Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House: Romans 14:1; Should We Invite Unbelievers to Church?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 14, 2014

HF Potters House (2)

We come now to the first verse of chapter 14 in our Romans study. I want to begin by reminding us of a very important issue in regard to studying the Bible individually and understanding it. What I have found in the last few years is that most of what you need to understand the Bible is in the Bible itself. Yes, I am a big grammatical historical guy, and a study of history and culture is helpful in regard to Bible study, but the grammatical is most important. Just let the words say what they say. Take the words at face value.

Let me give you the prime example of that in my own life. I approached Romans with this principle: forget all of your presuppositions, and just let the words say what they say. I began to notice the use of the word “law” a lot in the book of Romans; the law of this, and the law of that, etc. What did Paul mean by the different references to law and was he speaking of the literal written law, or realms, or spiritual laws, or laws of nature?

Upon investigation, I discovered that the simple literal evaluation demanded these references to law to be a literal written law. In all cases, the word used was nomos while there are other Greek words for realm, a force of nature, etc. You don’t need to be a Greek scholar to determine that by any stretch of the imagination. This revelation has made the whole Bible fit together for me. Prior to that, presuppositions taught to me by others was an extreme hindrance to understanding the word of God.

Also, in our study of Romans, context is extremely important, so what is the context of Romans 14? Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles. His calling was the “mystery of the gospel.” What is that? Well, let’s see:

Ephesians 3:1 – For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The mystery of the gospel is God’s desire to bring Jew and Gentile together in one body to God’s glory. Think about what kind of power is displayed in a wisdom that brings two diverse cultures together in harmony? As we learned early on in our study, the Christians at Rome obviously understood the gospel of first order; i.e., the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul wanted to come to them and teach the full-orbed gospel or the full counsel of God to them face to face.

But, he was continually hindered in coming to them, so he decided to write them this treatise instead. Now, why did the Holy Spirit hinder him? It’s obvious; so that Christians in future generations would have this written treatise on the full orbed gospel. We also looked at Paul’s apology in the letter to the Christians at Rome for not being able to come. The Gentiles were deemed as second class citizens in the Judeo Assembly of Christ, and Paul feared that his tarrying in coming would feed this mentality. This is why the first chapters of Romans are a passionate body of doctrine that refutes it. However, by chapter 11, Paul senses that he has made his case very well, and warns the Gentiles against reverse discrimination.

Now listen, the verse we are addressing today may be what incited Paul to panic and the writing of this letter to the Romans. That’s right; we may find ourselves at the issue that sent him running for his quill. Apparently, the Romans had written Paul from time to time about certain issues, and the issue here is what to do about Jews coming into their fellowships. Because of their diversity in the recognition of dietary laws and laws concerning days, should they be allowed in their fellowships? This certainly panicked Paul because this is the crux of the what? Right, mystery of the gospel.

“But Paul, the verse says ‘weak in faith’ not ‘Jews.’” True, but Paul is referring to the Jews. Though the Jews have great advantage in being the overseers of God’s law and His chosen people, the transition from the Old Covenant to the New and its relationship to law has an inherent tendency towards weakness. Paul uses the nomenclature of “weak” in order to not label all Jews accordingly. Many Jews understood the proper relation of law to the New Covenant.

In fact, even though circumcision was no longer required under the New Covenant, Paul had Timothy circumcised in order to get an audience with Jews who still had the conviction that circumcision was required:

Acts 16:1 – Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

And what letter (“the decisions”) did they bring with them? The letter from the apostles in Jerusalem concerning the circumcision issue (Acts 15). I must say that Andy’s study in the book of Acts has helped me greatly in understanding what is going on in Romans 14 (see ttanc.com). The judgment of the Apostles was not to burden the Gentiles with being circumcised in order to get along with the weaker Jews, but did tell them to observe some Jewish dietary laws.

The weaker brother is to be “welcomed” and connects with Romans 15:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

Who are the “you” in this text? It is the Gentiles that Paul is writing to in the letter. Clearly, Paul addresses the wisdom needed for Gentiles to WELCOME the weaker Jewish brothers into the assemblies WITHOUT quarreling about issues of liberty in accordance to the law. At issue is the very mystery of the gospel. AND, without a doubt, the same principles apply to a myriad of other contrary convictions that can come between people.

Just this week I read an article about a church split over the recognition of Christmas. Yes, it’s true, Christmas was founded on a pagan holiday and we are never commanded in the Bible to recognize Christ’s birthday. But is this an issue of separation? Granted, Halloween is a pagan holiday. Granted, I am not sure that Christian children should dress up like the Devil and werewolves. Nevertheless, should that be an issue of separation resulting in Christians not being welcome?

