How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity
I have always felt that this little ditty hits a little too close to home for comfort:
To live above with the saints we love, oh, how that will be glory; but to live below with the saints we know, now that’s a different story.
Quote that to any follower of Jesus with any length of time invested in His church, and that person will likely smile, wince, or both from a history of painful experience.
The New Testament prescribes numerous–what I call graces of gospel community–which we must apply in church fellowship, if we expect to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).
One such intricacy of love–lesser known than many of the others but oh so important–is welcoming one another. Paul’s epistle to the Romans addresses this issue toward the end of the book.
Let’s start with Romans 15:7 – Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Please understand that this marks the climax of a prolonged argument of Paul’s reaching all the way back to Romans 14:1-4 where we encounter the same key word, once in the imperative mood (a command)–As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him and then in the indicative mood (a reality) (v. 4)–for God has welcomed him.
Whatever Paul means by welcome, it matters greatly simply by the weight of emphasis given its repetition. First, let’s get our bearings with this book of the Bible before we dive into the particulars of these passages.
Paul wrote Romans to the church in that city to prepare them for his coming visit. It contains easily his most thoroughgoing treatment/explanation of the gospel, spanning chapters one to eleven.
Beginning in chapter 12 he transitions from the indicative, what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, to the imperative, how we should then live in light of that glorious gospel.
He covers a wide variety of spheres of relationships and issues as to how the gospel informs our choices therein, finally landing in this last section on a special problem area for believers–passing judgment on one another and thus compromising the unity and harmony of the body of Christ.
He prescribes this antidote for such a poison to genuine community: welcome one another.
Here is the main thing I want to emphasize in this text: the gospel shapes community by constraining us to manifest the grace of welcoming one another.
In future posts I want to show you three things about this grace: the gist of welcoming, the ground of welcoming, and the goal of welcoming.
My aim is to encourage us to take Paul’s counsel to heart as we continue to evaluate our own experience of community in our churches and to look to Him to shape us more and more in light of the gospel.
In the meantime ask yourself this question: Am I more inclined to accept others in their preferences of conscience or to judge them?
Here is how I summarized the message:
The gospel shapes our community by constraining us to manifest the grace of welcoming – an ongoing determination to embrace others in spite of differences over morally neutral matters. The ground for this grace is two-fold: the gospel of God who has “welcomed” us in Christ and the judgment of God before which every believer ultimately stands or falls. The goal of this grace is the glory of God reflected in the harmony and unity of His church.