, another doesn't... and so on. Messy! The heart matters more than the outward action.

Some things are objectively right and others wrong. And Paul stands very confident for himself....

Yet, in the same breath, Paul takes the conscience very seriously. He who says he is 100% sure that foods are clean (Jesus said so!) values personal thinking and conscience very strongly.  If your faith is "weak" so that you can't bring yourself to fully live in the freedom you have in Christ, that's not something to take lightly. It's really serious:

Which stands as a strong warning to take care of our conscience. He says in the previous chapter that we should be submissive to authorities "for the sake of conscience" - because if we tolerate a rebelliousness towards government in our conscience it'll multiply a sense of rebelliousness in other decisions we face.

Principle 3. Certainty doesn't make you dogmatic, it makes you flexible (gospel-depths mean you're less shockable, less worries about other people, more self-forgetful).
Paul has deep convictions about what he believes. He is convinced. Certainty doesn't make for dogmatic approaches... Paul sees that certainty leads to flexibility. And the stronger the certainty the more flexible we should be - especially on things that aren't 'gospel issues'.

 e.g. The Kingdom is not a matter of food and drink... so don't fall out over food and drink. Don't make something secondary into a headline... don't divide over something that you can viably flex about. Ask what's good for the gospel more than what do I want. Ask what really matters and what really shouldn't.
The conscience can be re-calibrated and corrected... and it can be seared. We should take seriously what we think to be good and bad so that we don't harm ourselves... and also so we don't harm others. Those in Christ aren't to seek to destroy the work of God in others by riding roughshod over the conscience of others in Christ.

In matters of unity then....
Let's avoid making issues of things that aren't gospel/kingdom issues. There are hills to die on and there are hills not to die on. There are issues that should define us and issues that surely shouldn't.

Let's embrace the ambiguity and messiness of accomodating one anothers consciences. That'll draw some flak, it'll look messy and inconsistent, but guarding the gospel means guarding people's consciences.

Let's give room for faith to grow rather than destroying one another in a quest for neatness and people-pleasing.


Popular posts from this blog

"Big eyes full of wonder"

Books. Fiction. Libraries. Second only to churches as are the best gateways in your community to ultimate reality and new possibilities.

Our local library has just re-opened after refurbishment, and I love that our boys have spent several mornings there during the summer holidays, discovering some wonderful new stories.

I realised a few months back that I wasn't reading enough fiction. My work necessitates reading a lot of non-fiction, a mix of historical and contemporary thinking, biblical studies and theology. But fiction is the cinderella. Easily overlooked, and yet able to awaken my imagination and show me the way things are meant to be.

So I've picked up a few more lately - bought and borrowed. Not every book attempted flies, and that's ok. These have been winners though.

Ink. This is Alice Broadway's debut novel. It's young adult fiction and tells the story of Leora who lives in a world where the events of your life are tattooed on your skin. Nothing gets hid…

Uniquely Matthew

Reading gospel accounts in parallel is sometimes used to blur the differences in perspective between the evangelists, seeking to harmonise the texts and find a definitive historical account of what happened. No such thing exists because every account is biased and limited. You simply can't record everything. You have to hold a vantage point. And that's not a problem.

Matthew, Mark and Luke take a very different vantage point to John who was of course an eyewitness himself of the events. Comparing the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke across the death and resurrection of Jesus yields two steps.

Firstly, the common ground. All three accounts tell of...
Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross…. · Jesus labelled as King of the Jews…. · Criminals crucified with Jesus… · Darkness in the daytime… · Jesus' loud final cry… The women who witnessed Jesus death, and Jesus' burial… · The tomb lent to Jesus by Joseph of Arimithea… · The women who went to the tomb on the morning of the…

Songs we're singing in Church

Christians are a singing people, it's part of what we do when we gather.

Our church meets morning an evening on a Sunday - normally using 5 songs in each service. So, over the year that's about 520 song-slots available. The report from the database system we use ( tells us that in the past year we've sung about 150 different songs.

Our current most used song has been sung 11 times in the last year, just under once a month. Our top 10 are used about every 6 weeks. By #30 we're talking about songs used every two months. The tail is long and includes loads of classic hymns from across the centuries, plus other songs from the past 40 years, that we have used around once a term or less.

1. Rejoice - Dustin Kensrue

2. Come Praise & Glorify - Bob Kauflin

3. Man of Sorrows - Hillsong

4. Cornerstone - Hillsong

Rejoice was a song I didn't previously know, along with a couple of others that have quickly become firm favourites for me: Chri…