Christians and “Disputable Matters”
The conservative Christian Church is divided over the question of “Is homosexuality, within the confines of same-sex marriage, a sin?” Even though there have been notable exceptions, the majority of the fundamental churches judge homosexuality to be a sin and gay people to be sinners needing redemption. Martin Luther spoke of agreeing on the essentials, while disagreeing on the non-essentials. I submit that Romans 14 speaks to that very issue, and has a present day message to the Church regarding the homosexuality issue.
For this discussion, homosexuality shall be defined as same- sex union within a committed relationship, i.e. marriage. I shall not deal with the scriptures that have traditionally been used to prove that being gay is a sin; those have been aptly treated elsewhere. But I shall focus on Romans 14, as I believe this offers wisdom as to our relationships, as Christians, whatever our sexual orientation.
In Romans 14, Paul is speaking of subjects pertaining to conscience, judgement, proper attitude toward other believers, preventing divisions, and loving and acting with each other in spite of differences. In this passage, he teaches specifically on matters of eating meat, or not; and keeping, or not, the same day of the week as the “holy” one. It is clear that these two specific issues he addresses are examples only, representative of the abuses of some in the Roman Church, and that the principles set forth are inclusive of similar problems.
Let us take the example of eating meat, or not. This speaks to the larger issue of the tension and struggle between the Jews and Gentiles in the establishment of the Church. The Jews felt very strongly that the Gentiles should keep, at least, parts of the Levitical law (see Acts 10), and the Gentiles felt just as strongly that they were free from the necessity from keeping the law. So then enters Paul to bring peace! Paul sets the stage in verse 4, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls….”. This keynote admonishment brings the truth to bear that judgement of others must stop, and TRUST must reign to know that God can take care of and lead His children. He then continues to specifically explain verse 4 in verses 5-12, and elaborates that each person on either side of the issue, loves and worships God and stands or falls on their “relationship” with Him, not on what side of the issue they are on. It is clear that the issue of eating meat is a “non-essential” one to Paul.
Then in verses 13-14, Paul says an amazing thing! “Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself….” For Paul, who knew the Levitical prohibitions against certain foods (read Leviticus 11), and who had followed them all his life, to state that to him NO food was unclean in itself, is truly extraordinary and significant. It means that Paul is convinced that the person who demands that his brother keep the law, is the “weaker”, and those who feel free to eat anything in the Lord are then, “the stronger” or more mature, but are NOT to flaunt their freedom in front of the weaker. What Paul is saying is consistent with the covenantal view that the Old Testament gave us the “letter” of the law to show us our need for God; while the New Covenant presents to us “the Spirit of the law”, so that the law is written upon our hearts. That is why Jesus could say, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). This also fulfills Ezekiel 11 when the prophet says that the heart of stone would be removed, and the heart of flesh given. Paul continues in vs. 22, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” The conclusion can be easily drawn from Paul’s example, that judging others by applying the laws from the Old Testament, is wrong, and that there is a “more excellent way” (see I Cor. 12:31 and I Cor. 13)
Obviously, I have said all of that to say this- that whether one is gay or not, is a matter between oneself and God, and Christians are not to pass judgement, but to realize, “that by his own master he stands or falls” and not to “put obstacles in your brother’s way.” The danger here is that gay, lesbian and transgender people are staying away from the church because of the hate and judgement that they feel, and that this is an “obstacle” in the path of those who need salvation. As Christians judge “disputable matters” and pass judgement upon those who practice homosexuality, they form a “stumbling block” that is very spiritually harmful to gay and lesbian people.
If Paul can state that the passages concerning eating or not eating certain foods in the law were not binding upon him, surely Christians today can present a similar “grace”, and allow us ALL as Christians to have different views about issues, especially homosexuality, and to love and fellowship with one another, regardless of those differences.
And now, the hard part, if this applies one way, it must apply the other. We as gay Christians must love our brothers and sisters who may “condemn” and judge us, and allow them the “freedom”, painful as it may be to us, to believe that what we do sexually, is wrong. But we must NOT allow Christians to tell us we are not saved, for that gives the “Blood of Jesus” limits, and makes nil the power and grace of God. Another person’s salvation must NOT be judged, and disputable matters be handled with love, understanding, forgiveness and grace.
“Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves”. This powerful verse means that if one accepts their homosexual orientation, that they are BLESSED if they do not yield to the pressure to change or recant their beliefs, knowing there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And Paul states in verse 17, that the Kingdom does not consist of these things, but in “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Truly this is the issue, that the fruit of the Spirit shall leap forth out of a Christian’s life, whether we are gay or straight, male, female or transgender, rich or poor, or American or Arabic. The day is coming when we will ALL know, that there is room at the Cross for us all.