Monday, December 5, 2011

Where's My Reading Group When I Need Them...Oh, Right, Kentucky.

The holiday season is kicking my butt as far as keeping up on my reading.  I need my reading group to hold me accountable.  I just finished Romans this morning, and I should be almost through with II Corinthians.  This is not the optimal place to be when reading Paul and trying to be finished with the New Testament by New Years.  When reading Paul, just about every other paragraph of his gives me something to blog about, and when I read huge chunks of his letters at each sitting I end up putting the Bible down and feeling a bit overloaded.  So, nothing gets blogged.  To those of you who have been following along as I read through the Bible this year, sorry for the few and far between posts here lately.  So, in an attempt to just write something, here's a post for today.

In Romans 14, Paul discusses the hot topic of dietary laws.  If, he says, a weak brother or sister in Christ only feels it right to eat vegetables, while a stronger brother or sisters feels they can eat anything, the strong should abstain for the sake of the weak.  "Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died" (v. 15).  This sounds very similar to a discussion Paul had to have with the Corinthian Church in I Corinthians 8.  These passages are some of my least favorite in the Bible, not because of what is said, but because of how people have abused them.

I grew up in a congregation that had hijacked these passages.  To be more specific, any time a member decided that he or she didn't like something (TV, contemporary worship, short skirts, etc.), these passages were brought out of the woodwork in order to manipulate the more level headed people.  "I'm one of the weak, and I don't like this," wasn't an uncommon thing to hear in some form or another.  What bugs me about this is that these passages don't say anything of the like.

The context of these passages is a mutual lack of judgment and not causing others to fall away from Christ.  "Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them" (Romans 14:3).  Who is in the right and who is in the wrong?  Neither and both, Paul isn't even asking that question.  The point of Paul's argument is that if God has welcomed someone, who are we to then cast them out?  And as far as abstaining on behalf of another, the issue at hand is what love looks like in a diverse community, not what is permissible or not.  "If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love" (Romans 14:15).  Christian love is sacrificial, other oriented.  So, the point of these verses is giving up power for another, not manipulating others to get our own way.

These are great verses that get to the root of what communal life within the Church should look like.  If more Christians lived this way, we'd have far fewer church splits.  But that having been said, I can understand the frustration many Christians feel when squeaky wheels use these passages to manipulate the whole.  I think Paul might have some other choice words for the squeaky wheels:


"Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"?  All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence." -Colossians 2:20b-23
Stopping point: Romans 16

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