This has major implications for the home fellowship movement. If we want to see God glorified in the mystery of the gospel, one of the things we can emphasize is unity. Wisdom will be key to seeing the results God wants. Let’s start with another basic principle that can be derived from this text. Those welcome should be believers. Home fellowships should indeed be for the express purpose of fellowship between saved people including those who have a weak view of law.

The assembly of believers is not a place for evangelism. All evangelism should take place outside of home fellowships. The gathering of believers for fellowship and edification is never advocated as a place for evangelism in the New Testament. Where did the idea of invite people to church to get them saved come from? Where did the idea of church “revivals” and alter calls come from? It all came from the advent of the 4th century institutional church and the idea that salvation comes through church membership.

This approach has brought many difficulties into the institutional church. Many church leaders bemoan the fact that unsaved people populate the church in large numbers, but what does one expect when inviting lost people to church has been one of its institutional mandates for more than 500 years? I think the mindset that the assembling of believers together for encouragement and edification is exclusive would make a huge difference in Christianity in and of itself. This approach also removes a lot of, “What if…?” scenarios. When you start trying to apply matters of liberty in a group setting where the born again and unregenerate are meeting together—what you have is a mess!

Look at verses 2 and 3:

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.

Stop right there. Have you ever thought of who God welcomes as a standard for fellowship? The context of what Paul is writing about is Christian fellowships. The question posed to Paul previously was who should be welcome or not welcome. The standard is whoever God welcomes. Do you know what this tells me? God sees Christian fellowship as sacred and very important, and anybody and everybody is not necessarily welcome. This answers a lot of “What if…?” situations, no?

This speaks to a public purpose building in which anything but the kitchen sink can come walking in. It would seem that one of the primary purposes of a Christian assembly is unity along with encouragement and edification. The purpose of unity is at a distinct disadvantage with unbelievers present and defies the primary purpose of Christian assemblies.

This puts the rightful burden of evangelism on the individual Christian. This also necessitates the equipping for evangelism in the assemblies. The focus becomes what individual Christians do outside of Christian fellowship, not bringing people to church to get them saved by an expert evangelist. The focus of assemblies is strengthening and equipping each other for the work of the ministry.

That’s verse 1, next week we will further develop Paul’s prescription for unity in the assemblies regardless of varying convictions.

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16 Responses

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  1. Carmen said, on December 15, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    The use of ‘hupo nomon’ ( under Law) in the New Testament is always a covenantal designation that refers to Israel’s relation to God under the Mosaic Covenant.

    “Not under Law but under grace” is not an existential distinction that reflects the situation of an individual but rather a historical distinction that reflects the cataclysmic change that occurred through the redemptive work of Christ.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 15, 2014 at 9:16 PM

      Carmen,
      Really? You believe that nonsense because some mystic with a degree in orthodoxy says so? And Carmen, if you believe that, you believe a false gospel. It’s the difference between enslavement to sin and enslavement to righteousness. The rest of chapter 6 qualifies exactly what Paul is talking about.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 15, 2014 at 9:34 PM

      Moreover, those under grace were previously “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and STRANGERS to the covenants of promise” (PLURAL) Eph 2:12. So, you are saying that the Gentiles are no longer under the the Jewish Covenants because they are no longer under law? And there were no PROMISES in the Mosaic Covenant? Please Carmen, stop listening to silly men and their traditions.

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  2. Carmen said, on December 15, 2014 at 9:26 PM

    Paul,
    You are saying you have the authority to declare that I believe a false gospel, and thus am not a believer? It’s a satanic false gospel, at that. I feel like I am back visiting Baptist churches where Bible study amounted to “what does this verse mean to me”?

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 15, 2014 at 9:44 PM

      Carmen,
      Are you on something? I said, “IF you believe that.” What I believe is based on independent study made possible by Susan’s support for 5 years, and you come here challenging me with stuff you get from other people. “Authority”????? I didn’t ask you to come here!!!! But just in case you missed it, behold how ridiculous your orthodox regurgitation is: those under grace were previously “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and STRANGERS to the covenants of promise” (PLURAL) Eph 2:12. So, you are saying that the Gentiles are no longer under the the Jewish Covenants because they are no longer under law? And there were no PROMISES in the Mosaic Covenant? Please Carmen, stop listening to silly men and their traditions.

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  3. Carmen said, on December 15, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Hmmm….Paul, you could repeat all the things you have previously written, or you could answer my question and tell me why you have the authority to declare what I believe is a satanic false gospel, and thus I would be not be a Christian.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 15, 2014 at 9:50 PM

      Carmen,
      Sorry Carmen, I reject the premise of the question which assumes empirical observation equals a claim of authority. Just because I am a man does not automatically mean that I am dumb enough to fall for your manipulation.

