Summary: A plea for Christian Unity.
“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”
By: Rev. Kenneth Emerson Sauer, Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church, Newport News, VA
It may come as some surprise to us that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who preached 40,000 sermons in his lifetime that brought a revival to life which spread to the ends of the earth, never preached a single sermon on the Virgin Birth or the Second Coming.
It’s not that Wesley did not believe in these things, it’s just that Wesley did not feel that they were the core beliefs that we must get completely correct, jot and tittle, in order to be saved.
Furthermore, Wesley always refused to write up a Creed containing a definite number of fundamental doctrines that a Methodist must believe.
There was no official confession of faith that folks had to recite in order to become members of the early Methodist societies.
The sole condition for membership was a person’s desire “to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.”
About his approach Wesley commented, “The Methodists alone do not insist on your holding this or that opinion; but they think and let think….Now I do not know any religious society, either ancient or modern, wherein such liberty of conscience is now allowed, or has been allowed, since the age of the Apostles. Here is our glorying; and a glorying peculiar to us.”
John Wesley made a clear distinction between what he called “opinions” and “essential truths.”
According to Wesley, “opinions” are matters where wide differences in belief are inevitable, and “essential truths” are the basic doctrines to which all Christians adhere.
But which things are “opinions” and which things are “essential truths”?
Paul writes in our Scripture passage for this morning: “One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.”
In the great city of the Roman Empire most of the meat that was sold had been sacrificed to idols.
Could a Christian eat this meat with a clean conscience or had the idols made the food ‘unclean’?
Facing this same situation in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: “So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one….
….But not everyone knows this. Some people are so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.”
Yes, “One person’s faith allows them to eat everything, but another person, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables…
…Each should be fully convinced in his own mind…
…He who eats meat, eats to the Lord…and he who abstains, does so to the Lord…”
Now Paul uses eating or not eating meat and observing special days to the Lord or observing all days to the Lord to illustrate a much bigger point: As Christians, we are to be unified as we follow Christ together, “so that with one heart and mouth” we may “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are to accept one another “just as Christ” has accepted us…flaws, strange opinions and all… “in order to bring praise to God.”
Imagine the impact we could have on this community if we were to truly love one another in this way!!!
We are to strive for unity between Christians, and that unity is based on faith in Christ alone for salvation.
Do you know why Methodists use grape juice instead of wine when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
It’s not because wine is bad.
It’s because Wesley didn’t want things that may cause some people to stumble in their Christian walk to get in the way of what is truly important.
The Methodists found that many folks who had a problem with alcohol were being converted to Christianity, and when they took communion, for some, the wine was enough to cause them to stumble back into the bar…
…for alcoholics, one little taste is never enough.
Therefore, a Methodist named Welch, who owned a vineyard, concocted a way to make wine that did not ferment.
We now call this Welch’s grape juice!
That’s what Paul means when, later in Romans Chapter 15 he says: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”
Instead of focusing on the salvation of souls, and the love for God and neighbor, we Christians often major in the minors. And when we do this, we are not acting in love!