Whenever you spend a lot of time around Christians, especially those who belong to different generations than yourself, it is easy to come into frequent conflict.
Let’s be honest, a 68 year-old woman is going to dress differently than an 18 year-old woman in church. A 55 year-old man will speak differently than a 15 year-old boy. A 72 year old-woman will prefer much different worship music than that of a 22 year-old man.
Now, these examples are not exhaustive, nor are necessarily always the case. However, the point is this: people are different. In other words, different ages, sexes, generations, backgrounds, and ethnicities all express themselves differently, especially within the confines of a church family. Different Christians eat or abstain from certain food and drink, and different Christians have varying lifestyles. For example, to some believers, alcohol is the “Devil’s water,” to others, red wine simply tastes good with red meats. To some Christians, pianos and organs are the instruments used for worship; to others, guitars and drums do the job. The list could go on forever. The Apostle Paul addressed issues like this in his letter to the Romans: “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats” (Romans 14:20)
Paul continues and makes the case to the church in Rome that “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (14:21). Now, is a Christian who consumes alcohol more mature in their faith than the one who chooses to abstain? According to Paul, no. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5b). For some, alcohol is seen as a good gift from God and is therefore treated as such making it an act of worship. For others, alcohol is seen as the source of abuse, and a constant reminder of loneliness. Is either person more right than the other? Not at all.
You see, the importance of this issue (and others like it) does not lie in the action itself, but rather in the heart motive behind the action (see Matthew 15:1-20). If you enjoy worshipping with a hymnal in hand, that’s okay. If you prefer singing more contemporary songs with lyrics on a power-point slide, that’s okay too. However, problems occur when your attitude toward those who have different convictions than you become judgmental. To the “homeschooler,” it’s fine if you decide to educate your children from home, but that doesn’t mean all parents should. To the “public-schooler,” it’s okay that your children are educated through school systems, but that’s not the standard for all parents. The crux of the matter is that you do not push your preference upon other people because they may not carry the same convictions as you. What is more important, is that each member of the body of Christ does “not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide[s] never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13).
These kinds of issues are what you may call “open-handed” issues. In other words, different people with different lifestyles may choose to stand on a different side of the fence on any given issue. However, open-handed issues should not be the litmus test for Christian holiness. In other words, you hold these issues with an open hand knowing that other people may disagree with you. However, if they do disagree, that does not mean that they are any less of a “good Christian” than you are. Essentially, don’t make open-handed issues “close-handed” issues, or issues that the Bible explicitly dictates as God-honoring or not God-honoring.
There are so many open-handed issues in the Church today that unfortunately become close-handed issues at the expense of church unity, and ultimately, people. Alcohol, worship style, music preference, NIV vs. KJV, homeschool or public school, city or rural, suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt. What’s comical is that the Bible does not explicitly support one side or the other of any of these above issues. Granted, biblical principles and certain exceptions apply to all; but last time I checked, neither Paul nor Abraham are recorded in the bible arguing on the means of education, or what instruments to use in the tabernacle or synagogue that day. Rather, we are told that “whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
The all to common error of Christians today is making issues out of issues that are, well, simply not issues. In other words, we spend so much time bickering over preference at the expense of people. Now, there are issues that the Church should hold with a firm fist. Namely, did Jesus really live? Did Jesus really die for sinners? Did God really create the whole universe? Issues like these are ones that can divide because believing that God did not create the world, and that Jesus didn’t die to pay God’s wrath for sin leads to false teaching.
All of this to say: brothers and sisters, let us hold Scripture firmly in one hand, and our preferences loosely in the other. Prefer hymns? Great, sing them to the glory of God. Prefer public schooling? Fantastic, do it to the glory of God. Like wearing polos and sandals to church? Good for you, do it to the glory of God. Believe that Jesus was only a good man? Sorry, but the Scripture teaches differently. Like I said, do not make open-handed issues the standard by which all Christians should live. I pray that we continue to love one another through pursuing correct doctrine, while simultaneously not “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).