Romans 14 and the Unity Proposal

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In light of the current buzz on the Unity Proposal in my ICOC fellowship and my recent study of this passage, I decided to create a paraphrased version of Romans 14 (ESV) tailored to our current dilemma:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he needs no written statements of unity, while the weak person feels compelled to sign on. Let not the one who does not sign despise the one who signs, and let not the one who signs pass judgment on the one who does not, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems this unity plan as valuable and needed, while another thinks it unnecessary. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who signs, signs it in honor of the Lord. The one who does not sign, does not in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who signs, signs in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God."
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
In this first passage, I've placed the signers in the weaker position. It seems appropriate to the passage. They feel more at ease with a written agreement defining their church to church relationships while others have no need of any such agreement to be unified just as, in that day, some needed rules about what to eat to feel secure in their faith while others did not. Their rules about eating helped support their faith just as this agreement will help support their feelings of unity. No judgment here, just and observation and comparison.

In the second passage, however, it seems more natural to reverse the roles, to make the non-signers in the insecure position and the signers secure:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by your signing, you are no longer walking in love. By your signature, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of signing agreements but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of a document, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by signing a paper. It is good not to sign this agreement or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he signs, because the signing is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Those of us who don't like the agreement feel insecure about signing it. Our faith is perhaps challenged or weakened by it's existence (I know I feel a little uneasy about it) and are not sure what those who feel great about it will do with it.

So, by taking either side, we are perhaps proclaiming a weakness in our faith. (Could it be that those who don't care one way or another who are the strong ones?) If either side demands their way is right and best and refuses to be sensitive to the weakness inherent and revealed in the other's position, unity - and the work of God in us - will be damaged or even destroyed. Love demands sensitivity, tolerance and patience.

Of course, this is not a perfect analogy and I've probably mucked it up a bit, but I think that both sides would do well to keep this passage of scripture in mind as we proceed down this road.

18 Comments

Hey Doug,

Very thought-provoking post. I hope that those who ratify the proposal do not look down upon those who do not ratify, and vice-versa. I believe the committee is sincerely trying to promote unity. I fear that the actual result could be division rather than unity. But it does not have to be that way.

Alan

Doug -
Some very good thoughts. Romans 14 are some of those verses that are difficult to live out. Allowing someone else to have different opinions is tough.
Paul was dealing with brothers over "disputable matters" (Romans 14:1). Which is why I believe that the connection to the Unity Proposal should not be to Romans 14. According to Ephesians 4:3-6 unity is a "non-disputable matter". The Spirit creates unity based on these seven ones. I believe the Proposal goes beyond Ephesians, and tries to make disputable matters, non-disputable. That's why I think the Unity Proposal relates more to Galatians than Romans 14. Man was trying to bind disputable matters (ie: circumcision) on other people (Galatians 5:1-4).
The danger in this is, Paul says "you have fallen away from grace" vs 4. We often think of people who have fallen from grace to be those people who have walked away from God. That was not the case here. These people were trying to walk toward God, but doing it by demanding obedience to man made rules. When we rely upon law we fall from grace.
It does become more than a "unity" issue. It becomes a salvation issue. If you and I are not united in Christ with the Unity of the Spirit, then one of two things is true. Either one of us is lost or both of us are lost. Unity in Christ implies salvation. To refuse "unity" based on man made rules says more than just "We don't have unity". it makes a judgement about someones salvation.
As far as sincerity is concerned, I don't doubt these men sincerity. Were the Galatians sincere? Yes. But Paul knew that it was possible to be sincerely wrong and I think Paul's warning is quite strong throughout Galatians as to what they should do.
I would hope that the men who wrote this would go back to Romans 14 and discuss the disputable matters of this proposal, but as it is now, I think they have gone past that and now are into Galatians.

First let me say that I am glad I found your site, Salguod. (Thanks to our buddy, Millie.)

I am in an awkward spot on the Unity Proposal (UP).

On the one hand, I don't really care what it says because it is not going to change the most important aspect of my Christianity: my love and relationship with Christ.

But on the other hand, I do like to know that those who are trying to bring about changes in our fellowship are doing so in a unified way.

In my semi-humble opinion, the church needs to be unified through humility more than anything else.
That is why I was actually excited to see that it was tops on the list.

