I recently preached on Christian unity from Romans 14, and one phrase in verse 5 has stuck with me as incredibly relevant in this cultural moment of Covid-19, tensions over racism, and broader political divisions: “Each one should be fully convinced I his own mind.”
If you are familiar with the Apostle Paul, in some sense he would seem like the last person to make this statement. This is the Paul who insists on sound doctrine, calling those who teach a different doctrine “puffed up with conceit and understand(ing) nothing” (1 Tim. 6:4). This is the Paul who commands the church to disassociate with someone unrepentant in regards to some sins (like the man sleeping with his step-mother in 1 Cor. 5). If we were to list the things Paul is most passionate about, right doctrine and holy living in the church would certainly be near the top.
And yet, this same Paul has a category of beliefs and behaviors where his position is, “Each one should be fully convinced I his own mind.” Instead of being focused on “quarrel(ling) over opinions” (14:1), we are to “welcome one another as Christ as welcomed (us), for the glory of God” (15:7). And if you stop and consider how Christ has welcomed us—in love, joy, patience, long suffering, forgiveness, sacrifice—this is quite convicting!
In other words, when it comes to some (I would say many) matters of Christian belief and practice, how we treat one another is more important than agreement on who is right (even if one is actually right).
This is not simply brushing over every issue of disagreement. This is not simply about finding a lowest common denominator faith that we can agree on (there are in fact many things we must agree on for Christian unity). And this does not exclude the value of discussing disagreements in light of Scripture.
But this is about a) trusting God’s Spirit to guide our fellow believers in matters of conscience, and not attempting to bind their conscience to ours (which Paul is clear is always wrong), and b) humbly acknowledging our own propensity towards sin, deception, and pride; i.e. that there is a chance, however slim, that we could be wrong about an issue.
Now, this is certainly the classic “ditch on two sides” matter. While we may neglect Christian unity and love by making every issue a litmus test for orthodoxy, we may also go the other way and so minimize important matters of doctrine that Christian unity no longer means anything significant. Both cause serious harm to the church.
But my concern right now is the overwhelming temptation to care more about quarrelling over opinions than welcoming one another, the temptation to ignore the biblical doctrine of the conscience, and the biblical category of matters of conscience.
Of all the issues, causes, doctrines, and positions we care about, may Christian unity be among the ones we are most passionate about.