Before reading any more of this post, I highly encourage you to read Romans chapter 14.
Romans 14 is a fascinating passage that teaches us many wonderful truths. It also makes us a bit uncomfortable. For example, Paul writes in 14:5, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." On the surface that may sound a little postmodern. Is Paul suggesting that truth is relative? Of course not. However, Paul does appear to be telling the Roman church and the rest of us that some things in life do in fact come down to conscience.
Two issues we must deal with related to Romans 14 are how to correctly understand it and how to accurately apply it. Specifically as it relates to church practices, I've heard Romans 14 used again and again to support various traditions, programs, activities, etc. that have little to no scriptural support. The argument goes something like this, "I'm convinced in my mind that what we are doing (whatever it is) honors God. Romans 14 tells others not to judge us. Therefore, we are going to continue to do it." Romans 14 is often used as a sort of "trump card" to end discussions about church issues. When some Christians are unable to provide biblical evidence for why they do what they do, they pull out Romans 14 to both win and end the discussion.
Is this what Paul intended when he wrote to the Roman church? What is the context of the chapter and the book? Do these matter? What does Paul actually say? What does he not say?
How far can we apply Romans 14, especially as it has to do with how we understand the church? If Romans 14 has extremely broad application, then basically anything is justifiable as long as it is not prohibited by scripture. However, if Paul's intention is much narrower, then the Romans 14 trump card falls apart. The key for us is that we understand as best we can what Paul actually meant.
Because of its significance for church life, I'm going to blog three more times about this chapter: the context, what Paul says and doesn't say, and the application. My hope is that you partake in the discussion as well.
How we handle Romans 14 has direct impact on our understanding of Christ's church.