As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.
One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God." So each of us shall give account of himself to God.
One of the questions raised by Missions Week is how the cause of frontier missions relates to the diversified domestic ministries of the local church.
What Are They and How Do They Relate?
By frontier missions I mean the effort of the church to penetrate an unreached people with the gospel and establish there an ongoing, indigenous church which will apply the love and justice of Christ to that culture. By domestic ministries I mean the diversified efforts of a local church to apply the love and justice of Christ to its own culture. (In both of these I include individual and his personal conversion to Christ as part of the goal.)
How do these two relate to each other? Or you can put the question differently. Since missions and ministries are the efforts of extremely diversified people, how does the singling out of frontier missions for special emphasis relate to the tremendous diversity of people in the church and the great variety of personalities and interests and abilities and callings that they have? Should everyone have the same level of interest and involvement in frontier missions? If not, how does what each of us does relate to that cause? Or should it?
If we want to make the question more complex, we can add the observation that even within the cause of frontier missions itself, there is immense diversity. Besides our Baptist General Conference Board of World Missions, there are over 3,000 foreign missionary societies in the world.
Our Commitment to the BGC and Other Agencies
I don't want to get off track, but let me just make a passing comment about Bethlehem's commitment to the Board of World Missions of the Baptist General Conference in relationship to our commitment to other agencies like Wycliffe and SIM and HCJB, and to the U.S. Center for World Missions.
- God willing, Bethlehem will become an increasingly strong support and influence for Baptist General Conference World Missions.
- Bethlehem's influence for the cause of world missions will continue to grow beyond the Baptist General Conference.
- The greater our impact is beyond the Conference, the greater our influence will be within the Conference. If your heart and energy are large enough to reach out beyond your own family, your family will be the better for it.
When we began our missions week with a veteran BGC missions statesman like Virgil Olsen, and ended the week with the Director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, Ralph Winter, we were saying in effect that our commitment is to the Conference Board of World Missions and to the wider and larger efforts in the evangelical community which can be of great benefit to our Conference mission.
The USCWM is not in competition with any mission agency. It is the great friend of all independent and denominational mission agencies. If it folds, we will all be the lesser for it. Therefore I hope that Bethlehem will be one of the strategic support churches for this center.
In the meantime Bethlehem has tripled its giving to the BGC in the last four years. We were the seventh largest giver to the BGC last year out of 800 churches. In the last year we have sent out four of our most promising young people to the Philippines and Japan under our Conference Board. And the Board has asked me to bring the messages next summer when our returning and departing Conference missionaries gather for their annual retreat.
These are our three commitments: commitment to the BGC world mission effort, commitment to the wider evangelical cause of frontier missions, and commitment to the conviction that these are not in competition but strengthen each other.
Romans 14, Frontier Missions, and Domestic Ministries
But that is not what I want to talk about this morning. I want to talk about the relationship between our commitment to frontier missions and our commitment to all the diversified domestic ministries that are possible for our church.
The basis for my convictions is seen in Romans 14.
Three Points of Diversity in the Roman Church
First, notice that there are at least three points of diversity in the church at Rome.
1. What to Eat
One is that some Christians in the church felt free to eat anything, probably including certain foods that the OT had forbidden, or foods that had been offered to idols. Others in the church only felt free to eat vegetables. Verse 2: "One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables."
2. Special Days
A second point of diversity in the church is that some of the believers were strongly in favor of keeping certain holy days, while others felt no need to set off special days probably since all days were holy in Christ. Verse 5: "One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike."
3. Drinking Wine
The third point of diversity was that some evidently felt free to drink wine, while others thought it was not God's will for them. Verses 20–21: "Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble."
Five Principles About Such Diversity
Meat eating, wine drinking, and day keeping were all points of diversity in the church at Rome. So Paul was writing to instruct them and us how to handle this kind of diversity. I see five principles that will, I think, apply to our question at least indirectly.
1. The Existence of Diversity in Understanding
Diversity in understanding God's will for our lives exists and will continue to exist in the church. The reason I say it will continue to exist is that Paul makes no effort to obliterate it. Instead he gives instruction how to live with it in love, for Christ's sake.
Not all diversity has to be understood in terms of good and evil. That is, your conviction about what you should eat and drink and how you should celebrate your Christmas holiday does not force you to call someone else's different customs bad.
