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Geoff Thomas is a preacher at a church in Great Britain. He presented a sermon in 2006 to the congregation at Alfred Place Church. He entitled that sermon “Judging Disputable Matters.” I found the sermon by searching the Internet because I was lost in disputable issues and wanted freedom. In prayer I have sought such freedom. Mr. Thomas’ teaching impressed me and I am using his message as an outline for this essay.
In my past I have been a Christian judging and finding fault. In my zeal I did as Paul did. I sought errors in the orthodoxy of others. My thoughts about others and my attitude toward them was unworthy of my Lord. He loves me with an unfathomable and deep passion. Yet, I was repaying His grace with sarcasm and lofty pride in myself.
My selfish attitude led me to separate myself from brothers and sisters in Christ whose doctrines disagreed with my own. Not only did I separate myself from good people I worked to convince others to separate themselves, too. Needless to say the outcome is isolation. Isolation is not the Father’s command.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Recently the Lord has changed my heart. He has taught me there is only one indisputable matter and that is the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Knowing Jesus and being known by Jesus is all that truly matters. Repentance is the product of growing into Christ. Ongoing repentance is the ongoing growth. In some quarters this process of growth is called sanctification.
It is easy to find comfort in the Lord when alone, but the fullness of knowing Him is unattainable. The author declares we are to “draw near with a true heart.” A “true heart” demands there be nothing in it to defile it. Arguments over disputable matters defile our hearts.
A “true heart” will serve “…to stir up one another to love and good works….” It is impossible to be an agent for Godly change when closed up behind unshakable doctrines that are truly the “traditions of men.”
It is critically important we recognize “… the Day is drawing near.” One of the lessons I learned recently is that by isolating I am encouraging the Great Apostasy not warning of it. My desire to convince others was driving me away. Worse, yet, I was using my doctrines to drive wedges between those who profess to love me or those I profess to love.
That being the case and using Mr. Thomas’ sermon as an outline I take this time to discuss “Judging Disputable Matters.” We’ll be examining this sermon in several parts.
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters . One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
The backgrounds of the people attending church today are at least as diverse as the first church congregations. People from a vast array of cultures and countries attend church and they bring with them thoughts, practices and beliefs they have attained in their lives.
They have been taught what to believe by institutions and families. They practice what they have been taught. They carry beliefs that result from what they have been taught. All these were learned before Christ took them into His care; into His Church.
When they came into Christ’s Bride they came with many concretely held beliefs and attitudes.
In Christ those attitudes and beliefs continue to influence their new lives. You and I are not any different. We were trained up by our parents. They taught us about spiritual things. Our parents were our “gods” and their beliefs became our beliefs.
Western culture, especially the American culture, offers a cornucopia of opinions. Some of those opinions do not include Christ in any fashion. Eastern cultures, Latin cultures, Asian cultures and other exotic cultures add to the panoply of doctrines, dogmas, rites and rituals of Christian life.
As Christians we commit to changing our attitude. We seek an altitude of righteousness in Christ. However, the world keeps us from gaining the height we strive to achieve.
Our particular cultural influences affect the ways in which we see God. The way God sees us, however, is without the lens of culture. He sees us as His creation. He sees us as His glory. In our zeal to please Him or to even try to understand Him we develop theologies that drive wedges between us.
The Romans to whom Paul is writing this letter have submitted themselves to Christ and to pursuing Christ like living. Even then, only a few short years after Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection there were men attempting to lay claim to a superior point of view. Some men deemed themselves to be spiritually enlightened and being blessed with heavenly ordained knowledge.
Generally the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians and all the other believers put themselves under Christ. They sought teachers who would lead them in the “apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” The congregations did not “church shop” to find the preacher who would teach to their preconceived ideas. These early Christians sought teachers who preached Jesus. They sought to understand Christ and to learn from the Apostles.
When foreign doctrines or questionable practices entered into the local church an Apostle would be made aware of it. A letter would be written discussing the ill fated doctrine and that letter would be sent to all the churches. The letters would be read and memorized. They would be circulated among the members of the church and passed along.
Consider the church in Galatia. Judaizers were in the church. They were teaching falsely that membership in the church, Christ’s Bride, that adherence to Old Testament rites and rituals were necessarily maintained. The Judaizers moved in after Paul left. They insisted men be circumcised. They insisted the OT food laws be adhered to. They insisted the Sabbath Day and Feast Days be celebrated in accord with the OT instruction.
In Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche were in a disagreement. They had drawn up lines and had pulled people into their respective camps. Each had sympathizers. Both camps had their respective rights and both were trying to impose their brand on the other.
The Corinthian church was particularly chaotic. There were many divisions and disagreements. They disagreed on purchasing and eating meats sacrificed to idols. There were those in that church who idolized Paul. Others idolized Apollos. Still others fell in line behind Peter. The adherents of these men took their position seriously. They were driven to show their man to be best.
The Corinthian church was also bedeviled by a man guilty of sexual immorality. They were engaged in lawsuits among themselves. Marriage and divorce were problems in that church. The people were divided over the practice of the Lord’s Supper. They argued over the resurrection of Christ. Love feasts, appropriate behavior between men and women, the use of spiritual gifts and other doctrinal divisions profoundly affected the Corinthian church.
Does this not remind us of divisions in the churches today? We’ll reserve discussion of many of these divisions in other essays.
I cannot imagine the angst in the hearts of the Elders of this church or in churches today that are experiencing divisions of this magnitude and number. Could an Elder find any kind of rest knowing the flock entrusted to him was at such loggerheads?
The disagreements and the divisions could not be resolved by men, yet God sent Paul to address the many issues. He gave by the Spirit of God instructions that are as necessary for today’s church as they were for the Corinthian church. Two God breathed letters serve to remove divisions.
What was the cause of division in the Roman church? There were many disputable matters. It was not a concern that unbelievers had infiltrated the church. These were disputable matters between believers; between brothers and sisters in the church. These matters were divisions between persons who had made commitments to Christ and His Bride. They made professions of faith in Christ. These are persons acknowledging an abiding trust in God and God’s desire to save them.
These matters causing division were not heresies or blasphemies. The Roman church believed and professed basic Christian doctrine. God is the Father. God is the Son. God is the Holy Spirit. They understood the nature of a Triune God.
These members of this church believed Jesus is the Son of God. They are convinced that Jesus is a child born of a virgin. There is no doubt in their collective minds that Jesus lived a sinless life. They do not doubt His life, His persecution, His punishment to the Cross, His death, His burial or His resurrection.
The Roman church knows and understands without doubt that Jesus preached after His resurrection. They know He ascended into Heaven and now sits at the right hand of His Father. This church understands that one day Jesus will return upon the command of His Father. The Roman church knows that Jesus will come to judge all mankind.
The church was orthodox, yet there were divisions among them. They concurred that Christ was righteous. They all agreed His righteousness was imputed to their respective accounts. Their respective sins, all of them, were paid for that fateful day at Calvary on the Cross.
The people in the Roman church were not being immoral. We don’t have reason to believe any of the church there was advocating unholy living. As far as we should concern ourselves the people at the Roman church were doing their best to live Godly lives. The commandments, the Royal Law, the teachings of the Apostles all of these and more were being lived out in the daily lives of these folks at the Roman church.
A reminder here, that these disputable matters were not between Believers and unbelievers; between Christians and those not Christian. This was not a dispute between orthodoxy and heresy.
What was the problem, then?
We will examine that in future essays. It is only important to remember that we should not divide over disputable matters. Christians break from churches over disputable matters. Churches break from churches over disputable matters.
Ask Him to give peace. Ask Him for His Wisdom. Be led to love one another.