Summary: Even in Paul's day getting along with fellow Christians was difficult.

“Between the Lines: Dealing with Church Fires”

Romans 14:1-15:7

Max Lucado has related A PARABLE. “Every sailor could agree on one fact. Had it not been for the captain, they would never have survived. The storm came suddenly. In a matter of moments hulls were broken, decks were awash, and sailors were floundering. But as quickly came the storm, so cam the captain, maneuvering his large vessel between the waves and rescuing one sailor after another. Before they knew it, they were deposited safely on an island, listening to the instructions of the captain who said, ‘There are still more at sea. You stay here until I return. Build a tall fire using the trees of the island to keep yourselves warm and to send a beacon for those who need safety.’

Of course, the sailors were happy and quick to oblige, and they set about the task of building a large fire. Then they waited and they waited and they waited. The longer they waited the more their gratitude passed. And thankfulness to be there turned into restlessness to be there, and appreciation for the captain mutated into aggravation with each other.

No one could remember exactly when the argument started, but it had something to do with the captain’s instructions. Did he say use trees only for the fire or trees mostly for the fire? As they began to discuss it, they couldn’t agree. Some said, ‘Surely he meant trees only. He said build a fire made out of trees.’ Others said, ‘A little brush and some grass and leaves won’t hurt. He’ll understand that. Tress mostly won’t hurt.’

Conversation led to opinion; opinion led to discussion; discussion led to dispute; and dispute led to debate. Soon debate led to division, and there were two fires on the island. There was the trees only fire and the trees mostly fire.

Peace returned to the island for a short time, until dispute broke out in the trees only camp. One day in conversation someone said, ‘I’m sure he wants us to use cypress trees only on the fire, because, after all, he gestured to some cypress trees as he spoke.’ Another one said, ‘But he was standing closer to an elm tree.’ Still another said, ‘The predominant tree on the island is oak. Surely these are to be oak trees in our fire.’ Conversation led to opinion; opinion led to discussion; discussion led to dispute; and dispute led to division. Soon the trees only camp splintered into three other camps – elm only, cypress only, and oak only.

Things didn’t go much better on the southern end of the island, where the trees mostly camp was. They didn’t have trouble with the contents of the fire, but they had conversation and conflict over the height of the fire. ‘The captain has left instructions to build a tall fire. How tall is tall?’ Your definition of tall and his definition of tall might not be the same, and so in short order, new fires were started, each of differing heights.

In time, the island was freckled with small fires rather than one large fire. The captain, who had been watching this from the ocean, shook his head and sighed.” 1

Most of us has already begun to name the fire groups we have experienced in our religious lives; we can quickly identify the issues that have divided the church. Such is, unfortunately, the history of the church. Even in Paul’s day, getting along with fellow Christians was a difficult task. Take a look at his PICTURE OF DISUNITY. In writing to the Christians in Rome Paul issued A TROUBLING REALISM: THIS WAS NOT A UNITED CHURCH! Members were arguing with one another – about diets and special days. Verse 2: “One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.” Verse 5: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.” Diets and days were their fires. The Jewish Christians argued from 2,000 years of tradition and heritage. They still believed that God regulated certain foods and days. The Gentiles, who were not steeped in the Jewish religion and background, had no clue – and it all seemed ridiculous to them in light of the freedom they experienced in Jesus Christ.

And before we shake our heads in wonderment, consider: We Older Dutch folk love our Russ’ fried chicken dinners; these young folks believe heaven’s banquet table is a sports bar with massive, multiple television screens. We tried and true Reformers know the only true church dinner is a potluck; this younger generation relishes served, catered meals. We Traditionalists know, beyond a doubt, that worshiping twice on Sunday – with Sunday School thrown in between – is the 11th commandment; these boomers and Gen-Xers can’t seem to find it in their Bibles. Our older generation knows that, beyond a doubt, suits and nice dresses are the appropriate garb for worship; these younger generations know that, beyond a doubt, Jesus accepts them as they come and as they are. Many love the hymnbook hymns; many love contemporary hymns. Get the idea?

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