Romans 14


Bible rules

I hope I'm not reading too much into this preacher's Romans 14 sermon, but unless it lacks all subtlety, he's wanting us to connect the dots--that Romans 14 applies to all but the major areas of faith, that our very church personality limits the issues we will go to the mat over, and that this preacher has the extraordinary liberty to preach from the NIV in a traditional service. I think that's what his sermon said.

Let me see if I'm understanding Romans 14 correctly: I had befriended a group who billed themselves as "the brethren" who were also known as the trench coat brethren due to their signature tunics based on the clothing of the Levitical priests that hung down to cover their crotch.  Well, to each his own.

One hot summer day I encountered a couple of the brethren on the mall and after a brief fellowship one of them started berating me because I was wearing shorts.  I pointed to a window display of clothing from around the world, and examined the various kinds.  Then I told him that the business where I was working was located on Dukhobar Road named after an earlier settlement of the Dukhobours, a Russian sect that believed in Christ but not the Bible, and who achieved some renown for dressing according to their belief that we are all naked children before God. I told him that if I had to attire myself according to the particular codes of anyone I might chance to encounter, I'd have to have a trailer full of garments following me down the street so that whenever I saw someone approaching with a particular dress style, I could duck into it and change into that style.  And when I saw a Dukhobour, I'd just take off all my clothes.

Then I pointed out that it was a hot day and there were lots of people there on the mall wearing shorts.  Why, even the street preacher there on the corner was dressed in shorts.  I told the guy about community standards and that if he were to go out into the community, he should expect to see people dressed accordingly, not by his narrow standard.

Well, the guy, a novice, went home and reported our conversation, and his elders just told him he shouldn't be getting into arguments with me.

Then one day the brethren invited me over to their place for dinner.  Knowing they did not approve of shorts, I made sure I wore long pants.

Is that more or less what is meant by Romans 14? that the stronger brother is not to despise the weaker but dress consistent with his code when invited to dinner, yet because it would be impracticable for the stronger to dress out in public according to anybody he might chance upon, then it is up to the weaker not to be judging the stronger dressed according to community standards.

One evening I ran into another brother who used to belong to the brethren but was out of favor with them.  I stopped to converse, but he told me that since he had just got off the phone talking to some girl, and that for what they had planned, I really did not want to fellowship with him, so I better be on my way. Now I think this was an example of verses associated with Romans 14, namely, (ch. 13:13) "... not in chambering and wantonness." and furthermore by another associated verse (ch. 15:14) "... ye my brethren are also full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another," it would not have been a "doubtful disputation" prohibited by Romans 14 for me to admonish him about it, although, to be sure, he was admonishing himself.  I mean, when you take Romans 13 & 15, along with Romans 14, you see there's some stuff Romans 14 doesn't cover, and we are supposed to be able to admonish one another "filled with all knowledge," not just that we've got the basics then just live and let live.

Or let me try another example: Back in my days on the Shiloh commune, we were allowed to play chess, but only on Sunday.  My preference was to go hiking on Sunday, but I got sucked into my share of games.  It's the proverbial problem of the top gun in town; every punk wants to try to beat his draw.

After my commune days were over, I was walking across the mall one week, and was stopped by a fellow at one of the chess tables who wanted to play me a game.  We couldn't have been more opposite.  While I played chess only on Sundays and then only when I had to, he played chess all the time.  He was running out of people to play locally, so was also playing by mail.  Tonight was their chess club meeting and the others were paired up leaving him the odd man out so he was sitting there reading a tome on chess and then I came along.  Well, "Do unto others," and all that, so I sat down.

He spread his cloth board over the one ingrained on the table, and we started.  Well, his board was larger than the table, but the benches were at a fixed distance.  Moreover, he had a habit of leaning over the board, which resulted in this first row being outside his field of vision.  So in a long game, I developed a threat on that first row of his and came out of the blue and checkmated him.  I then showed him what he was doing wrong, and we played a second game where he beat me.  Of course, I was in a perfect position to admonish him about keeping the chess game in perspective, and while he might want to exercise his liberty to play more often than I do, he is still better off keeping an eye on all eight rows of the board rather than just the last seven.

