“Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind… Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:5, 22)
Just this past weekend, my wife and I, were out of town – attending a church that was markedly different from our own home church.
Our home church is casual and contemporary. The church we visited is more formal and traditional. Our pastor is quite “conversational” in his approach, and gifted as a teacher. Their speaker (not the regular pastor) was more studious and “educational.” Our worship style is very modern. Theirs was that strange blend of “trying to be contemporary” but using traditional instruments (piano + pipe organ).
I must confess that a good portion of my time in that church was spent in comparing their church to our church – and finding their church… less than impressive.
But then it hit me. Comparing one’s preferences to another’s was never what God intended for church to be. I found myself being reminded just how easy it is to step into the role of judge… when a judge is not what is really needed.
As I looked around, I saw people whose hearts were eager for God – even if they went about doing church much differently than I would prefer.
Our preferences are a much more significant barrier than we would care to admit. We all tend to view “doing church” through the lens of what we find more appealing.
What matters to God is what is going on within a human heart. Whether that person is decked out in a suit and tie… or is wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Whether the worship rocks, or involves all four verses of a traditional hymn. The central issue is always whether or not the heart is engaged in honoring God… as God.
And that is the whole point of doing church. God is the focus. God is the “star.” God is honored by longing hearts. And that can happen in so many different styles and ways. Even if we find that so difficult to accept!
Our verse for today is talking about real differences in the church and what we should do about those differences. It is so interesting to note that the apostle does not try to get everyone on the same page; or use his apostolic authority to set everybody straight. His solution is simple: Each person 1) must think through what they believe to be true; and 2) must openly accept anyone who holds a different opinion (in “disputable matters;” see Romans14:1; 15:7).
Judgment builds barriers. Acceptance builds bridges.
Doing church the right way means walking in love, accepting people where they are, loving others just as Christ loved us, and setting aside our differences to focus on what makes us all the same.
We all have the same Lord. We are all redeemed by the same sacrifice. We are all adopted into the same Family. We are all children of the Most High.
And that’s where doing church must begin.
When we pledge our love to Jesus, we are also pledging our love to every person redeemed by His work. We are committed to loving as God has shown His love to us.
Sure… Style does matter. Preferences are important. Certain points of the faith are essential. But God is supreme – and our openness to accept one another prevents many a potential barrier from being a blockade between us.