Someone had mentioned in another post, (I think it was your "sad" post) that they would have liked to see the leaders make more of an apology in the UP.
First, I am not convinced that the UP is the place to make such an intimate statement. Nor do I believe that a handful of men could make that kind of an apology and fully cover the sins committed by many.
Second, I don't know about where you all are, but the leaders over here have already publicaly apologized many times over. They have shown their repentance to be true. And are much more humble in dealing with the weak than they perhaps were before. (I must admit at this point that being in NH we have always had pretty humble leadership and were kinda isolated and protected.) But as far as I am concerned, if humility is the quality after which we are seeking the most, then we will be unified in our souls...even if we are not 100% unified regarding the UP.

I have had to intentionally make the decision to rid myself of the swift rush to judgment of other people's spirituality (and even their salvation) that I once proudly carried. I now look at any religious person as someone who loves God and from whom I can learn.

You know? I don't think there is a document in existence (other than the Bible, of course) that can teach me that.

Great input Bryant. Look at Galatians 5:6 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

To take your case in context, doesn't this mean that you could say, "neither signed nor unsigned counts for anything, but only faith working through love."?

I know that Paul's point is that if you get circumcised, you are responsible for obeying the whole law (the flesh). Perhaps if you sign this agreement then you are responsible to always live up the expectations of these men who designed it, including humility, and a man made dogma concerning the "Great Commission".

But doesn't what counts the most "Faith working through Love"? In each case of love expressed in the New Testament, it always talks of meeting the subject of your divine love's needs. (Luke 10:25-37, James 2:14-19, 1 John 5:16, and others) Love is as external as it is internal. Love is action, and action can overcome disagreements. It is Christ's concerns at hand (not that you don't have those same concerns, in fact, I know that you prevail in these area's).

My point, does this document, and it's signing paramount a blockade to love?

Bryant - While I appreciate your point, I respectfully disagree. Wile Unity is undisputable, how we get there is. That's why I would put this proposal, this document, more in line with Romans 14. I also don't think that the intention of this proposal is to bind laws on folks. Perhaps I give too much benefit of the doubt, but I don't think so. (I'd rather err on too much grace that on too little, where I tend to go.) Will some use it to do just that? Perhaps. That's one of the reasons I don't like it, it stands on the precipice of that slippery slope toward legalism.

I think Romans 14 is important for all sides when considering the proposal to avoid just that. Those who like it may be inclined toward legalism and exclusion, but we who stand apposed to it would be quite arrogant to say we are immune to treating them as outsiders as well. Let's proceed with humility and grace toward unity, whether through this proposal or not.

Jeff - Welcome! I too am glad I discovered another ICOC blogger. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the proposal, especially as it seems that you may be more positive on it than I am (that's not saying much, I guess). I really would like to hear from folks who are enthused about it, particularly why they like it, because I need a balanced perspective. I hope you'll stick around and participate here.

"That's one of the reasons I don't like it, it stands on the precipice of that slippery slope toward legalism."

You are right about this. But those of us who were around before the "Great Fall" will hopefully not get so emotionally involved that we remove humility, love and grace from aamong the guides we use to employ our doctrines. Legalism is a scary thing. Hopefully we who have come through this still loving God and wanting to please Him will be able to help keep newer converts from using this document over the Bible.


"I really would like to hear from folks who are enthused about it"

I would hesitate to say I am enthusiastic about the UP. I am just not against it. It does make me a bit more comfortable knowing that they (the writers of the UP) clearly state that the document is not meant to last. My understanding is that it is a document written to simply begin the process of rebuiding a world wide united movement. If it accomplishes that task and then slowly fades away, I can live with that.

Jeff,

Thanks for your comments. You said: "First, I am not convinced that the UP is the place to make such an intimate statement." I aggree that a Unity Proposal isn't a place for it but it's more of an apologetics letter than a simple unity statement. I think it should be shorter but they felt it "was necessary for clarity and fullness" and so made it long. And, in fullness an apology needs to be included.

You also said: "Nor do I believe that a handful of men could make that kind of an apology and fully cover the sins committed by many." I don't know if these are the men, (though I've read one of the men's apology from awhile ago), who should apologize for the ICOC but I am a firm believer that leaders need to lead by example and in humility, faith, love, forgiveness, etc., (1 Chronicles 29). And there are plenty of Biblical examples where leaders apologized for their people even if they didn't physically do the sinning.

Thanks again for the posts. I am a little nuts when I have conviction on something and when I see people destroying themselves. It's probably best for me to just go away but I will say once again that the ICOC is loosing an amazing opportunity to be be humble, full of faith and love and apologize. I can understand why they don't want to but I can also understand that those reasons can be overcome with faith.

