This past week my Bible study group bantered over Romans 14. (Click here to read.) If you want my CliffsNotes on this portion of Paul’s letter, he is telling his readers to defer in love in those matters that are not black and white but gray. The stronger believer should defer to the weaker believer in the nonessential matters of the faith.
While growing up, my grandparents were strong believers. They attended church regularly, read and marked up their Bibles (I still have one.), and prayed aloud. They supported ministries like Billy Graham’s. But looking back, I think they took some nonessentials and made them essential. For example, playing cards, drinking, and doing anything on Sunday was forbidden.
My mom was a rabid bridge player so my siblings and I had to cover up the fact that every other Monday night she was out playing cards. My parents did drink alcohol so whenever my grandparents were coming over, we washed the wine and cocktail glasses and hide the liquor bottles in the cupboard under the oven, behind a trash can. If we did anything on Sunday, like going shopping or working in the yard, we lied and told our grandparents we shopped or worked on Saturday.
Christianity became confusing for me. If seemed liked the nonessentials became essential, and the true essentials, which were rarely discussed in my home, became nonessential. My journey away from the faith began. In college I attended church maybe twice. After college, it took years before I stepped foot in a church again.
After getting married and having kids, however, I joined a Bible study. This study helped me to understand the essentials of the Christian faith (this is not an exhaustive list):
- All scripture was written by man and inspired by God.
- We have all sinned, and we all need a savior.
- Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected.
- Jesus was fully human and is fully God.
- God created the heavens and the earth, and is Ruler of the universe.
- There is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus Christ.
- The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and dwells in every believer.
But when it comes to nonessentials or the gray areas, I’m still discerning them.
For example, on Easter Sunday my family attended a large, diversified church in Cincinnati. One of the songs was done in rap. Rap? On Easter Sunday? I wanted something more like Tomlin or Hillsong. No one else seemed upset by this song selection.
But something in my spirit rankled me. I couldn’t figure out why until after my Bible study the next week on Romans 14. I realized I was making a certain type of music an essential not a nonessential, falling into the same trap as my grandparents!
I’ve done this before. I was adamant about my kids not having tattoos or piercings. Christians did not do those things. But I now know tattoos and piercings are gray areas. I’ll probably never have a tattoo so I defer to the individual who feels the freedom to express himself through these creative expressions. I’ve discovered I’m now more accepting to those who are all tatted up.
My own actions can also be misconstrued as essential. The church I used to go to was a very mature church. People dressed up and carried their study Bibles to church because we were mature Christians after all. But when I started going to a smaller urban church, I felt over dressed in my usual Sunday attire and weighed down by my study Bible. My husband and I went out and purchased trim-lined Bibles and now dress more casually.
There are lots of gray areas in the Bible. To make sure we are majoring in the majors, it’s best if we go to the scriptures often and discern what is absolute and essential and what is a gray area or nonessential. In the essentials, we stand firm. In the nonessentials, we can always, always defer in love.