Stumbling Over Our Own Two Feet
I have grown up in church. Like many of you. Growing up in the church has amazing, life-changing pro’s as a result of having a relationship with the Lord for so many years, but let’s get real here. If I was to show you my “I’m Down with the D.C. Talk” shirt, you would immediately know that growing up in the church also means that I have some major issues to overcome that come from having a relationship with the church…for good and for bad.
This paradox became evident to me when we moved to Korea when I was 21 years old. It wasn’t the kimche that started to get to me (although that will get you “clean” quickly), but a Bible study of Korean women who met in my house each week. The study was taught in Korean and one sweet woman translated the words into English for the multi-language-challenged (me). It was there, sitting on a tea-pillow, listening to Hawang-Song’s words of wisdom that I realized how much culture had mixed in with my doctrine. When women from a completely different walk of life, an Eastern mindset instead of a Western read the words of God and interpreted things just slightly differently….something began to crack inside me. It was a good cracking, a breaking of my religious ties that kept me chained to tradition instead of relationship. But even more amazing was this…they viewed some of the teachings of Jesus totally differently than I did…they had a different take on this story or that story, but it didn’t change the message. They loved him, they knew him in a way that was different than the way I knew him, but it was still the same Jesus.
Let me go ahead and give this disclaimer, because I know some of you starting to narrow your eyes and wonder if I am about to walk over a doctrinal cliff here. You are wondering if I am talking about the things “that matter.” Let me set you at ease. I’m not. I am not talking about those things that we will call “salvific,” i.e, those things that are necessary for salvation. The salvific things are not open for personal interpretation. I am talking about the things that the Bible clearly left open to interpretation…because I believe there is a beauty in interpretation that has been lost on us.
It has been lost because it has been abused. It has blended into something, morphed into the proverbial square peg trying to fit into the round hole. Interpretation is not the enemy. Changing the gospel, misinterpretation, and taking the word out of context and character…that is the enemy. But we seem to have blended these two into one. We fear allowing someone to have a different opinion than we have because what if…what if they are wrong? Well, my answer is….what if? What if we allowed others to search the Word, to wrestle with it like Jacob and the Angel, and trust that in the end Jesus will set them straight, even if they limp a little afterward? What if we pray and walk along side each other as we wrestle with the Word and help sharpen each other in genuine love (remember the iron sharpens iron admonition?) instead of closing the book and taking our toys home because we don’t agree on predestination or once-saved-always-saved?
Divisiveness in the church. This has become, dare I say, the number one stumbling block to the American church. The fact that we cannot sit side by side together in church because we differ on things that are not salvific in nature. Often, when we talk about a stumbling block and of Romans 14:21 which says, “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble,” we lean heavily on the word drink. We focus in on it like it’s in red in a red-letter Bible. It’s not. I checked. And in Alabama, no one ever mentions the meat part…we like our ribs and steak too much. And Famous Dave’s BBQ sauce…cause man, oh man, that’s good stuff.
Alcohol, not drinking, we focus in on this verse when we talk about stumbling blocks so often. But, here is the thing…Romans 14:21 is talking to the church, because we create more stumbling blocks for ourselves through our hard-earned, hard-taught lines in the sand than anyone else does. Our greatest stumbling block is the fact that we are a divided church in America. We do not work well with each other. We judge each other for not having the same convictions, for not seeing the picture exactly the same, for wanting to use red in the sanctuary and not tan or using loud music or great hymns. We divide ourselves over baby food and forget that we are suppose to be eating meat…that we are suppose to be building the Kingdom of God together.
“Do not for the sake of food, destroy the work of God” Romans 14:20.
The entire chapter in Romans is talking about not dividing over things that don’t matter. Not passing judgment because we do things a little differently, not getting so upset about the little things we build into mountains that stop us from walking the path of righteousness. What do we most often refer to in this chapter? The one word drink. We are missing the point. We have to stop being concerned with doctrinal differences that are dividing the body of Christ and start working together to remove the stumbling block of division. Because, while we worry over alcohol, or predestination, or age of accountability, or levels of modesty, or cessation, or transubstantiation, we have become a very real stumbling block to the Kingdom of God by wasting our time arguing with our brothers and sisters and not doing.
So I ask that we will start this conversation. How are we being a stumbling block to the church, by arguing over non-salvific matters? Are we, the church of America, destroying the work of God for the sake of food…of things that do not really matter in the great plan of the great commission?
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17