As I understand the application of Romans 14 (including ch. 13 & 15), the doubtful disputation to avoid is the brother out in the community getting on my case for dressing to community standards, but the good admonition to give was me telling the really-into-it chess player to sit back from the game a bit.

Now as for church personality, we also have individual personalities, because the church is, after all, made up of people.  I like to read, and although I encounter a lot of junk in my reading, I mostly just gloss over it but will sometimes write to the author or publisher pointing out their faux pas, which is generally appreciated as feedback and could hardly be characterized as going to the mat, although technically that would be a phase one condition per Matthew 18 when dealing with a Christian or such a group.  My discussion with the two men in the men's TLC group, which I then wrote to Zondervan adding to my complaint, would be a rare instance where it actually progressed to stage two, although even that could hardly be called going to the mat.  No, going to the mat, at least how I see it and the preacher acknowledges that it does happen sometimes, would be more along the lines of members of a current events class deciding to boycott Salvation Army, not giving them their regular donation, because in California they adhered to a State rule giving benefits to homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.  Me, although I was sympathetic to the cause, I decided not to join in the boycott.  I had worked for the Salvation Army a number of years and was too aware of how those donations directly benefited the poor, and I felt there should be another way to make the point.  But that's just my individuality.

What we decided in class was they had violated the II Corinthians command not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, as to gain benefits from the State they had to follow their incompatible goal.

In a round about way this allowed me to go to stage three with Zondervan, as there was a grass roots church witness against being unequally yoked, other churches joining it, and that was my gripe with them.  Zondervan was unequally yoked with the women's movement of different goals using in one of their books a she or he construction in a certain place, referring to "joy mentors," where the expectation is not that it was usually a female person--rather, there was a whole long list of male joy mentors and only Mother Teresa and the author's daughter for female.  Furthermore, Zondervan became unequally yoked when bought up by secular HarperCollins owned by a tabloid mogul out to make money, and then printing a New (International) Bible where to get a copyright to give them income they had to by law make substantial changes to the text.  On top of all that, they imported without license the "be not unequally yoked" command of II Corinthians into I Corinthians 7 to change "only in the Lord" to say only to a Christian, which are two different meanings.  Christians caught up in that misinterpretation tend to think that once they have married a Christian, they have fulfilled the commandment and so do not look for its legitimate applications.  Taking away sanctified marriage to a nonbeliever short circuits the permission list, and since to avoid fornication, one is to have permission to marry according to his gift of God, it indirectly promotes the very thing for which Salvation Army was boycotted.

Salvation Army quickly repented; Zondervan did not, which means I could consider them a heathen and a publican, so I forwarded my material to Walt Disney, where I showed them how Zondervan had used a Disney tune in their book without giving credit (and I included the letter to me from the publisher admitting he did it knowingly which certainly would not do their case any good), and I showed how Disney's uncredited song eventually led to the "she or he" insult to all male joy mentors of whom Mr. Walt Disney was a member.  They thanked me for my info, but their investigation is confidential, so they won't tell me more, but I don't think it will do Zondervan any good.  But that's the nature of going to the mat; if Salvation Army had not repented, they would have taken a major hit in the pocketbook too.

Since I can no longer regard Zondervan's NIV with honor, I need something better, like the KJV, to feed my spirit on Sundays, which is why I've taken the preacher up on his offer to make church suit my needs.  Seems like the men's group got disbanded which figures as this whole business of making our Bible the same dialect of our common speech harks back to the prideful days of the Tower of Babel where out of confusion they stopped building too.

As a fill-in to my church history which included an influx from another congregation when it folded, the last evangelist we had there, when he was up for consideration and we asked him questions, I asked what Bible version he used.  He used the King James Version.  That's what was preached from in our last days.

When that church folded different members went different ways; some went to a church in a neighboring town, many went to this my current church, and I followed a brother who had a Sunday morning ministry in an old folks home. He used the King James Version.

