What price are you willing to pay for peace and unity among your brothers and sisters in Christ? It is clear throughout the Scriptures that unity in the church is essential to the life of the church, yet, in the church today it seems like we readily give up peace for our opinions. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations! That is a lot of differences in the church.
Now, there are some matters that are worth breaking peace and unity over. One example would be from the Protestant Reformation in which the reformers, Luther, Calvin and others, called the church back to the true meaning of Scripture: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The western church at the time did not agree and so they split. That was a dispute worth splitting over.
So how do we know what is worth taking a stand on and what we should concede for the sake of peace? Every theological issue falls into one of three categories: 1. essential doctrine, 2. non-essential doctrine, 3. opinion. Essential doctrines are beliefs that anyone who calls himself a Christian should ascribe to. Essential beliefs are things such as: there is only one God, Jesus is fully God and fully man, Jesus atoned for our sins on the cross, salvation is found only in Jesus, etc. Optional doctrine issues are the things that usually divide denominations such as the nature of communion, church leadership structure, etc. See our doctrinal statement here. Opinions are the matters that Paul is addressing in our text this week. This category includes things in our social context such as: alcohol, Bible translations, music styles in the church, and political opinions to name a few. Opinions are certainly not worth fighting over and definitely not worth dividing a church over.
Too often, we Christians get caught up on the optional issues and are “willing to die on that hill” instead of “accepting the one whose faith is weak without quarreling” (Rom. 14:1), not treating them with contempt (Rom. 14:10), not passing judgment and allowing God to judge (Rom. 14:10-12), and “making every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19).
I once heard it said that Christians are like manure! When they are all piled up together they start to smell, but when you spread them out in a field they are very useful and productive. If you can get past the offense of being compared to manure, I think this has a lot of truth to it. When Christians lose sight of their mission to go out and make disciples, they start to argue about opinions that in the end don’t really matter. This “stinks.” You can have your opinions and hold to them decisively (Rom. 14:5), but if they are causing another brother or sister to sin or causing disunity, you should be willing to compromise or stay quiet about it out of love for the other person. . If we focus on what really matters – mutual edification in community and sharing the gospel with a world that needs Jesus – we can avoid some foolish controversies.