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  4. Carmen said, on December 15, 2014 at 10:01 PM

    And just because I am a woman does not mean I am trying to manipulate a man 🙂

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 15, 2014 at 10:06 PM

      In addition, think about your regurgitation in light of EPH 6:1-3 if “Under law” pertains solely to the Jews and the Mosaic Covenant. What’s Paul doing stating that said promises are to Gentiles?

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  5. Carmen said, on December 15, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    Paul sites the fifth commandment of the Decalogue to support his exhortation to children to obey their parents. He quotes from Exodus 20:12, but after citing these opening words, adds that this is the first commandment in the law that has a promise attached.

    The prominent position in the Decalogue of the command to honor one’s parents and the importance of it elsewhere in the O.T. show that true obedience arises out of and reflects one’s relationship with Yahweh.The exhortation to honor one’s parents is a broad one and is parallelled by the expression to ‘fear’ one’s mother and father, a verb that is often reserved for the right response to God. According to the O.T., honoring your parents meant obeying them, while to dishonor them was disobedience.

    Significantly, in the context of Ephesians children’s obedience to parents is part of their Christian commitment ‘in the Lord’. It is an example of submission that arises out of a godly FEAR of Christ ( 5:21), and this submission is a distinguishing mark of those who are filled by God’s Spirit ( 5:18).

    The commandment to honor one’s parents appears on five other occasions in the N.T., but only here in Ephesians 6 is the attached promise also cited. In the original context of Exodus 20, the promise given to obedient children referred to a long and good life in the land ( of Israel) which God had given to his people. Significantly, when Paul ‘reapplies’ the commandment to his Christian readers, he omits any reference to the land of Israel and ‘universalizes’ the promise: ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’.

    For the Christian son or daughter the promise attached to this commandment, which is transformed as it is taken up into ‘the law of Christ’, is no longer limited geographically.

    I hope that answers your question. There is a difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 16, 2014 at 7:20 AM

      Carmen,

      Again, that’s New Covenant Theology which was never around until 1981. Jon Zens went to Robert Brinsmead and warned him that the Reformed take on law/gospel was bad theological math. NCT was an attempt to, a lame one, to cover for Calvinism. The OC was a temporary covering for sin until Christ came–it serves that purpose for believers as well in the here and now. “ALL” Scripture is “profitable” for…. Why? Because their are still principles apart from practice. If the NC abrogated the OC, EVERYBODY is going to heaven because there is no law to judge them. The law of Christ does not condemn, and the OC is gone, so you do the math. But at any rate, once again, you come here regurgitating the traditions of men. Why? Because Jon Zens is the darling of the evangelical feminist movement?

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  6. Carmen said, on December 16, 2014 at 9:48 AM

    Paul,

    This was written by an “Old Calvinist”.

    “Because Jon Zens is the darling of the evangelical feminist movement”. It does appear you have accused me of being a feminist because I have attempted to “manipulate” a man.

    Paul, it doesn’t matter what anyone writes to “challenge” you, your response will be the same: It’s NCT. It’s mystic. It’s gnostic. It’s a satanic false gospel.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 16, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      Carmen,

      Again, New Calvinism and Old Calvinism are the same thing. So, your I gotcha is a nonstarter. Carmen, friends/associates of this ministry challenge me all the time and I do not call them the canned response that you have accused me of. For a time, Pearl and Andy had serious disagreements with me on major issues. John Immel and I have significant disagreements on certain issues, as well as Argo. Why do we continue to work together? Because our discussion is based on maturity and intellectual honesty. In our discussions, we do not have to wade through any metaphysical 2-stepping like making grammatical observation tantamount to authoritative dictate. We all know where we stand on the sliding scale of reason versus paradox. We know the historical foundations that form our discussion, and we respect each other and our journeys. I do not respect you, I think you are immature and intellectually dishonest, and you have worn out your welcome here.

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  7. lydia said, on December 16, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    “Not under Law but under grace” is not an existential distinction that reflects the situation of an individual but rather a historical distinction that reflects the cataclysmic change that occurred through the redemptive work of Christ.”

    What “cataclysmic change”? Are you referring to what Christ did? Or are you referring to a change in people? No they can sin all they want because they are under “grace” not law?

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  8. lydia said, on December 16, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    was there any “grace” in the Old Testament?

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  9. paulspassingthoughts said, on December 17, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    Pondering,

    Ugh, it’s all so obvious now. What were we thinking? Invite unbelievers to fellowship with believers in order to get them saved…that’s just a really stupid idea. I have been saved since 83, a pastor since 86, and was always considered to be more knowledgeable and studied than the average Christian wherever I went. But in reality, I was utterly clueless. Really, the only things I know that have any relevance at all were learned after I left the institutional church. But, back to your point: yep, under my watch some years ago, a young girl was molested on a missions trip by an unbeliever who went with the group. God help us. Lord please, do a mighty work in home fellowships populated with your priests–priests that are the citizens of your holy nation.

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