After I went and returned from my missionary jaunt, I found myself in disagreement with him in his employing women in verbal ministry in the church, so we parted ways.  I actually came to visit my current church right at the time they were looking for a new minister.  If I'd have stayed on then I would have been asking this minister what version he used, before he came aboard.  My problem was that the evangelist at the former church and now an elder at this one had complained to me that my Bible explanations were too convoluted for people to follow.  And he was right.  I was hardly in a place to argue with anyone else about his Bible usage; I had my own to straighten out, which I did well to accomplish before coming on board myself.

In the process of learning how to use the Bible simply, I attended a Negro church where the pastor employed a Southern gospel art form of singing his sermon using the KJV, I went to a church where every single member came from a different denomination or church background, but they all used the KJV except for the pastor who did not want to submit to "the spirit of conformity," I went to a Chinese church where we had bilingual sermons and while they were reading scripture quotes in their Chinese versions, I'd read them in the KJV and then compare it with the NIV they'd use for translation, and finally I was at a major Protestant denomination church where they quit letting me read from the King James Version for service because it wasn't in the computer, just the NIV, to use to print the bulletins containing the reading.

Eventually I found the point I had been trying unsuccessfully to make was simply in the permission list that the NIV had short circuited.  I discovered this while arguing with the homosexuals on campus.  They felt that their mode of sexuality should be accepted for the sake of diversity, so I went and looked at Paul and other places to see that Christians are to accept a wide field of diversity without incorporating perversity.  Although, as the apostle says, Christ is not divided: of Paul, Apollos, of Christ, etc., human sexuality is in fact divided up, each with his proper gift of God.  Those "of Paul" would be the celibates, those "of Apollos" would be leading about a wife as one of the other apostles, and those "of Christ" like brothers of the Lord each with his implementation of the relationship between Christ and the church to marriage.  The sanctification of a mixed marriage being an instance of all things being ours "whether the world": The one where one of the spouses gets saved first is "whether things present," a present spouse of the world, or whether a Christian marries an unbeliever, "whether things to come," all things are ours, and plenty of diversity.  The NIV zaps the list by importing the unequally-yoked command out of context.  It was a new sister from Singapore who was forced by a Christian ministry here to break up with her unbelieving fiancé of nine years, based on the NIV reading, who told me her problem and I finally got around to doing something about that NIV, one of the occasional places where I was willing to go to the mat.

If I can no longer honor the NIV in service, that means that I am missing God's word in this preacher's sermons which gives me cause to ask him to accommodate me per his letter of assurance after I joined.  It is the result of the personality of a church that will sometimes go to the mat; if Salvation Army had not repented he'd have had trouble had he wanted to donate portions of our offering to them.  That's what going to the mat results in sometimes.

Now, I've settled into this is my church home, my history with some of the members going back to an even earlier church some years ago when they witnessed my complete submersion into Christ.  We were into the King James Version back then, and as I attend a traditional service, I would expect to hear--well, not the New International Version.  He's thrown out to me Romans 14, and as I would understand to apply it, if I went to the contemporary service, I should steel myself to hear read from a contemporary version just as I was expecting the restricted brother to be prepared for people dressed by community standards when he ventured into the community. But in his home where I knew he disapproved of shorts, I dressed not foremost for my own comfort.

The actual verse reads, (Rom. 13:13) "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; ... not in strife and envying." You are as aware as I of the strife and envying between the denominations, which is exacerbated when they have not merely different doctrines but different Bibles. Our honesty is supposed to alleviate some of that, which honesty is not complete when we use new versions in what is billed as a "traditional service."  As I understand Romans 14, it was not a doubtful disputation but a good admonishment when I showed the chess player how he was overlooking the first row, neither do I see myself as out of place to mention that the Preface of the NIV does not bill their version as a traditional one, rather that in some places (punctuation, proper names) it even yields to the traditional, and the very title says New.

It was the preacher's sermon in Acts that so elegantly expressed the folly of lying to God by telling the church an incomplete truth, and although I haven't seen him struck dead yet, my being part of this birds-of-a-feather that won't compromise in places, it might not do us much good in the long run.


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403


Copyright © 2003, Earl S. Gosnell III

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