(The Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission is one of the many confessional groups that regularly posts on this website. Like BJS they seek to equip laymen to know and support Confessional Lutheranism. CLCC posts are archived on the Regular Columns page of this website.)
This article was recently posted on the CLCC website:
Learning To Disagree in Grace
Many congregations and denominations suffer unnecessarily over internal disagreements because they never learned how to agreeably disagree. This can come from a lack of communication skills or seeking power and control, but often it is because they ignore or misunderstand God’s solution found in Romans 14.
We are not to judge motives or relative degrees of personal piety (‘by their fruit you shall know them’ doesn’t make us fruit inspectors). What these have in common is the factor that they are unknown to us. Motives are hidden. Only God knows the heart. We do not know who is more righteous or pious than whom.
But, there is another issue about wrong judgment. According to Romans 14:1-4, we are not to judge matters of conscience that are not universally commanded or forbidden. Later Paul warns against judging one’s brother on matters that fall under the category of Christian liberty—food and the observance of certain days (Romans 14:4-10).
It would be wrong to exclude a weaker brother from fellowship because he has a more active conscience in certain areas where the Bible legitimately allows liberty (Romans 14:13). But, if that weaker brother demanded that his conscience be followed by everyone else as a condition of fellowship, he would become a legalist (one who applies the law where grace is appropriate). He should be rebuked, and if he remained unrepentant, expelled from fellowship. This is because they have appointed themselves as God’s lawgiver.
However we can use what has been given to us in Scripture to judge what is true or false, sinful or righteous. Publicly proclaimed false teachings can be judged to be so and publicly refuted. Paul did this and instructed Timothy and all of the church elders to do this (I Corinthians 14:29; I Thessalonians 5:21). The church must be warned about false teachers, whether from inside the church or without.
But Paul does not deal here with matters of indifference or mere opinion. He is dealing with matters of faith—personal conviction and conscience—the same view that we often have in our disagreements within the church (Romans 14:22-23). In order to call ourselves ‘Christian’ we hold certain Gospel truths, so Paul reminds us of how three of these can be used for living in peace when convictions and consciences differ.
First, Jesus is Lord (Romans 14:7-9) and therefore we should always act in good faith to please Him (Romans 14:22-23). No Christian should ever consciously act contrary to their understanding of Christ’s will, even if that proves later to be mistaken.
Second, Jesus will judge each person individually and all will be judged (Romans 14:10-12). Therefore, do not pass judgment on another who is holding on to their consciences. Each must stand or fall on their own actions (Romans 14:10, 13).
Third, Jesus will receive His own and enable them to stand by faith (Romans 14:17-18). Therefore, you must also receive one another as Christ has received you—to the glory of God (Romans 14:1). Never doing anything that would cause another to doubt or lose faith (Romans 14:13).
Taken together God admonishes us to live according to our own informed conscience, acting in good faith toward God—leaving judgment to God who alone can see our heart motivations (Romans 14:4). We need to see the Christ that is in our fellow believer (Romans 14:17-18). When we disagree (except in matters that are commanded or forbidden in Scripture), each needs to be faithful to their own understanding, while being open to correction and reproof, and content to let God judge each on the basis of faith in Christ. We should pursue peace and good for our fellow believer in Christ (Romans 14:19).
Reverend Michael L Mueller