Let’s interview members of the early church to see how they handled disagreements

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not the person who eats despise the individual who does not eat, and let not the person who does not eat judge the one who eats; for God has received that individual (Romans 14:1-3).

JEWISH CHRISTIAN:

I’m a Christian, and I believe we ought to have unity. I really do. People ought to get along together. But I’m also someone who believes in having convictions. If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s people who are mealy-mouthed, who just go along with the tide. They don’t really take seriously what the Bible says about matters that affect our lives.

Now I have convictions, very strong convictions, on the matter of eating food that’s sold up in the meat market on Appian Way here in Rome. You can’t imagine the things these Romans pass off as food. I have some friends who, believe it or not, think that a really special dinner has dog as its main dish. Eating pig meat turns my stomach, but to think that someone would eat dog or fox and not realize what an offense that is by anybody’s standards–especially God’s!

If you look back in the Old Testament, it’s clear that we’re not to eat anything unclean. Look at Leviticus 11. God spells out what kinds of meat we can eat–only animals that chew the cud and have a cloven hoof. We are not to eat meat from any other animals.

And that includes pig and dog and fox. I believe that’s the teaching of the Scriptures. And my parents, my family, In fact, everyone in my community agrees with me.

Now I know this thing about Jesus saying that all things are clean, but He obviously doesn’t mean ALL things. You have to draw the line someplace. Quite frankly, when I see other Christians go out and buy dog and eat it for meat, there’s something drastically wrong with a person like that. In fact, there are times, quite frankly, when I wonder if they’re really Christians.

I believe that when Christ gets hold of you, He makes you a new creature and gives you new appetites for the kind of food God approves of. My family and I would no more eat dog than eat garbage. On that we maintain a consistent Christian testimony.

Now there are a lot of weaker brothers and sisters in our assembly. They eat this dog meat and pig meat and fox meat. And do you know? A while ago we had a church supper, and everybody brings some meat, and some of them actually brought dog meat and set it out there along with the fish and mutton my family brought. And that’s when I exploded!

That’s when I said, “If the people in my Jewish community knew that I was in a place that served this kind of meat as part of a church supper, they would be horrified. It’s about time we stronger people who take the Bible seriously get something into our church constitution that before people are accepted into membership in this congregation, we ask them about their convictions about these matters!” I and other Christians in the assembly know that we must take a stand on this.

GENTILE CHRISTIAN:

Yeah, I heard all the fuss about dog meat As far as I’m concerned, it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. When I became a Christian, I came into a whole new kind of life. One of the things I really embraced is the fact that as a Christian, I’m free. And I believe that the Bible is clear that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. He not only owns the cattle on a thousand hills but owns the dogs on the streets as well. And the fact that people don’t have a taste for dog meat, that’s their problem.

Often, when I sit down with the family, we bow our heads and we thank God that He has provided this food for us. And I do it with a clear conscience. What is more, I take seriously the fact that Jesus said it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out of his heart. The Bible is clear, I believe, that He meant there’s no such thing as unclean meat. Maybe meat I don’t like—I’m not particularly fond of squirrel, and I have some friends who enjoy snake meat–but I’ve tried it and it doesn’t do much for me. But I think they have a perfect freedom to eat anything that’s set before them.

Quite frankly, I’m getting a little fed up with going to a church where these people keep trying to shove their tastes on me. I couldn’t care less If they wanted to eat bread and milk for the rest of their lives, but don’t let them push their stupid prejudices off on me. If they don’t understand the grace of God any better than that, then I’ve got questions whether I even want to go to church with them. Sometimes I think we’d be better off to let them go their way, and we’ll go our way. Jesus called us to freedom. Why in the world do we let these tight, restricted legalists put chains on us?

ANOTHER JEWISH CHRISTIAN:

I have convictions. Deep-seated ones. I’m not completely sure where they come from. Some, I think, have come out of the Old Testament and the laws the book of Leviticus sets down about eating different kinds of foods. And certainly some come from the way I was reared in a very strict Jewish home. My parents were very careful to keep all of the ceremonies of our faith.

We would never eat pork or dog or fox or rat. Quite frankly, just naming those meats turns my stomach. I know that I could not in good conscience before God eat any of those meats today. In our family we’re pretty committed to eating vegetables, with some fish and lamb. But when I sit down to our meal, I can thank God for it with a clear conscience and a good heart.

You’re right. There are other people in our assembly who don’t share my convictions. We’ve talked about it many times, and I guess I could talk till I die, and I just don’t understand how they can eat this meat I think is filthy. But it is true that Jesus declared that all meats are clean. I believe these brothers and sisters of mine, these Romans who have come into our church, can actually bow their heads and thank God for the kinds of meats that would turn my stomach. I know I will give an account to God for the way I live, for the food I eat and the way I handle life. And I know they, too, will give an account to God.

What I do know in my better moments is that when God looks down on us, He won’t look at the food in our stomachs; He’ll look at our hearts. These other people–misinformed as I think they are–are indeed God’s people. They have believed this gospel of God’s grace, and God has accepted them. So even though I have struggles, I believe God has accepted them. And I have to accept them, bad diet and all.

ANOTHER GENTILE CHRISTIAN:

It never occurred to me until I got mixed up with this group of Christians in our church that God was at all concerned with our menus. Growing up as I did here In Rome, we cultivated tastes that were as wide as the whole outdoors. As a general rule, we felt that if it was there to kill, It was there to eat. It was only when I got to the church and met some of these Jewish Christians that I realized that for them, part of their devotion to God was in the way they set their table.

One of the things that I have appreciated about many of them is that we’ve agreed to disagree. I don’t look down on them. I sense that they are really trying to please God. It’s true that I think they’re mistaken. But I do think they are people of good heart. I appreciate the fact that they have been able to credit that to me also.

I’ve done this, though: Some of these people who have come to know our Lord Jesus Christ have very, very strong convictions.

They haven’t been here long enough to study the Scriptures with us. It’s hard for them to grasp the principle that when it comes to things like food and drinking wine and keeping some holy days that we’re free to observe or not to observe. And I know that if I bring some of this meat that we enjoy to the assembly dinners, that will really disturb these folks. In fact, some of them–believe it or not–might go back to their old ways and their old faith. All of this that we do as Christians is too strange for them, too difficult to handle. So we’ve determined, when these folks are around, we’re not going to climb a mountain to make an enemy when we can stay on the ground and make a friend.

It would be a terrible thing to stand before God one day and to discover that for a piece of dog meat or a pork chop or anything else that trivial, that I have in some way destroyed a sister or brother for whom Christ died.

So, believe me, I haven’t changed my convictions. I believe we are as free as the wind to enjoy all those things not forbidden in the Scriptures. And at times we do enjoy them. But we are careful, because, when you think about it, when God judges us in that coming day, it won’t be on the basis of whether we have eaten food or pushed it aside. He will judge us according to our motives.

As much as I can, I want my motives–whether I eat or don’t eat–to be love for these sisters and brothers for whom Christ died.

That’s just the way I see it.