To Be Fully Convinced in Your Own Mind
On the hot topic of meat sacrificed to idols and the inclusion of Jewish feast-days into Christianity, Paul prescribed a policy of “live and let-live.” Those who have strict rules do so to the glory of God: those who have lenient rules celebrate their freedom before God. We must accept and affirm our brothers and sisters on both sides of the debate on these non-moral issues, advises Paul (Rom. 14).
In the midst of laying out and clarifying this bit of advice, Paul throws in a line which I have always found fascinating and highly revealing: “Each person must be fully convinced in his (or her) own mind,” (14:5). The way in which our secular culture (especially under postmodernity) tries to keep the peace is to make sure that nobody believes anything too firmly: so long as everyone is provisional and tentative and “humble” in their beliefs, we will have no conflict. Paul’s idea (and, thus, God’s idea) is completely opposite.
Christians are to have firm convictions, even on issues which are not directly outlined in Scriptures. Although they are to be accommodating and tolerant towards those who do not agree with them, this toleration should not lead them to ambivalence on the topics themselves. Each person should be convinced in their own minds. In Paul’s case, this meant that Paul was basically prescribing the creation of sects or denominations or some similar sort of division within the Body of Christ. There should be the “pro-meat” and “anti-meat” groups. That is the beginning: the groups should be divided and firmly established, Each person should be convinced of where they stand. What is the next step? Next, each person must accept fully all the members of the opposite group. They are fellow-believers, joint heirs of Christ, even though they do not agree on this particular point.
No doubt the Body is to be built up and strengthened greatly as these two parties interchange and dialogue on many relevant topics.
I think we need to embrace and encourage this sort of interchange today. There are many topics which split Modern Christianity. But do they need to divide us? Some do, because they are real, Gospel-changing issues (as was the case in Galatians: a contemporary example of this is the topic of homosexuality in the church). However, a great many other issues are secondary. On these issues, people should research their beliefs and become firm in them. Then, they must accept and love the members of the opposing groups. Although they may choose to worship in a separate church from them, they should extend “the right hand of fellowship” and work together on missions and compassion initiatives.
I think that this Biblical standard of “full conviction, with a spirit of grace” is far more beneficial and useful model of unity than the non-Christian model of “indecisiveness, with a suspicion of anything which smacks of ‘certainty’.”