THE GENERAL ATTITUDE IN ROMANS 14
This is the reason Paul took such a general attitude in Romans 14. He said that some eat everything. However, others who are weaker eat only vegetables (vv. 2-3). To these weaker ones all animals are dirty, and only vegetables are clean. Suppose a believer among us insists to eat only vegetables. What should we do? Probably we would contend for the “truth” that today is the day of grace, and we can eat everything. We would insist that he eat some slain animal day by day signifying that the Lord died for our sins. Yet this dear one would say, “I do believe in the Lord’s redemption. I thank the Lord that He was crucified for my sins, but my conscience will not allow me to take any meat.” This is the problem today. Christians are divided because they lack a spirit of generality.
In Romans 14 there is also the matter of keeping days (vv. 5-6). Some regard one day as special. These regard the seventh day as the top day of the days. However, some regard all days alike. To these all days are the same. When I was young, I thought Paul was sacrificing the truth. I said to myself, “Paul, how could you receive people who feel that today they have to keep the Sabbath? Why didn’t you tell us definitely that to keep the Sabbath is wrong? Today is the day of grace. There is no need for us to keep the Sabbath. How can you say that it is okay?”
Suppose a brother of the Seventh Day Adventists begins to meet with us and insists to keep the Sabbath. What would you do? We all have to learn the spirit of Paul in Romans 14. I have learned this lesson in a hard way. When I was young, I got the best teaching about immersion. Because of this, whenever I met another Christian, the first question I asked was, “By what way were you baptized?” If he said by immersion, I was happy. If he said by sprinkling, I would express my disapproval.
Also, in my early years when I met a Christian, I would check with him, “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus’ coming back?” If he answered yes, then I would ask him when he would be raptured. If he said something not in agreement with me, I would show him many verses proving that what I believed was accurate. In a sense, those teachings that I was so fond of were my toys.
THE NEGLECT OF ROMANS 14
Today many Christians are talking about the Body in Romans 12, but nearly all of them have neglected Romans 14. Without Romans 14 we can never have the Body life. Most who are talking about the Body life do not have it; they only have division. Today the Lord’s recovery is mainly of the oneness. If we are going to have the oneness, we have to become so general. When a brother who is a Seventh Day Adventist comes and insists on keeping the Seventh Day, we should say to him, “Brother, if you like to keep the Sabbath, you do it. If we have the time, we will come to be with you. We have no problem with you, and we have no argument.” This is the attitude, the spirit, taken by Paul in Romans 14. But, this does not mean that Paul was not clear about the doctrine of the Sabbath. He was very clear, but he did not insist. We are clearly told by him in Colossians 2 that the Sabbath was a shadow of the Christ who was to come. The Sabbath was a shadow, and now that the Body has come the shadow is over. However, in Romans 14 Paul still tolerated it.
Also, when a brother comes and insists to only eat vegetables, we should say to him that we have no problems with it. When he eats only vegetables, we eat vegetables with him. Again, this does not mean that Paul was not clear about the doctrine of foods. He was very clear, but he did not insist. Can we be so general?
THE MARRIAGE PROBLEM
Now we come to another point. In 1 Corinthians 7, concerning marriage, Paul’s attitude was that it is better for the saints not to get married, to keep their virginity (vv. 7-8), and if they do not have a wife, to remain as they are (v. 27). He also said in verse 26, “I consider then that this is good because of the present necessity, that it is good for a man to be as he is.”
This was Paul’s attitude in 1 Corinthians. But if you go to his later writing, he says in 1 Timothy 5:14, “I will therefore that younger widows marry, bear children, rule the house, give no occasion to the opposer for reproach.” In 1 Corinthians 7 he discourages people from getting married; yet, in 1 Timothy 5 he encourages the young women to marry, bear children, and guide the house. If Paul were here, we might ask him, “Brother Paul, where do you stand? Do you stand with 1 Corinthians 7 or 1 Timothy 5?”
Was Paul wrong? We cannot say this. It is up to the circumstances. If the circumstances are such that it is good for you to be single and love the Lord with all that you are, that is proper. However, the circumstances sometimes do not allow this. Rather, you need a wife or a husband with a family. If this is the case, then the young ladies should get married. It is the same in principle as with the matter of eating the sacrifices offered to the idols. It is not a matter of yes or no. It is a matter that depends on the circumstances. You should not say yes, neither should you say no. There is nothing legal or definite. It should not be like what is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church. They have set up a regulation that all the nuns, monks, and priests should not marry. That is too legal.
We all have to realize from these cases that in a local church, as far as all the doctrines are concerned, we should not be so specific, but general. However, as far as our Christian faith is concerned, we must be specific. Concerning the faith, we must be definite. But as for doctrines such as immersion, sprinkling, head covering, foot-washing, eating, keeping days, marriage, and so many other things, we must be general. If we would not be general, we will surely be divisive.
(The Speciality, Generality, and Practicality of the Church Life, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)