Christianity 201

June 24, 2017

Paul as Mediator

This year instead of simply paying a return visit to Bible Study Magazine, I decided to look into the website more clearly. This is actually print magazine to which you can subscribe, and seems to feature a number of name-recognizable writers. This article is by Michael F. Bird, author of Jesus the Eternal Son, What Christians Ought to Believe and Jesus is the Christ. Click the title to read it at source, and then look around; we had a hard time choosing among several great items.

Paul the Pastoral Mediator

The challenges that faced the church in Rome would be staggering for any leader to deal with—deep ethnic and legal battles were threatening to split the community. Paul addressed these issues in a letter—to a church he had never visited.

Paul had been through vitriolic debates before in Antioch, Galatia and Corinth, and he didn’t want the Roman churches to experience the same conflict. He needed to show them that, despite their different convictions, they could still accept one another and serve God together.

Romans 14 and 15 are often treated like an after-dinner mint to a theological feast. But these chapters are the pastoral climax of Paul’s letter. Here, we find Paul’s picture of the church becoming a reality.

Several issues fed the conflict in Rome. Originally, the gospel had come to Rome, independently of Paul, through Jewish Christians. An influx of Gentiles (non-Jews) into the church had resulted in tensions over issues like vegetarianism (because meat could be tainted with pagan religion), wine consumption (because of its use in drink offerings to Roman gods), and observance of special days (like the Sabbath).

Paul identifies the “weak” and “strong” in this conflict. While it’s easy to assume that the weak were exclusively Jewish Christians and the “strong” were exclusively Gentiles, Paul (a Jewish Christian) numbers himself among the strong (Rom 14:14). Also, some Gentile converts to Judaism may have had conservative views on Law observance.

But however the lines were drawn, they were drawn. Those who were weak in the congregation were easily offended by those who were strong. The strong looked down on the weak.

Paul addresses this internal conflict by differentiating between areas of conviction and areas of command. Paul encouraged the Romans to allow flexibility and withhold judgment in matters where the gospel was not threatened: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (14:2–3).

While Paul allows freedom for matters that are “indifferent,” he says that each person should judge their own convictions: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5).

He also encourages the strong to exercise convictions in wisdom. They still had the responsibility of not causing the weak to stumble in their faith: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (14:15).

Ultimately, Paul wanted those who disagreed to mutually affirm each other: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” (14:19). The basis of this was their status as fellow servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul points them to Him as the ultimate example of how we should act and why we should accept others: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (15:7). God is glorified when we accept each other as Christ accepts us—despite our differences.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

February 4, 2011

Salad Bar Theology

Today, I want to continue the discussion I alluded to yesterday, which centers around the much longer item I blogged at Thinking Out Loud today, in reference to high profile ministers and musicians who don’t subscribe to key doctrines, and as to the question of whether or not they can be considered “Christian” in the sense the rest of us use that word.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  (Acts 17:11 NIV)

There is a general agreement today that younger generations of Christ-followers are not as attached to the name on the front door of the place they happen to worship.  Many churches have themselves gone out of their way to lose the denominational tag and have adopted generic names like “Community Church” or “Neighborhood Church” instead of wearing their affiliation more proudly.

Don’t get me wrong; there are things about this I like.  I also like the fact that many of our churches are singing out of the same songbook; there are common worship anthems and choruses with which we can all join together in one powerful voice.  Of course, there are also distinctives that each group has that we can learn from, just as there are some hymns and modern worship songs that remain somewhat unique to each group.

But in the process, we’ve become like consumers at the proverbial salad bar.   We take a bit of this and a bit of that, and we pass on chick peas because we don’t like the texture, but load up on the bacon bits because we love the flavor.   So we love grace and forgiveness, but we’re not so passionate about judgment or the wrath of God.   We’re quick to tell our relatives and c0-workers that we’re living in the end times, but don’t believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative in the 21st century.  There are over 100 references to gluttony in scripture, but we ignore the chronic obesity that dogs many believers but are quick to give our views on the question of homosexuality.

We pick and choose.

Many of us make the choices based on careful study of the scriptures, such as the above-mentioned Bereans in Acts 17.   Some choose on the basis of preferences; rejecting certain doctrinal elements that might actually affect the way we live, not unlike atheists who reject the stories of Noah or Jonah because if they are true, so are other parts of the Bible and that would having to engage and respond.

But many of us make our decisions based entirely on what (a) our friends, (b) a TV preacher, (c) a favorite author, or (d) our church or pastor tells us.  But what if a Berean study of scripture led you to a different conclusion?

So here’s the question:  Would you be willing to confront your friends or church and/or change churches if your study of scripture led you to something different from what you’ve heretofore believed.

Many of the people in the current crisis in Egypt have been heard to say, “For the first time ever, I am starting to think for myself.”  This is a breakthrough moment for them.

The problem in some churches is not strictly salad bar theology, but the numbers of people who have been eating a prepared salad.

It’s time to take your church’s statement of faith and examine it, and make sure that you have a personal statement of faith; time to take ownership of a personal theology.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… (I Peter 3:15 NIV)