Now it is true that Paul calls one habit weak and one strong. But he refuses in this case to treat these differences the way he treated the disagreement in the churches of Galatia. There the nature of saving faith was at issue. Here he believes that both convictions are coming from saving faith. One person's faith frees him to eat meat, while another person's faith expresses itself in a more rigorous interpretation of what God requires of his children.
Personally Paul thinks that the freeing faith is the stronger, but he will not condemn the behavior of the weaker brother. Both behaviors come from faith and are therefore expressions of the lordship of Christ. Verse 23: "But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith, for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." So Paul will not call either side of this disagreement "sin" because sin is what does not come from faith. There is a way to talk about much of our diversity without charging each other with sin.
2. Our Attitude Toward Such Diversity
Therefore we must not despise or condemn our brothers and sisters who sense the leading of the Lord differently than we do in matters where the Word of God is not decisive. Verse 3: "Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls."
There are many times when we choose differently than someone else, but we must not condemn them. Instead we must trust that the sovereign Master of them and us will settle the matter wisely for his name's sake.
3. Our Responsibility Regarding Our Own Understanding
Everyone of us should go hard after God until we can be fully persuaded in our own mind that our choice is a genuine expression of trust in him and obedience to his Word. God does not want his people to be immobilized by the fear of doing something wrong. Yes, he thinks some decisions are the result of being weaker or stronger in faith, but notice what his challenge is in verse 5: "One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind."
He does not say: Now watch out lest you make a choice from weak faith and do something less than perfect! He says: I know you are sometimes going to choose differently from each other, but by all means be confident in what you choose. Be settled. Don't be forever tilting back and forth. Evidently indecisiveness is a bad thing in Paul's mind. Verses 22–23 give some reason why: "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves . . . for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." People who can't come to a settled conviction about what God wants them to do are forever subject to a guilty conscience, and are in constant danger of acting against their conscience and thus sinning. So principle 4 is to pray and study until you arrive at a settled conviction about your course of action.
5. Our Ultimate Goal in Everything
Finally do everything you do for the honor of Christ and a heart full of thanksgiving to him. Verse 6: "He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God." In other words, God accepts a range of different choices on an issue as obedience if the choices really aim at the honor of Christ and come from a thankful heart.
- There will always be diversity in the church, even diversity of conviction about what the will of the Lord is for some areas of behavior.
- Many of these differences we should not distinguish as good and evil. Sin is what does not come from faith. But our varying perspectives and varying degrees of faith, give rise to differing choice which may both honor Christ as acceptable choices.
- Therefore, we must not despise or condemn our brothers and sisters, but trust their Master and ours to deal with his servants wisely.
- We should all seek to be fully persuaded in the convictions we follow so that we are not immobilized by indecision or plagued with a guilty conscience.
- We should do all we do for the honor of Christ and with a heart full of thanksgiving to him.
The Situation at Bethlehem
Now let me step back from the text and try to describe the situation here at Bethlehem in which these five principles are very relevant.
The Ultimate End and the Means to That End
We have just come through a week of emphasis on frontier missions. Many people say during such a week that the ultimate goal of the church is missions. We have never said that because we don't believe it. The ultimate goal of the church is to reflect and display the glory and worth of God. Missions is a means, not an end. Missions exists because worship and obedience don't. In the age to come there will be no missions. It is not our ultimate end. It is a means to that end.
As Many Means as There Are Different People
But there are other means to that end as well. Indeed, there are almost as many different means as there are different people. If your heart is gripped by the love of Christ and your sense of justice is shaped by the will of God, then there are innumerable ways to apply his love and justice to our own sick culture to display the glory and worth of God—ways that are not frontier missions but are crucial in our ultimate goal of glorifying God.
Just take a few examples. The love and justice of Christ might burden you for the urban plight of the homeless, or the victims and perpetrators of crime, or the unemployed and hard-to-employ.
Jesus might stir you to engage yourself in the issues of poverty, medical care, hunger, abortion, unwed mothers, run-away kids, pornography, family disintegration, child abuse, divorce, hygiene, education at all different levels, drug abuse and alcoholism, environmental concerns, nuclear proliferation, the peace movement, terrorism, prison reform, moral abuses in the media and business and politics.
