Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sorting Out the Disputable Matters

As an Occupational Therapist, I have spent a lot of time teaching sorting tasks. In both careers, I have had need to help others learn to sort information or objects into the correct set, to use a mathematical term.

Don’t you remember those early days in school, when we would have two circles drawn on a piece of paper and a long list of items? One circle was to contain the set of animals and the other a set of plants. The object of the exercise was to sort the list and put the plants in the plant circle and the animals in the animal circle. These days we seem to be having trouble doing this simple task, we want to put the animals with the plants and vice versa. Take GMO for example, scientists are genetically modifying foods and animals to accept DNA etc from each other - they are mixing the two completely different Kingdoms. The Bible forbids this but we seem to have forgotten it. If you would like more info on this check out this recent DVD entitled "Bought". 

Likewise in the Christian life there is a lot of sorting. The content of Scripture needs to be sorted into it’s rightful set, in our minds. This is essential to the faith. I find that when I or others get the sorting processes wrong we end up in a pile of hot water. Wrong is called right and right is called evil. The bible says this is a big deal.

“Woe to those who call evil good
 and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.” (Is 5:20)

It is important to sort things as the Lord sorts them. We need to keep in line with his Word.
There are some things that the Bible says, if we get wrong, prevent us from being saved. I have called theses issues of salvation. They require immediate repentance to the Lord when we discover them.

But there are also issues of conscience discussed in Scripture; areas in the Bible where it says it is perfectly fine for Christians to disagree as long as they are operating in line with their consciences. We are not to argue, tease or judge each other about these issues. It is okay for us to disagree. Each of us is answerable only to the Lord on these issues. These are matters that are disputable.  My NIV text note speaks well I believe, when it says “ Fellowship among Christians is not to be based on everyone’s agreement on disputable matters.” 

So I thought I’d devise a simple table to help us all get things in the right set.

Issues of Salvation
Issues of Conscience
“That if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Rom 10:9
“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 man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.” Rom 14:1-3
“Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Rev 22:15
“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers everyday alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.” Rom 14:5
“ What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.... You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” James 2:14-24
“ All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Rom 14:20-21
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:26-27
As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” Rom 14:14-15
“If anyone  does not provide for his relatives and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Tim 5:8
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or of the Sabbath days.” Col 2:16
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be  obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Eph 5: 3-6

For me this has been a bit of a steep learning curve at times. Let me give you a few examples.

  • Many Christian devotional books for children teach children they must attend church and sunday school every Sunday or at the very minimum, most Sundays to be godly.  This is simply not true. It is not true to Scripture and appears to be based in man’s traditions not the Lord’s. We need to be careful here and make sure we are examining Scripture to actually teach what it says. 

  • I have heard Church Leaders and Christians publicly describe those in the church who are ‘gluten intolerant’  or ‘dairy intolerant’ as divisive! Their reasoning being it caused difficulties with hospitality and communion. This is in direct violation to Romans 14. Many believers are vegetarian, avoid alcohol, have food allergies, are diabetic, or just need to adjust their diets for health reasons or to overcome previous indulgences or bad habits. Rather than accuse people of causing division, we need to be a people who love each other, listen to each other and make every effort to accommodate each other’s needs.  For example, it is perfectly godly to be a vegetarian but it is not perfectly godly to insist that all Christians be vegetarian or to be annoyed at those who are. 

  • There is also a temptation to let dietary requirements be an excuse for a lack of hospitality. True hospitality mandates that people’s dietary needs are catered for when we invite them over for a meal or run a church program which we want them to attend. Let's be  a people that ask what other's dietary needs are before we have them over, and not ridicule them or exclude them because they eat vastly different to us. Be considerate. If someone is gluten intolerant, don't feed them gluten, if it's nuts, don't feed them nuts. This also goes for holy communion - if there are gluten intolerant people amongst us, lets be a people that bend over backwards to include others not exclude them. I always remind others when this topic comes up, that John the Baptist had a restricted diet and Jesus specifically stood up for him when the church leaders had a go about it.  “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” Luke 7:33,34

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Col 2:8

Lets be a people of God that strive to focus on the major issues - the indisputable matters that are vital to our salvation and to holiness. Let us focus on showing compassion in caring for the sick, the needy, the oppressed, the vulnerable, the hungry, the orphans, the widows, the lonely, the excluded. Let’s focus on ridding ourselves of sin and evil practices. Let’s put the issues in the right set. 

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