At the beginning of my ministry in the United States in 1962, I spoke frequently on Romans 12. Romans 12 is a chapter on how to have the Body life. First, you have to present your body to the Lord (v. 1), then your mind will be renewed (v. 2), and your spirit will be burning (v. 11). With our body presented, our mind renewed, and our spirit burning, we can know the will of God (v. 2), which is to live the Body life. If we only practice the truth in Romans 12, however, we cannot have the Body life. The Body life actually depends upon Romans 14. If we are going to have the proper Body life, the church life, we must learn how to embrace all the differences between Christians.
The differences between Christians are innumerable. In the local churches, there are saints from many different countries and cultures, and this issues in many differences. Even within one country and one culture, there are many differences. When I came to the United States, I traveled to many places to minister the word. I stayed in many American homes, and I was surprised at the different kinds of Americans. I discovered that the United States was a real melting pot of many different peoples, cultures, and races. I found out that different parts of the country had different foods and different accents. When I was invited to Tyler, Texas, I heard the word y’all for the first time, and I eventually realized that it was an abbreviated pronunciation of you all. It is a wonderful thing that the church life swallows up all the differences. In all the church meetings in Texas, it is hard to hear the word y’all. Many of the brothers have learned to speak in a standard way of speaking English. Differences in the human race make it difficult to practice the church life in oneness. The Chinese saints who came to Taiwan from mainland China came from many different provinces. Although ninety-five percent of the saints were Chinese, they spoke Mandarin, a common Chinese dialect, with many different accents. Among the provinces in mainland China, there were many differences. After almost forty years of practicing the church life in Taiwan, however, the differences have been nearly swallowed up.
On the one hand, the church life swallows up all the differences. On the other hand, it always creates problems. A new local church may not have many problems. But the older a church becomes, the more problems it may have. This is why we need the oneness. No other society in mankind requires the oneness as much as the church life does. In the church life, we all have to receive mercy and grace to embrace all kinds of differences.
In Romans 14, Paul illustrated how we need to receive all believers regardless of our differences. Some of the saints at Paul’s time were vegetarians, while others liked to eat meat (v. 2). Some of the saints in the church life wanted to keep certain days as holy days, while others did not (v. 5). Some probably liked to keep the Sabbath, and others felt that every day was the same. These different ways of living and worship mostly came from the Jewish people according to the Old Testament. Biblically speaking, it is all right to eat everything and the practice of keeping the Sabbath was over, but Paul did not teach this in Romans 14. Paul did not justify anyone, and he did not condemn anyone. Instead he told us the way to keep the oneness.
He said, “One judges one day above another, another judges every day alike. Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God” (vv. 5-6). Paul’s idea is that as long as the saints do something to the Lord, it should be all right with us. I do not think that Paul was too liberal. Actually, he was very generous, and he was not narrow. If we had been Paul, we might have given the saints in Rome three messages on the observing of days: one on the Sabbath day, one on the first day of the week, and one on the Lord’s day. These are important terms in the Bible. Perhaps we would have given the saints three messages to tell them what day is the right day. We might have said, “Don’t keep the Sabbath day. That was of the Old Testament.” But Paul did not do this, and he knew the Bible much better than any of us. He did not give the saints biblical teachings on these differences. He just indicated that those who keep a certain day, keep it to the Lord; and those who do not keep a certain day, do this to the Lord. They both did something to the Lord in a different way. Would we say that this is all right? This would be hard for many of us. We would like to say, “This is not scriptural.”
(A Timely Word, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)