The Lord might lead you to give yourself to a ministry of promoting and encouraging prayer or Bible study or friendship evangelism. He might move you to pour your life into junior high boys in Sunday School or into GMG or music ministries or visitation of the shut-ins or MOMS or the Marie Sandvig Center. And that just scratches the service of the kinds of domestic ministries in which a believer can display the love and justice of Christ for the glory of God.
Which Is Most Important?
Now what is the relationship between these crucial domestic ministries and the cause of frontier missions? Is one more important than the other? Is one a means to the other?
Let me try to answer this first in relation to the whole church, then in relation to your individual life.
In Relation to the Whole Church
First in relation to the whole church, my answer would be that domestic ministries are a means and a goal of frontier missions. Here is what I mean. Ralph Winter sat at my kitchen table last Sunday night, and as he looked out the window toward the city he said, "You know, the best thing you might be able to do for frontier missions is remake Minneapolis."
Domestic Ministries as the Means to Frontier Missions
What he meant was that it is very hard to take a gospel message from America to an unreached people if America has the reputation of being just as corrupt as other countries. The engagement of the church in the transformation of its own domestic front may go a long way to creating some credibility for the messengers we send to the frontiers with a gospel we say is transforming. So domestic ministries are a means to the credibility of frontier missions.
Domestic ministries are a means to frontier missions in two other senses. 1) If you view your secular job as a kind of domestic ministry—as I hope you do, because in it you can glorify Christ and apply his love and justice there—then the ministry of your job is a means to frontier missions because it earns the money without which the missionaries can't go. 2) And the third way that domestic ministries are a means to frontier missions is that domestic ministries win new recruits to the cause of Christ and give them invaluable training.
So domestic ministries serve frontier missions by creating the funds, the personnel, and the cultural credibility that frontier missions need to be successful.
Frontier Missions as the Means to Domestic Ministries
If we stopped here, there would be a fundamental misunderstanding. Frontier missions would appear to be the goal of domestic ministries. That would appear to subordinate domestic ministries to be the servant of frontier missions. But that is not the best way to put it.
Remember the goal of frontier missions? Frontier missions is the effort of the church to penetrate an unreached people with the gospel and establish there an on-going indigenous church which will apply the love and justice of Christ to that culture. The goal of frontier missions is domestic ministries. The goal of a missionary is to help start an indigenous church that will do in its own culture all the life-changing, culture-transforming domestic ministries that the American church ought to be doing here.
To put it another way, frontier missions is the transportation and adaptation of domestic ministries to people groups where they don't exist because Christ is not known. The surprising conclusion is that frontier missions is the servant of domestic ministries.
This means that the people who ought to have the greatest burden for frontier missions are the people who have the biggest heart for domestic ministries. The same love of Christ and sense of justice that burdens a person for housing and unemployment and hunger and health care in Minneapolis will also burden a person for these very same needs in people groups where no Christian impulse for transformation exists at all.
In Relation to Your Individual Life
Now let me close by applying all this to your individual life. For all our similarity we are a very diverse group of people in the church. There are followers and leaders, emotional and stoical, organized and unorganized, thrifty and lavish, intelligent and unintelligent, readers and non-readers, planners and drifters, curious and uninterested, expressive and non-verbal, people-oriented and task-oriented, contemplatives and activists, serious and humorous, dignified and casual, etc. We are very diverse.
Add to this that God usually calls us each to the ministry that suits us best so that we can feel satisfied in it. This means that our involvements in domestic ministries and frontier missions are going to be tremendously diverse. And my prayer and goal is that we see the interrelatedness of these so clearly that we will all feel free to do what God is calling us to do without guilt or defensiveness.
The Five Principles of Romans 14 Applied
Let us apply the five principles of Romans 14 to the diversity of our personalities and the diversity of our domestic and frontier callings.
- Affirm and rejoice in diversity. It is here to stay, and we must get beyond our defensiveness.
- Don't distinguish differences of this kind by saying one is good and another is evil.
- Don't despise or condemn someone because he doesn't feel called to your ministry or mission. Try to see how your mutual callings complement each other in Christ's overall purposes.
- Be fully persuaded in your own mind. Pray, study, know yourself. Settle it before God that this is your ministry for now and relax and put aside the need to defend yourself or criticize others. God accepts a wide range of choices as obedience when we have humbled ourselves and sought his will in Scripture and stepped out decisively for him.
- Do all you do from faith for the honor of Christ with a heart full of thanksgiving for his infinite grace.