Have you ever wondered why Christians can be so different from each other? We all use the same manual but the way we live and the way we do things can often be worlds apart. We differ in many ways but none more so than by the way we ‘do’ church. Some people insist on going to church in a 3 piece suit, while others are happy in a pair of shorts and a vest top. Some think that you should only sing along to an organ while others are happy to worship to heavy rock, rap, hip-hop etc.
So which is right? Should we all be “formal and respectful” or should we be ‘free’ and do whatever we like (as long it’s not spoken against specifically in the bible).
This is not a new dilemma; in fact Paul addresses a very similar issue in the bible. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul talks about people who were happy to eat meat used in idol sacrifice, condemning (or at least looking down on) those whose conscience wouldn’t allow them to do so. The people who ate the meat would say “now we are under grace we can do whatever we like, our consciences are totally clear!”
The trouble was, the people who didn’t want to eat that same meat did not have the same clear conscience.
Paul didn’t say to those with a weak conscience “come on now, don’t listen to your conscience; you are free now, here, have a steak!” No, he actually tells them to be careful how they exercise their freedom.
This was obviously something that Paul felt strongly about because he also raises the same subject in Romans 14:
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:1-6)
A key verse comes later in the chapter: “So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” (Romans 12:12)
What I love about God’s kingdom is its enormous diversity. Every culture does things differently and God deals with us in unique ways. The key thing is to follow your conscience. God gives us a conscience for a purpose and it is absolutely vital that we keep it intact; if we ‘sear’ our consciences we can get into real trouble.
“…..holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19)
The first question to ask yourself is, “is my conscience clear in all that I do?” If the answer is yes, then the next questions that follow close behind are “am I looking down on people because I consider myself freer than they are?”, or “am I judging someone because they live out their Christianity in a different way to me?”. If the answer to either of these two questions is ‘yes’ then you are tending towards pride.
There are of course certain fundamentals to the Christian faith that we should hold onto tightly, even confronting people (lovingly) who are obviously sinning. But there are many grey areas that Christians can disagree on and it is very dangerous to think that we have all the answers.
Let’s have an open heart to learn from all our brothers and sisters who live out their Christianity differently to us. God seems to love having lots of different flavours and colours to make up His glorious church and His plan is that whatever we do, we do it all with love.