Christianity has a long history of making small things into big things. The most virulent debates have often been between closely related groups. Churches have divided because of worship styles, carpet colors and the options of pews or individual chairs.
Paul had a keen sense that Christian unity is fragile. No magic formula exists for thriving Christian community, but Paul presents us with a test case illustrating how the church is to handle internal affairs.
At the beginning of Romans 14, Paul takes up the example of dietary practices — an ongoing discussion point for early Christians (Acts 15 and 1 Corinthians 8) — and the issue of meat eaters and vegetarians. This was an “either way” issue because the law has no pronouncement regarding vegetarianism, yet Paul finds it necessary to exhort the Roman churches: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (Romans 14:3).
Paul continues: “Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (14:6).
The focus is the desire to honor the Lord. In these “either way” situations, the point is that people are trying to honor God through their practices and “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Paul believes it is important for individuals to develop convictions of their own (Romans 14:5) but with mindfulness for others (Romans 14:15, 19–20; 5–6).
1 Corinthians 8
Daniel Castelo is an associate professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University. This is a condensed version of a Lectio: Guided Bible Reading article published by SPU’s Center for Biblical and Theological Education (spu.edu/lectio).
Go to fmchr.ch/dcastelo to read Castelo’s full article.