If you were attending Northview services or watching our messages on-line this Fall, it is highly likely that you will remember Pastor Jeff’s sermon based on Romans 14:1-12 entitled “Disputable Matters”. Describing conversations that he has had with other Christians regarding Coke Zero, the Keto diet, parenting strategies for teaching your child to sleep through the night, homeschooling vs public school vs Christian school, sugar and aspartame, practicing yoga and playing football, Santa and the Easter Bunny, Jeff made it abundantly clear that good Christians often disagree about disputable matters.
If this text was being preached in Spring 2020, instead of last November, he may have added the following questions: Should Christians wear face masks, or not? Should Northview Church open its doors for worship services in the midst of a pandemic, or not? If a church down the road decides NOT to open their doors, because they feel differently about how best to proceed, should we criticize them, or not? Should Christians participate in protest marches, or not? These are disputable matters!
What do I mean by disputable matters? This term is used to describe issues which are not clearly addressed in scripture, and which are not “sin” issues.
For instance, Christian parents may be able to articulate a theological rationale for why they do (or do not) take family pictures with Santa, but this debate is not addressed in scripture and the action of casually identifying with a cultural icon doesn’t appear in any of the biblical sin lists (For examples of what IS labelled as sin in the bible, you can look up passages such as Proverbs 6:16-19 and Revelation 21:6-8).
If friends or family members claim to be Christians and yet gossip, or cheat on their taxes, or cheat on their spouse, it is our responsibility as Christians to approach and gently correct them (Matthew 18:15-20, Galatians 6:1-6, James 5:19-20). However, if friends or family members ascribe to a parenting regime which we disagree with because it is different from our own, we should give them the freedom to do so and support their choices. One of these issues is a disputable matter, and the other is not. Do you see the difference?
The problem is, many of us get frustrated or angry about the choices other people make when it comes to disputable matters. We take time to process our own position on a situation. We have rational reasons outlining why we have arrived at our decision. And we get upset when others don’t agree with us or see things our way. This frustration makes us judgemental, it colours our conversations, and it impacts what we post on-line. Sometimes it ends our friendships. This should not be the case.
The way we handle disputable matters is always crucial to our witness, and it will be especially critical in the months ahead. Many people will make different decisions regarding whether or not they send their children to school in September, whether they keep working at home or return to an office, whether they attend church in person or not. Can we make a pact not to judge each other? These are disputable matters!
When instructing the people in Rome and Corinth, the apostle Paul counsels church members to consider the conscience of others (2 Corinthians 8), to accept one another (Romans 14:1-9), and to stay in our own lanes (Romans 14:10-14) when it comes to disputable matters. He exclaims:
“You then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat. It is written:
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, Every knee will bow before me; Every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another.” (Romans 14:10-13a)
Instead of adding fuel to the fire, can we commit ourselves to NOT entering the fray, to NOT passing judgement? Can we commit to giving people the freedom to follow their own consciences, and can we commit to loving them well even if we come to different conclusions?
I’m praying that this attitude will mark me, and will mark all of you. I pray that we will learn, together, to “Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted [us], in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).