How to Approach Differences in Standards in the Church

This is part three in a series on the necessity of standards, the dangers of standards, and how to deal with differences of standards. The Necessity of Standards can be found here and the Dangers of Standards can be found here.




Have you ever been to some other believer’s house and their standards in some area differ from yours? Maybe it’s dress standards, music, TV watching habits, video games etc. How did you handle that situation? Were you maybe a little uncomfortable? Did you confront them? Growing up, the natural response of families who had “higher” standards was to avoid these other families and not let their kids associate with them. I believe this response was wrong. Granted as parents we want our kids safe from bad influences in their lives, but sometimes the way we approach people who sincerely want to live holy lives but come to different conclusions than we do so is misguided. When it comes to manmade standards, there are some things that we need to keep in mind. Notice the emphasis on manmade standards. There are things that scripture is clearly against whether in a direct statement, principle, or command. But for those things that the bible doesn’t speak to clearly, we need to allow liberty. When it comes to separation, I have found the following diagram by Dr. Larry Oats very helpful:



Probably one of the best passages directing us about a difference of standards is found in Romans 14. The chapter deals with those who are weak in the faith and disputes over dietary laws, holy days, and doubtful actions. 1 Cor 10, a parallel passage, deals with meats offered to idols. These two chapters lay out some basic principles that we should keep in mind.


Principle of Acceptance


The stronger brother in this passage is the one who knows the liberty that he has been given in Christ. He is told to receive or welcome those who are weak. Notice in vs 2, the passage clearly states that the weak brother is the one who only eats herbs. In welcoming them into our house, we are not to do so for doubtful disputations. Literally the phrase means not to judge their reasoning.


The stronger brother is expected to show deference to those who are struggling in these areas. Some might argue that they shouldn’t have to worry about someone else’s hang-ups. Paul even asked that question in 1 Cor 10:29, “For why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?” This is an understandable feeling; however, the mature believer desires what is best for other people. Roman 14:14 says that to the man who esteems anything as unclean, to him it is unclean. For the man who believes in keeping extra standards to the point that they feel it would be a sin to do that action, for them, it is a sin. As mature believers, we must help our brothers not to live in sin.


The stronger brother is told not to despise or look down on the weaker brother. Sometimes in fundamentalism, younger people come to a point where they don’t believe in the standards of the previous generations and they begin to look down on them for their standards. This is a direct violation of this passage. On the flip side, the weaker brother is commanded not to judge the stronger brother who has liberty. This must have been a real issue because Paul asks them in the next few verses who do they think they are judging another man’s servant. This discussion leads us to our next point.


Principle of Accountability


In vs 4-12, Paul presents the principle of accountability. Eventually, we will all give an account to God. This is a two-fold warning. When we are formulating our standards, we must keep in mind that we will give an account to God for the choices that we make. Vs 5 tells us that we must be fully persuaded in our own minds. Your pastor, church, fellowship, or college cannot determine your standards for you. They must become your own.


The second side of the warning is that we are not to judge those who do not have the same standards that we have. To do so is to usurp the authority of God in their lives. To his own master he standeth or falleth (vs 4). This warning is given to the person who has the stricter standard. Part of the argument that Paul lays out is that the man who eats does so to the Lord and the person who does not eat does so to the Lord. The motivation behind their choices is with God’s glory in mind, but they come to different conclusions. The joke growing up was that students would leave Bob Jones university to go to Pensacola Christian college because at PCC girls were allowed to wear their skirts to the top of the knee instead of the bottom of the knee. If you were to evaluate both school’s positions, you would have to come away agreeing that they both wanted to have a standard that was pleasing to the Lord biblically. They just came to different conclusions on how to make that happen.


Principle of Acquiescence


There is a sense in which there will be times where we have to live under the standards of someone else. In life, you will always be under someone else’s authority. Each sphere of authority has its own influence over your life and sometimes the lines that are drawn by those different authorities might be different. Ultimately, you are responsible for determining your own convictions and standards while at the same time you may have to adopt the standards of someone else for a time. Heb 13:7 tells us to remember those who have the rule over us …whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. We must be careful not to reject or throw off the leadership, guidance and examples of faithful preachers who came before us. While under their leadership, we submit; when out from under their leadership we remember and follow considering the end of their conversation. What was the result of their lifestyle? Did it end well?


There is another side to this principle. We are to live in such a way that we are not a stumbling block for other believers. A stumbling block is something that causes you to trip up or in this case sin against your conscience. Vs 13-15 say Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. 14 I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. It is not loving to persist in doing something that will temp my brothers to sin and is it really that much more important to you to do what you want than your brother’s relationship with the Lord. The passage ends with a command not to destroy him for your liberty’s sake.


Since my wife and I got married, we struggled with the idea of going to movie theaters. Our reasoning was that the passage about avoiding all appearance of evil does not mean what people make it mean and we asked ourselves what is wrong with going to a good, clean movie. There are even Christian films like Fireproof that come out in the theaters. Ultimately, I was convicted of this not because I don’t think I could go to the movies, but because I work with young adults who struggle with placing good boundaries in their lives in the area of movies. We were moved to choose not to go to movies so that we would not lead people to sin in this area of their lives. Our desire was to not be a stumbling block to other believers. This was a personal decision, but I believe God has blessed us because of it.


The Kingdom Principle


In exalting our liberty or exalting our standards, sometimes we forget what Christianity is all about. At the end of this passage, we are command not to destroy the work of God for meat. This command clearly lays on the shoulders of the man who has liberty as the stronger brother. The intent here is that our liberty would not be used in such a way that it hurts the work of God in other believer’s lives. If these things will cause our brother to trip up, go into sin, or be weakened in their faith (vs 21) then we should avoid it.


The main principle that I want to bring out here is that the work of God is not about meats and drinks, but rather as vs 17 states, “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Ultimately, the focus of our Christian faith should not about the external fences that we build. Christianity is about righteousness: living right before the Lord, peace: being right with other people, and the joy that God gives us through the Holy Ghost working in us. The spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters is more important than manmade external standards. I have become convinced that standards should be the outcome of personal growth. When we foist standards onto people they conform on the outside but not the inside. True spiritual growth works from the inside out. So let's encourage and teach, but not demand external conformity.


Conclusion


The entire set of these articles on standards has been to encourage us not to abandon having standards, but to have them in the right perspective. We need to avoid the dangers that a dependence on standards can cause and know how to view differences in standards between believers.