~by Randy Bushey
…without passing judgment on disputable matters (Romans 14:1).
Paul was direct in his instruction to the church at Rome: Christ-followers are called to live out the Gospel. That means, by the power of the Spirit, living out the righteousness of the Lord Jesus as revealed in His Word and doing so in unity.
But here’s the rub: what about those issues not specifically addressed in Scripture?
And the problem: you and I are capable of making a decision about what is right for ourselves individually and then imposing that on others – without biblical warrant.
Too often in the history of almost every church, the Lord’s people have defined righteousness by standards that are not objectively biblical. That arbitrary standard has become known as legalism.
And legalism always leads to division, diverting our attention from the Lord Jesus.
In the church of the 1st century, it had to do with excluded food and the observance of special days.
When I was a teenager in the early 70s we heard too frequently about the length of hair and skirts, and types of “worldly” music.
And in the summer of 2021, among the Lord’s people legalism undeniably includes the vaccine against COVID19.
Paul talks about disputable matters (NIV) in Romans 14:1 above. Other Bible versions render this as doubtful disputations (KJV), quarrel over opinions (ESV), disputes over opinions (RSV).
The Greek word translated matters (disputations, opinions) is the term dialogismos. It means the thinking of a person deliberating within; inward reasoning; questioning what is true with dimensions of hesitation, doubting, disputing, and even arguing.
Legalism occurs when we take an issue about which the Bible gives no specific direction and raise our personal position to the authority status equal to the Scripture. In a sense we’re adding to the Bible, or replacing God’s Word with our own opinions.
The Lord Jesus was frequently critical of the Jewish elite for doing exactly that.
And He said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (Mark 7:9)
That brings us to the vexing issue of vaccines.
Somewhat surprisingly, this conversation is polarizing to the point of dividing families, separating friends, and tearing apart churches.
We would each do well to think through the Apostle’s inspired direction in Romans 14 on such matters of dialogismos :
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own Master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (v.4-10).
Takeaway: Physician David Vallance provides sound biblical advice when he counsels*:
Following Romans 14, the vaccinated must not shame the unvaccinated, for God has welcomed all of us. Further, the cautious must not despise the carefree, for Christ died for all of us. With mutual respect, we should “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding,” and let the subject of vaccination drop.
And the summation of the matter by Paul:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth 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 (Romans 15:5-7).
* “I’m a Christian. Why Should I Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?”
An Update with Answers to Ten Objections by David K. Vallance, M.D. (May 2021)
~ graphic by Rodrigo Valladares at freeimages.com