Be aware of disputable matters. Because they will be part of a multicultural church experience.
But let’s not make these verses preach something that isn’t there, so let’s forego that temptation today. The disputable matters referenced here are concerned with only two things: food and holidays. Nothing else.
With food, there is some pretty stout language for this multicultural church. Each different group, Jews and Gentiles, will have various dietary preferences. When the table of fellowship is shared, these two groups were to be careful to not offend others by what they served.
It stands to reason that the chiefest experience in a believer’s life is the table of fellowship they share with other believers. It is the kingdom meal. It is the presence of celebration and salvation. It is a table filled with food and communion. At that moment, these two groups were to not offend someone who has different dietary preferences. If there was an offense, the purpose of the kingdom meal would be completely defeated.
These were no small dietary preferences, though. Jewish people were afraid of the meat sold in Roman markets, because it wasn’t kosher, and was probably used in various pagan temples. It was also entirely possible, and probable, that Jewish butchers wouldn’t serve Jewish believers. And meat was generally only afforded by the wealthier people in Rome.
Abstaining from meat, then, was a social point. And insisting on meat would only be done at the expense of unity in the Roman house churches.
But even then, the guiding principle of unity is even larger:
For those who can afford meat — do not isolate and offend those who can’t.
And for those who can’t afford meat — do not isolate and offend those who can.
The Roman church should be both multicultural and economically diverse.
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. (Romans 14:3; NIV84)
Now that’s interesting.
Because I’ve always been taught that this passage is about much more frivolous things. Like what should and shouldn’t happen in Sunday morning American church gatherings.
This passage isn’t about such pettiness. It has something bigger for us to consider. It’s an appeal for churches to become multicultural. It’s a way to stem the messiness of bringing together two volatile cultural groups into one setting.
Remember, too. These churches met in homes, not multi-million dollar buildings. There were no elaborate stages or HD screens or playgrounds for the kids. These believers were meeting in intimate settings, sharing meals together. Those small, intimate settings would be shattered if anyone insisted that the communion and fellowship meal serve foods that some couldn’t, or wouldn’t, eat.
But why does all of this really matter?
But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. (Romans 15:23, 24; NIV84)
It matters because Paul wants to continue west, to Spain, to bring the gospel of grace to the barbarians of the Roman Empire — to groups of people who care little about Roman culture and Jewish culture.
The culture of Spain was almost impenetrable, by the way. Augustus Caesar once remarked that the Roman soldiers who trained there became hispanicized, and even regarded themselves as Spanish.
The Hispanicus cared little about Roman etiquette or Roman politics or Roman meals. But if they were to be convinced that the gospel of grace also affords the miracle of unity, then the Roman church has to get it right, to become the example for all Paul intends to share with those on the western most parts of the Empire.
And the same is true for us. Our own cities suffer because of our lack of being counter-culturally multicultural.
The overlooked and despised neighborhoods of our own cities don’t need a church plant. They need proof of transformation. They need proof that at least one thing in the world is different from everything else — that church is the place where various groups of people, from different cultures and different wealth, can share in the communion of Christ together.
That is what the letter to the Romans is about.
This post is part of ninety different posts through my ninety day reading of the New Testament.