For the record, the above comment wasn't me. It was sort of written in a way that might suggest it was me, so I thought I should clarify. Nothing against whoever it was or what they had to say, I just wanted to be clear.

Doug -
I'm going to be gone for a week so I'll miss the conversations and by the time I get back you'll be on to another topic, so I thought I'd go ahead and respond now.
I don't believe that "how we get there" (to unity) is disputable. Any unity that is based on less than or more than "One Body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism and One God and Father of all" is NOT the Unity of the Spirit. When I add "dating, attendance, giving...I'm trying to create unity. It is not my job to create unity. Unity is already created by the Spirit. It is my job to try and keep it. How we "make every effort to KEEP the unity" is where Romans 14 comes in. And that is where we have to "Accept one another" on these matters and not "Sign here on what I believe so we can be unified."
This is how I see it for now but I have a week to think more about what you said. I love you Brother. God Bless.

Bryant - Well said, I understand what you're saying. Can we add to it, though, with out excluding those who don't want to add to it?

In other words, say I like churches with orange walls and I want to form a group of like minded orange church lovers. So I create an association of orange church folk. We stand for "One Body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism and One God and Father of all - and orange churches" I love my non-orange brethren and I commend them to their work in the Lord, but I like my churches orange. Is this possible? I think so, but the slope to exclusion of those who don't like orange churches is slippery indeed. If I never spend time outside the orange church community and I over emphasize the uniqueness of our stand on orange churches, it moves from a preference to a requirement.

So the addition of other things like dating rules, etc. as matters of preference is OK, but we put ourselves in a position of having to be ever vigilant that they stay preferences and not requirements.

Have a good trip, I love you too bro.

Anonymous was me. I don't know why my signature disappeared just then. I did get a registry cleaner that takes care of cookies but I didn't think I ran it any time between the last two posts but who knows. I am sorry for the confusion but glad I sound like you Salgoud!

Beg,
You say:
"And, in fullness an apology needs to be included."

And then you say:
"I don't know if these are the men...who should apologize for the ICOC..."

I didn't think that the purpose of the UP was to be a public apology. But if you say that the men who wrote it aren't the ones who should make the apology, then why do you feel it should be included in their UP?

I know we all experienced different things in the different congregations. And I am not quite sure what you've experienced where you are. But over here in the New England area we have heard apologies from many, if not all, of the leaders. I have been forgiven of the sin I've committed against others, and I have forgiven those who sinned against me.

There have even been prayers offered up to our most forgiving Father on behalf of the Church as a whole. I don't know what else can be done.

I can honestly say that, with all the humility I can muster, (which varies from minute to minute) ;-) that what happened 2 or 3 years ago is really in the past for me. I need no further apologies. I need not have leaders or myself walk around being ashamed of the past. As far as I can tell, the repentance is complete and there is no regret left.

I do want to ask a question. But I don't know how it will come across as simple text. (Rumor has it that my writing style can come across condescening)
But here goes:
For those still looking for apologies from leaders, are they leaders who have sinned against you directly? If so, have you tried contacting them to have a good, unifying heart-2-heart?
If they are leaders who have sinned against the movement as a whole by being either prideful, disunified, or both, then what do you suggest happen? I really am asking that because I don't know what else they can do outside of what has already been done.
Please, my brothers, for those leaders who remained faithful, has not our God already forgivn them? For those who did not remain faithful...well, they have bigger issues to deal with outside of public apologies.

Jeff,

I don't know what to say. I can't even say what I've tried to say and make it make sense or be fruitful without writing volumes and even then there is no guarantee. I guess the simple answer is that it is my conviction and I think it's as pure hearted one as I can have and hopefully Spirit led.

That's fine, Beg. But I am quite sure you are not alone in your feelings on the topic. Perhaps someone else here can explain it in a way that I can understand. Don't get me wrong. I am not so arrogant as to think that something is not valid until I, personally understand it. It's just that I really do want to understand the mindset and convictions you are expressing. As far as I can tell, those who needed to apologize have done so, and their repentance has been proven.

What else needs to happen?
Anyone?

I think what BEG is saying is that there is a place for a corporate apology. We've seen a lot of individual apologies, but very few if any corporate ones. Those that have happened have been on a church level. I think there has always been a need for a 'movement level' apology, although I don't think I recognized it until recently.

