There are some things in the Christian faith that are essential absolute truths; such as Jesus is the One and Only begotten Son of God who is also Lord God and Savior. Another is that we are saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ. But there are some matters that are of a relative nature; what food we eat, the day we worship, what we wear to church, what kind of church music is played, having a beer, and getting a tattoo. Those are examples Disputable Matters.
They are issues and topics that are not explicitly prohibited or declared in scripture that gives to some reasonable liberties in the Christian faith. Keeping in mind that Jesus has fulfilled the law and freed us from it. We are enabled to glorify God in more freeing ways within what he has made explicit known. Ultimately Disputable Matters are those issues that do not change or negatively effect The Gospel Message or tries to make sin not a sin. The End times for example is not completely explicit in scripture and differing opinions do not change or effect the Gospel Message. Therefore it is perfectly fine to agree to disagree and still remain unified and proclaim the gospel to the world.
Servants and Master
We are all servants of One Master. We do not decide for the Master how he feels about matters he made no statement on. Though the Master may have laid out universal truths, his expectations, and expressed things that he finds pleasing; he alone has the sole authority to decide how to judge his servants (Romans 14:4). This however does not negate our righteous judgements when we call other servants to conform to what The Master has explicitly decided. In Romans 14 context, The Holy Spirit, through Paul, was talking about the kind of judgment between believers, and not between believers and unbelievers; and specifically in regards to Disputable Matters; not matters of absolute universal truth.
Also read Don’t Judge Me
When to Judge and when to Agree to Disagree
It may seem that Paul contradicts himself in 1 Corinthians 5 and Romans 14 but when you look at what he is talking about specifically you begin to understand the difference. One is about matters that our Master has explicitly universally condemned. The other (Romans 14) is about matters our Master did NOT explicitly condemn. Our righteous judgements are in agreement with what the Master has declared, but we are wrong to judge on matters that Master did not make clear. The Master has awarded liberty, and by our wrongful judgements, we put up stumbling blocks.
- Matter #1: Food
Anyone who feels abstaining from eating mean is how they worship God; they must be accepted as so. (Romans 14:3). They are not in the wrong for wanting to eat meat or being a vegetarian. It is wrong when one condemns the other. Matthew 15:11, Jesus even states it is not food that is the problem.
Also read God and Vegetarianism
- Matter #2: Day of Worship
Some feel Sunday is the day of worship, others feel Saturday is, and yet others feel every day is (Romans 14:5). Regardless of the specific day anyone chooses, it is a secondary issue and a disputable matter. In fact, Paul says not to even judge people based on the day they worship (Col. 2:16-17).
- Matter #3: Alcohol
No where in scripture does God condemn drinking alcohol. But getting drunk is explicitly condemned. Jesus turned water into wine (not high quality grape juice) at a wedding. We are given the freedom to enjoy wine in light of giving thanks and glory to God (Ecclesiastes 9:7). Thus alcohol in and of itself is not sin. Just like everything else we can do it excessively, become addicted, and make into an idol. But simply having a beer with someone is not inherently sinful like adultery for example. Thus, we can not and should not judge it as such because we are not the Master. BUT, this goes without pointing out some real concerns we need to have for others. Some people have predispositions to alcoholism, or may be recovering alcoholics. If we love Christ, we love others more than ourselves. And leading someone to stumble is wrong (1 Corinthians 8:13; 10:32). Paul said he would not eat meat if it offend someone he was with. Their conscious was more important than his desire to eat a juicy cheese burger. If having a beer could lead someone to stumble, than it would be most loving not to have a beer.
Also read An Inconsiderate Faith | When the claim of Freedom is really Blind Pride
- Matter #4: How To Dress at church
T shirt and blue jeans or Suit and tie? Neither was warn by the early church and neither was explicitly stated as the church dress code. It would be wrong to pressure people to feel like they need to dress up for church when God isn’t pressuring them to.
- Matter #5: Church Music
Whether you like classical hymns, guitar solos, or contemporary praise music; all of them were not sung until recent in history. Musical instruments were used before Christ, and after Christ so it would be wrongful to judge a church for using instruments. Same goes for the style of music. That logic fails when comparing their judgemental opinion to what Jesus and his Apostles sang. Instruments, no instruments, instrument type, and musical style are disputable matters.
- Matter #6: Kid Church
Some Christians and churches are condemning the evangelistic strategy of placing children with their age groups and doing a separate church service away from the adult service. Again, scripture does not make an explicit statement about the matter of Kid Sunday school anywhere in scripture.
- Matter #7: Tattoos
Tattoos were against God’s Law in the OT for symbolic cultural separation from the inhabitants in the Land they came into and for potential health complications. But Christ has fulfilled the law and he now separates us from the world and whatever we do (within our God allotted liberty), do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But just like drinking, it too can become so extreme that it becomes our identity and idol instead of Christ. Once our tattoos interfere with glorifying God; it is sin. We must examine ourselves and know that our bodies are not our own but for God’s Glory (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
Peace and Unity
We are commanded to not judge on disputable matters! We are commanded to receive and accept those who a different view on those matters. We MUST agree to disagree but remain in fellowship and love. If the discussion on a disputable matter escalates and seems to be come hostile, than it needs to be ended and forgiven. If the discussion is not leading someone into unity or closeness to Christ; it needs to be let go for the sake of peace and unity. Disagreement is OKAY, condemnation is NOT (1 Corinthians 11:19).
Much like the issue with having a beer. The conciseness’s of others supersedes our opinion of Disputable Matters. Because these issues are within the scope of freedom; loving others remains primary to these issues. If having a beer, eating meat, and wearing a gym shirt to church seriously offends people, then for the sake of their weakness and conscious with our selfless self sacrificial love for them; we have a beer, eat meat, and wear our gym shirts at a later time. Humility and self-sacrifice in disputable matters.
Only absolute truths RIGHTLY divide and stir up strife; but not because of anything we judge. We just declare these offensive absolute truths. It is the truth that causes the unrest, not us. Some people who claim to be saved are not and will ultimately reject universal truths and cause issues when they are rightly judged. Jesus’ statement here says it all:
34 Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to turna man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household.
37 The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. 39 Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it.
Also read The Other Side of The Real Jesus
On these issues, it does not matter if you agree or disagree; God has already accepted them, and you (Romans 14:3). Because they are God’s servant, God is their judge over their conscious, not you. We are called to test and search scripture, and not jump to a judgement on a matter that is not even decided in scripture. At times we need to discuss and debate scripture with Christ at the center. If the discussion and debate is unfruitful than it needs to be let go for the sake of unity. The Master wants each one of us to examine ourselves and learn of him in his Word for ourselves and live with a clear conscious for his glory. Though righteous judgements that are in agreement with what is explicitly started in scripture is good for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and edifying each other (2 Timothy 3:16); wrongfully judging others on disputable matters leads to unwarranted division, disunity, and creates stumbling blocks to those who are new in faith.
These are essential truths of the faith. A denial of them is a contradiction of what is true.
- Deity of Jesus – John 1:1,14; 1 John 4 (Jesus Is God)
- The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus – 1 Corinthians 15:14
- Salvation by Grace alone – Eph. 2:8,9. Rom. 6:23.
- Sins that are explicitly declared in Scripture – (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:28; Galatians 5:19-21; James 4:17; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Romans 1:26-29; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Col. 3:5; Rev. 9:21)
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