If you go back to the early Christian Church, followers of Jesus struggled to love one another when they disagreed over significant matters. It is easy to love someone when you agree with them, but it becomes challenging to actually love someone when you don’t agree. This is why Jesus told His disciples, By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). It is why Paul sternly rebuked the Church in Corinth because they were refusing to love one another (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). And then in John’s first letter, he would say, And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:21). Clearly God values His children walking in authentic love for one another (1 Corinthians 1:10).
According to Ecclesiastes 1:9, there is nothing new under the sun. When it comes to walking in love for one another, there will always be issues to divide over. There will always be hostile and passionate disagreements. Frankly, we should not be surprised when those who do not know Jesus bite and devour one another. This is natural to the flesh. However, such biting and devouring one another has no place among the people of God (Galatians 5:15).
It was for this reason that Paul wrote Romans 14. The saints in Rome truly believed that their issue was too big to reconcile. They had diametrically opposed cultural and ethnic backgrounds, which bled into their present perspectives (even as followers of Jesus). Apart from one group totally “repenting” and getting on board with the other, there was literally no way forward in their mind. And so the Apostle Paul penned Romans 14 under divine inspiration to help the Christian Church navigate seasons of intense disagreement over extra-biblical matters. To be clear, extra-biblical does not mean unimportant matters. But rather extra-biblical means matters that are not clearly spelled out in Scripture. These have often been referred to in Christian history as matters of conscience. Here are nine essentials from Romans 14 that must guide Christian disagreement:
- You must welcome those who disagree with you (Romans 14:1-2).
- You must not judge those who hold different convictions than you (Romans 14:3-4).
- As you submit to the Spirit & the Word, do what you believe to be right before God (Romans 14:14 & 22b-23).
- Assume that your brothers & sisters are living for the glory of God just as much as you are (Romans 14:6-9).
- God is the judge not you (Romans 14:10-12).
- Whatever you do, do not destroy the faith of your brother (Romans 14:13-15).
- The one essential thing is to build one another up in love (Romans 14:16-21).
- Humbly hold your extra-biblical convictions because they aren’t for everyone (Romans 14:22a).
- Follow the example of Jesus by putting other people first (Romans 15:1-7a).
It is clear that these nine principles are not natural to the flesh. In the flesh, we naturally judge and condemn. In the flesh we simply cut off those who disagree with us. Yet, when the Spirit of God is at work, He enables the Christian to truly and genuinely welcome the very one they disagree with. When the Spirit of God is at work, the Christian is not so concerned about persuading others but loving others. When it comes to extra-biblical matters, the Christian’s ultimate concern is not about being right but about displaying Christlike love.
With all that being said from Romans 14, we now turn our attention to our present cultural moment. EGBC is returning to indoor worship on October 17th. During our season of Outdoor Church we have been able to worship without giving much thought to Covid related guidelines and regulations. However, returning indoors brings many of the Covid related concerns, guidelines, and regulations back to front-and-center. As we return to indoor worship, we must fight hard to apply Romans 14 in all directions.
You see saints, as the body of Christ, we are not a homogenous group of people. We are quite a diverse group of people, and that is how it should be! Our commonality is in Christ and Christ alone. Nothing else unites us - not our politics, not our passions, not our cultures. Nothing but Jesus brings us together. Because we are not homogenous, we are not going to agree on how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are not going to agree on mask wearing. We are not going to agree on getting the vaccine or not. But in all truthfulness, these present day disagreements are just one more opportunity for us to demonstrate that we have a greater unity - Christ Jesus! Loving one another simply because we have been loved by God in Jesus displays the power of the gospel for all to see. We must not be drawn into the narrative of culture that says our unity is found in how we view or respond to the pandemic. God forbid that our unity, our love, our commitment to one another is rooted in anything less than the person and work of Jesus.
When we return to worshipping indoors on October 17th, the EGBC pastor-elders are committed to allowing each saint to operate at the level of their conscience according to Romans 14. If you desire to wear a mask and social distance, we praise God for you. If you desire to not wear a mask and not social distance, we praise God for you as well. We are not going to think highly of one group and less of another, as that would directly contradict the Word that we claim to follow. Our burden as your pastors is simple, that you will walk by the Spirit, in full submission to the Word, and in gospel-enabled love for one another. If you disagree with a brother or sister over a matter of conscience, what a glorious opportunity to walk in Romans 14 kind of love!
Romans 14 teaches us how to love when we do not agree, but now we must turn our attention to Romans 13. For the Word of God also calls us to honor and obey those who rule over us (Romans 13:1-7). Even when we do not agree with governing authorities, if we can in good conscience honor them, we are called to do so. Even if our governing authorities are unjust, we must honor them to the best of our abilities. Surely, there are times when governments are unjust and require unjust things of their citizens. When this happens, followers of Jesus must diligently wrestle in the Word and in prayer before disregarding government. There have been and there will be times when Christians must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). But we do not take disobeying government lightly or flippantly. We must not disregard government on a whim or simply because we don’t like something they are asking us to do. We must have good reason from the Word to not honor and obey those who rule over us.
At the present time, the Sacramento County Office of Public Health is requiring facemasks for all indoor public gatherings. The EGBC pastor-elders do not believe that wearing a facemask is a direct violation of God’s Word. Even though we do not believe wearing facemasks are ideal for face to face fellowship, encouraging one another, or singing unto the Lord together. Yet, we do not believe that wearing a facemask is violating the Word of God. Therefore, we encourage the saints to honor the government in this mandate, if your conscience allows you to do so. If your conscience does not allow you to wear a facemask, you are absolutely welcome to worship with us. For according to Romans 14:23 - whatever is not of faith is sin. Your faith is more important than your masking or non-masking.
Truly, in all of this, God is after your faith church. Therefore we implore you on behalf of Christ Jesus saints, whether you wear a mask or not, walk by faith - truly loving God and loving others!