I am torn on this issue. On one hand I agree with you, Jeff, that we've been down this apology road and beat that horse to death (to really butcher two worn out metaphors). I think on some levels we are past that. On the other hand, the ICOC as an entity has not come out ans apologized for what it wrought. Now with this new document on unity and reconstituting the old ICOC, on some level, and with the talk within the document on repentance and old sins, perhaps it is time for a public, corporate apology for our past sins.

Mostly, I just want my local church to change and to keep growing.

I hope I didn't put words in BEG's mouth and I hope I brought some clarity.

Hey BEG, maybe you need a blog so you can put down all those words. :-)

Thanks, Doug.
And without the intention of lengthening this apology road, or beating a comment thread to death (heh-heh), I will leave a coupla scriptures that popped into my head while reading your explanation.

But first, a question:
If there is no public apology made movement-wide, will that keep folks from being unified with the leaders?
(I may be wrong about this, but wouldn't the need for this kind of apology fall under the catagory of "opinion"?)

Proverbs 19:11
A man's wisdom gives him patience;
it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

1 Cor. 6:7
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
(Yeah, I know no one is suing anyone over this, but those lawsuits started out with brothers and sisters being disunified and not being willing to let it go.)

I dunno, I guess I would just say that if to some it is an offense that there is no movement-wide apology forthcoming, perhaps it's time to overlook that offense?

Jeff

I have an example and a thought.

My example is at: http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=410863

It's a story about deaf boys who were sexually abused by a priest in a deaf school many years ago. The priest has since died but some the boys, men now, are just now able to come forward even though they are still afraid. The priest isn't there to apologize so do you think the catholic church should for him? Another thought is that the US government, I believe, has apologized in the past for the way we treated Indians and later on blacks. Do they need to keep apologizing? No but there is an understanding that what happened was wrong and steps have been taken, laws have been passed, etc. so that things like that never happen again and if they do it is corrected by the Justice system.

The thought is that the ICOC hasn't gotten there yet. I think the mentality of the ICOC heirarchy is that the fall out that happened was because of the Henry Crete letter and not that there is an underlying culture within the ICOC that is wrong. The only thing that resembled an understanding of a problem in the UP was they said that "tensions that had been suppressed by the strong parental control of the institution." So I guess their saying the third party ICOC, (i.e. institution), had too strong of parental control not that we did or understand that most would call it psycological abuse.

So why apologize? I think to heal the hurting. To say we understand that there were/are problems that we need to be and are aware of so that we can address them and look out for them. To lead in humility and faith. To show they get it and not just say that they got it kind of.

I think my motives are that I want to see things change. To see it become God's movement again instead of mans. There is no guarantee that it will work but I think it's a small step.

Salgoud,
Reasons for me not to blog..yet:
A)I am afraid of HTML.
B)If it wouldn't be fruitful here imagine how unfruitful it would be all out there.
C)I wouldn't read it if it weren't me.
D)Your here so why do I need to be?
E)Maybe someday I will.

BEG - I thought your thoughts at Pinakidion's place on this were very good:

I felt that if you want to go that long you should at least explain what you got from the heart ache of the past. I thought that it could be in the form of an apology to show they got it and be humble but I don't know if that will work now.
I'm posting about it here 'cause it fits in with the discussion here about apology or not. I think that makes a lot of sense, if you're going to go on and on and lay out a new ICOC that looks a lot like the old ICOC, the questions "What did you learn from the last 3 years?" and "Looking back, what are you sorry about from our past?" are good ones.

Jeff - Actually, there have been lawsuits, in Nashville for one. Anyway, those Scriptures are good and needed for those who have been hurt. However, for those confronted with someone's hurt, to throw those scriptures back is only more hurtful. This is the sort of things that the ICOC has been very good at in the past. What I mean is challenging the hurt to change rather than defending them, protecting them and dealing with the abuser.

In the end, the one abused must move on, forgive and forget. They would be wise to remember those verses and put them into practice. But for anyone to tell them that the solution to their hurt is in those verses without attempting to deal with the situation is wrong.

Anyway, BEG and I have been down this road long ago. The time for dealing with that in some ways has come and gone. But now this new document comes along and seems to demonstrate that we haven't learned much. Maybe the time for revelation and apologies isn't past.

Oh, and BEG:

  • HTML isn't so hard, once you get into it.
  • Don't think it's not fruitful here.
  • I need you here, more you is better.
  • Let me know when, I'll help you out.



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    Romans 14 and the Unity Proposal
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