If I was to ask, “Is taking bread bread and wine in memory of Jesus’ death a requirement for all Christians?” – how would you answer? And if I was to ask, “Is baptism in water a requirement for all Christians?” – how would you answer that one too?
Those are the two “biggies” in Christian circles too, communion and baptism, the two most common “sacraments” that for many are an “absolute must,” but for some in the Christian Community they are aids, or symbols, not requirements. And those who believe they aren’t requirements have scriptures to back up their belief too, just as those who believe the sacraments are requirements have scriptures to back up their belief.
There are dozens of other differences among Christians too, also backed up with scriptures, in answer to questions like: “Can Christians go to war and kill people?”; “Is heaven our final destination or living in resurrected bodies on the earth?”; and “Will God save everyone in the end, or will some people spend eternity in hell?”
And for the sake of Christian unity “Should we all follow a prescribed Worship Calendar based on evolving human tradition?” – to which many would say “yes,” because it focuses their hearts and minds on the greatness and love of Jesus, but others would vehemently say “No,” because it smacks too much of legalism and a noose squeezing the breath of the Holy Spirit out of them. No wonder Christianity is scarred by “worship wars,” and now endless debates about whether it’s right or wrong to allow same-sex marriage among Christians, or the ordination of women and practicing homosexuals into the clergy.
And reading through Romans 14 and Paul’s other letters, especially his letters to the Corinthians, there were huge differences of belief and opinion among Christians back then too. So how did Paul deal with them?
Well, he got right down to the purpose of the church and how God set it up with “pastors and teachers, etc.” in Ephesians 4:11, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” verse 12, “until,” verse 13, “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
So Paul concentrates our attention on becoming mature, which he defines for us as becoming like Jesus in all his fullness. And that’s the same for all of us; it’s sharing exactly the same purpose in life of having it engrained in our heads that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you (or we) have been given fullness in Christ,” Colossians 2:9-10. In our own bodies, therefore, we can be as full of God as Jesus is. And that’s God’s great goal for us, repeated in 2 Corinthians 3:18, that we are “being transformed into Jesus’ likeness with an ever-increasing glory.”
So that’s what we concentrate on if we hope to become mature Christians. But what does that involve us doing? Paul’s answer in Ephesians 4:15 is “speaking the truth in love,” and that’s how “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
In other words, we talk together about our differences as Christians, and “speak truthfully” to each other, verse 25, “for we are all members of one body.” We still may not agree but if talking out our differences is the best solution, according to Paul, and it’s done “in love” (verse 15), then we all get to experience what it’s like being filled with the fullness of Jesus himself. And isn’t that what matters?
It’s proof too that we are “putting on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” verse 23. In other words, it’s proof we are maturing: it’s in our simple willingness to talk things over with each other in love, and “not give the devil a foothold,” verse 27.
In my own experience it’s been wonderful being in a small group of Christians willing to do just that, talk things out in a spirit of love. It gets heated at times when we don’t or can’t agree, but we don’t stop being friends and it doesn’t stop us listening to each other, or coming back for more. And sometimes a bit of truth sneaks through, or strikes home, that we hadn’t thought of before.
I’ve learnt, therefore, that disagreement is not something to fear or try to stamp out. I’ve also learnt that disagreement doesn’t even matter one bit when you love each other and want “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,” verse 29. It’s one of the marvellous blessings we get to experience that enables us, verse 3, to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” at those awkward moments when disagreement could easily tear us apart.