It seems that some Christians today think that Christians in the early church and churches (mostly meeting places in the homes of Christians) that comprised the whole of the early church were unanimous in what they believed. But even a casual reading of the New Testament and secular history provides clear evidence that this simply was not the case. Christians don’t always agree today. Christians didn’t always agree in the early church.
Paul, the great converter of Christians and church planter in the first century, often called attention to division among Christians while at the same time pleading for unity. Sometimes, Paul identified competing Christian groups by labeling them as “the strong and the weak.”
In Romans 14 and 15, he schools early Christians (dividing them between the strong and the weak) on mistakes they are making in dealing with each other. In Romans 14, he exhorts those who are strong to accept the faith of the weak without quarreling over disputable matters. Paul says that God has accepted the weak, so who are the strong to judge? Stop passing judgment on each other, says Paul. He goes further and warns against destroying the work of God for the sake of food, the issue at hand. I wonder what issue he would talk about today.
In Romans 15, Paul’s continues his observations about the dichotomy between the strong and the weak: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Not that we might be right. But that we might have hope.
But that’s not all. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriacha might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
Jesus brought harmony between the dichotomy of all dichotomies. Surely, we can bring harmony to the small ones. We can do that if we concentrate on God’s mercy. We shouldn’t focus on judging one another based on the issue of the day but on God’s judgment of us through his eyes of mercy.