- The Explore the Bible lesson for May 24 focuses on Romans 14:1-12.
As of this writing, the COVID-19 virus still has a death grip on this nation, even the world. Its devastating effect on our global economy is nothing short of mind numbing. Some businesses have decided to reopen, while others have chosen to remain closed. We are each left to wonder what social risks are worth taking and which are not.
One particularly devastating impact of the virus has been the loss of community worship. We worship online for now. Thank God for the technology that makes that possible. At our church, one joyful discipline of worship is the passing of the peace, one to another, with a handshake or a hug. It is not possible to hug online. We miss our communities of faith. Our passing of the peace could easily be expressed in the profound words first written by Jeremiah Rankin in 1882. “God be with you till we meet again.”
This isolation from friends and faith community has become quite painful, especially with no end in sight. It also has been instructive.
That very separation and social isolation has revealed how deeply divided our nation has become. Only history will ultimately reveal all the causes of our nation’s deep divides.
The divide is political, theological, socio-economic and on and on. It once seemed that only another Great Depression or, God forbid, another World War that threatens our very freedom might draw us together. Only time will tell if that is what it will take to make us all build bridges to one another.
What are ‘disputable’ matters?
This passage from Romans seems as though written for this very hour, which, through the Providence of God, it has been. In the first verse of this chapter, we are instructed to “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”
Unpacking the meaning of those words, which the Apostle Paul attempts to do in the following verses, might be easier to accomplish for us if we read the verse from the end back to the beginning. It involves the discernment of each individual and community about what matters most and what does not. Which issues are always and forever “disputable?” What are the moral absolutes over which we are willing to sacrifice everything?
As an extremely passionate preacher boy, everything mattered absolutely all the time to me. Without even realizing it, I looked down on others of different denominational and religious persuasions, even perceiving some as hell-bound because they lived or believed differently. The circle of my acceptance was very small, tight and virtually impenetrable.
With time, my judgment of others has circled back around to haunt me. I shudder at the thought of those I left out of my life and my disobedience of the Christ-given command to love one another.
None of us can possibly go back and undo or redo the past. We can learn from it and, in our maturing, broaden the circle of our love and understanding to include and even bless those whose faith is not a mirrored reflection of our own.
Again, this demands thoughtful mercy and love. It means a willingness to have a conversation with Jesus and with our fellow believers about those issues which are disputable and which are not.
For example, none of us would argue Jesus is Lord, the Son of God and our Savior. Does that mean, however, that only Baptists believe it most sincerely? Is there room in our love for those who want to discuss more deeply what that tenet of our faith means and how to live according to it?
In our marriages, most of us learn that there are very few things worth fighting over. If we do not learn that, we pay a terrible price. The more we love, the shorter that list grows.
In our home, after an argument over this or that, we will decide that the issue of argument is so insignificant that, for the sake of our love and commitment, it is a disputable matter on which we don’t have to agree in order to love each other.
Learn to accept others
According to this text, the most singularly important factor in creating unity among ourselves is our willingness to “accept” others, even those who are still stumbling with the first steps of a new faith.
It means a willingness to live with one another “without passing judgment” on matters that simply are not central to the gospel.
One late mentor once listened patiently as, in my earliest ministerial years, I harped on and on about a particular doctrinal matter. When I finished my harping the only thing he said in response was, “Oh?”
He did not agree with me, of course. He also was not willing to place that doctrinal matter ahead of our brotherhood in Christ. That one-word answer set me off on a trail of study and learning I might have never taken. It also taught me how to respond to others with whose faith I did not have much in common.
Maybe, if nothing else, this current pandemic will be equally instructive. Maybe it will cause us to all look deeply within and become honest with ourselves about what truly matters and what does not.
If so, this heartbreaking pandemic might serve at least one good purpose as it teaches us how to build bridges to one another instead of irrelevant walls that only separate us.
Glen Schmucker is a writer and blogger in Fort Worth. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.