A Broad Tent
Rom. 14:1 ¶ Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
At this young Christian church in Rome there were members who had come from a variety of backgrounds. Some were Jews, others Gentiles and yet here they were all worshiping God together. The problem was that they had differing opinions regarding the "rules" of daily life. They were arguing about what types of food to eat and which holidays to celebrate. At the core you found a very committed group of believers who loved God, wanted to serve him and yet were at different places in their spiritual lives. Instead of helping one another to grow spiritually, they were getting together and arguing over their differences. This was not to happen! They were to have a broad tent, accepting one another and building one another up, leaving the quarreling behind.
Just this week I was reading an article entitled, "They will know us by our angry blogs." How sad is that! It seems as if this age of social media has brought us to a place where we find it easy to shoot one another from the comfort of our living room recliners. And somehow in doing this we disregard the fact that there may be some who are weaker and others who are stronger in their faith. Paul was concerned that there were those who would come together at the church and argue with others simply for the purpose of "quarreling over opinions." Could it be that we find ourselves in the very same place these days?
Typically, at least in my tradition, we have been known for "A Broad Tent." I believe that is because our founders took seriously these Scriptures. We were taught that the principle defining factor was, "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in everything, love." Of course, I presume the argument would be over our definition of "essentials." Paul was saying that practices such as eating and holidays were not the essentials of the Christian faith. Today we may not be arguing over these things but we have found new arguments from right to left. At some point we have to ask ourselves whether we are simply enjoying the quarrel, or is this really an essential to our faith.
I find Paul's use of the word "weak" here interesting as well. This is an affirmation, and one that we must remember, that there are stages to one's spiritual growth. For those who are new in their faith, they may be weak. We must be careful that those who may be "stronger" don't destroy the faith of the "weak" by imposing their own understandings on the "weak" when they may not be ready for them. I heard a story this week about a church that was trying to reach out to their community. The neighborhood around the church had changed dramatically. The teens in the neighborhood were rough and disrespectful. However, the church was doing all that it could to love these young people and help to bring them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. One adult worker in the church was terribly disturbed by the fact that one of these young men would not remove his hat when entering the church. He literally became obsessed with the hat. How could this young person be so disrespectful and think that they could worship God if they kept that hat on! The man was ready to do battle over the hat -- rather than the spiritual state of the young man.
These days we have chosen to quarrel over a myriad of things -- even within the church. Maybe we need to remember the broad tent which included the weaker and the stronger brother and sister. The original broad tent included people from the North and the South soon after the Civil War. Political positions were put aside in the broad tent as the people of my tradition joined hands in love for God and love of neighbor. Quarreling over political opinions was not acceptable within the tent. Instead, those in the broad tent focused on what they believed that they could do together for God. And when this happened the little band of holiness people reached out and helped to change their world. We must stop quarreling within the tent and focus on the things that unite us so that the power of the Holy Spirit will flow through us as a people, helping to bring transformation to both the weak and the strong.
Lord, examine my heart and if there is something that will keep me from being an instrument of unity in your kingdom, please reveal it so I can serve you in all things. Amen.