The Liberty To Be Different

Romans 14:5b Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Differing beliefs and practices are present in all human relationships. Carol's grandfather used to say, “A monkey is a monkey no matter what tree it's in.” His point was that people will carry their humanity with all its complexity, frailties, and ever-changing limited knowledge into their group experiences. Moving from one group, church, or government to another doesn't change our basic humanity.

In this chapter Paul addressed the problem of differing beliefs and practices among Christians in the same church. That Christians do not agree on everything is a practical reality in any church, but how we handle those differences sends a message to the rest of the world about who we really are.

In this world the members of any organized group will never hold identical beliefs in all matters of life. For any group to function and fulfill its long-term purpose that purpose must be clearly stated, understood, and agreed to by all members. This agreement must be coupled with a well designed liberty to peacefully differ in non-essential matters. Non-essential matters are those matters which are not essential to the life and purpose of the group.

What a group cannot or will not prohibit it must allow. This allowance should not affect the liberty of another member if that member has the freedom to peacefully differ in non-essential belief and/or practice with fellow members. For true liberty to exist the right of peaceful dissent and non-participation must be vigorously protected by lawful authority and all members. Liberty is pierced when we are required to change or modify our beliefs, or to support or otherwise engage in behaviors that are against our conscience.

It is this liberty the Apostle Paul called for in this chapter. But this liberty becomes destructive error when it is the identity of a church. A true church is not defined by the freedom to believe and practice whatever any member wishes. A true church is defined by its unity in submission to Christ Jesus and His truth as revealed in the Scriptures. To believe everything is to believe nothing. A church is not the pillar and ground of the truth if it doesn't clearly state and believe the truth. Truth matters.

Balancing revealed truth with human frailties is one of the most difficult of Christian responsibilities, but, as difficult as it may be, balance must be maintained. Paul gives us the pattern to follow in this section of Romans.

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