May 20, 2001

Once there was a man who became unhappy in his church and so he left it in search of something better. He told his friends that he was searching for the perfect church. Finally, he found a church that met his exacting criteria. In his eyes, it was perfect in every way-a perfect pastor, a perfect staff, a perfect building, perfect programs, perfect music, and best of all, it was a church filled with perfect people. So the man joined the church, thinking he had found what he had always wanted. Alas, he was disappointed, for the church was no longer perfect the day he joined. And so it goes. There are no perfect churches, no perfect pastors, no perfect programs, and no perfect congregations either. In a fallen world “pretty good” is about all we should expect, and if we stumble into a situation that is somehow “very good” we should be grateful to God because even “very good” churches don’t stay that way forever. That’s just the way it is this side of paradise. By definition every local church will be filled with people who see things differently. Sometimes those differences will be significant enough to cause us to wonder about each other: “How could she believe that?” “Why does he follow that strange practice?” Because God didn’t make us all alike, we’re going to have our own opinions about things like music, dress, child rearing techniques, the “right” way to educate our children, where to go on vacation, and how best to celebrate different holidays. The list of things Christians differ on is amazingly long. How are we supposed to get along with believers who do things we think are little bit cock-eyed? In Romans 14 Paul faced this issue head-on. He noted that in the church at Rome there was an amazing diversity of opinion about secondary issues. Some people ate meat, others were vegetarians, some observed holy days, others regarded all days as special, some drank wine, others didn’t. Evidently there was tension between the various groups in the church. Paul’s answer is simple. Don’t judge other Christians who have opinions on secondary issues that differ from your own. If you prefer tofu to T-bone, fine. Just don’t start evangelizing for tofu inside the congregation. And if you think it’s odd to put up a Christmas tree or to color Easter eggs, don’t do it. But don’t condemn those who do. In the end each of us will stand individually before the Lord. I will answer for my choices, you for yours. That’s what Paul means when he says, “To his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4b). There is no perfect church and we won’t always agree with each other. God’s plan is unity in the main things, diversity in lesser things, and charity in all things. And then leave the judging to God.

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