Division In The Church
The mood was tense—obviously the meeting was called to help reconcile a significant conflict that happened in the church. Like lines drawn in the sand, each party sat on their respective sides of the main isle. The words of God’s people were not in towards adoration towards their savior but in accusation against their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The battle ground was not over some important theological treatise or an immoral failing of a leader— it was over whether or not it was proper to eat meat. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul mediates the conflict: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (Rom 14:2-3).
It may sound silly that a congregation could be divided over what types of food they eat but the reality is that the modern church is facing a similar moment of division. Our battle is not concerning food but concerning the symbol of safety amidst a global pandemic: the mask. Pastors are recognizing that a few pieces of cloth could soon split their church if they do not deal with the issue with biblical wisdom and care. In this vein, I am thankful for Brett McCracken who wrote an excellent piece at The Gospel Coalition entitled “Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You.” My hope is that we may discover that the Bible actually has helpful wisdom on how to navigate such ethical grey matters.
The Gospel Allows Us To Yield
In Romans 14, Paul instructs all Christians, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1). In this case, the one who is weak in faith is the one who has a soft conscience, believing that eating meat is personally wrong. How then should the church approach such a person? The people of God should welcome them because God in Christ has welcomed all of us (Rom 14:3). We stand united on every Lord’s Day not based upon our preferences or our worldly identities but upon the very fact that God has united us to Christ and therefore, we belong both to God and to one another.
In a season of perpetual contradictory advice, let us not fall into the trap that what binds us together is our homogenous response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There will be godly Christians who choose to wear masks, social distance for longer, and take an abundance of safety precautions; there will also be godly Christians who do the opposite. Let us live in light of Paul’s exhortation, “ The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom 14:6-9). What binds us together is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and therefore, regardless of our opinions of how to handle this current crisis, we can stand united together in grace.
We all have the opportunity to extend one another charity and grace in light of God’s constant extension of grace to us. We remember that Christ died and rose so that we who were his enemies might find forgiveness and life. In this complex season, let us not allow division to grow in our churches due to our personal preferences and convictions surrounding best practices. My hope and prayer, particularly for the people of Coram Deo, is that God may be shaping us into a people who are full of slow to speak, quick to listen, full of grace, and possess an abundance of patience for one another.