Among Christians there are many beliefs, some of which have no basis in the bible, some that are a little strange to some people and some that seem unbelievable but are in fact based in the truth.
Some beliefs are quite harmless in the total scheme of things regarding the truth of Christianity while others are quite destructive. We need to understand the latter, and avoid them, but the former beliefs that some people hold are not of great consequence, unless or until those beliefs overwhelm the person and become more important than the truth of Jesus Christ.
Paul quotes two good examples in this section of the scripture where he speaks of those who believe they should not eat certain foods or meats, or those who believe that certain days are more important than others. Neither of these beliefs is critical to salvation for both are based in works and salvation is by faith alone.
Here is what this scripture says.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – (Romans 14:5-9)
From what Paul is expressing here, it is evident that it does not matter that people hold these odd beliefs. What is important is that whatever they believe, they do to honour the Lord.
Consider what the bible says about eating certain foods as being an act of religious piety. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth saying,
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. – (1 Corinthians 8:8)
Clearly the taking of or abstinence from certain foods is not of any importance. What we do or don't eat will not make us a better Christian nor a worse one. Food is irrelevant to salvation because food is physical but the truth of salvation and all that goes with it are matters of the Spirit for God IS Spirit.
But still there are many Christians who do believe you should eat certain foods at certain times and abstain from others at other times. Roman Catholics believed for many years that you must not eat meat on Friday and many other Christians still believe you should only eat fish on Good Friday. However there is no basis for these beliefs anywhere in the New Testament.
Adventists promote a vegetarian diet based upon the various food laws written in the Old Testament. They do not promote the eating of meat at all, and yet the food laws in the Old Testament do include laws permitting the consumption of meat. There are clean meats under the law, which are defined as animals that both chew the cud and part the hoof, plus any fish from the sea that has both fins and scales. In fact the food laws also indicate it is OK to eat certain insects such as locusts and certain grasshoppers. In fact eating meat (lamb) at the Passover was a critical part of worship under the old covenant.
Again, many of the Catholic, Orthodox & denominational churches, along with a lot of independent churches uphold the season of Lent leading up to the annual Easter celebrations. But once again there is no mention of Lent in the bible or the practices of fasting or giving up something in the forty days leading up to Easter.
There are many other beliefs held by churches and individuals that are similarly either not based in scripture or have come into being on the basis of tradition and in some cases the twisting of scripture.
Why Do People Hold These Beliefs?
Many people hold these beliefs simply because they don't know any better. They have been taught these things as traditions from the church they attend and have accepted them without checking whether these beliefs are based in truth or are simply traditions of men.
We are encouraged by the Lord and all of the New Testament writers to study and learn the truth. God in His infinite wisdom has provided the Holy Spirit to those who seek the truth as teacher and counsellor to open the eyes of His people.
It is the will of God and His desire that all people come to the full knowledge of the truth and the gifts He has given, which include the Holy Spirit and all of the ministries to the church, are targeted directly at doing that. Look at what He says through Paul to the church in Ephesus.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. – (Ephesians 4:11-14)
It is when people do NOT use the gifts of God and listen to the truth and receive the in-dwelling Holy Spirit to teach and guide them that they follow strange and diverse teachings.
Furthermore, people are looking for something that will make them feel more religious or look more religious and thus they seek after teachings that will meet their own ends rather than the ends that God seeks. Sometimes these are dangerous and false teachings, and we know from Paul's letter to Timothy.
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. – (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
But other teachings that are held, including some mentioned above, are not dangerous and do not lead to people turning from the truth and wandering off into myths.
Does It Matter?
The adherence to food laws as described above and holding certain days as being somehow more important than others does not matter significantly in most cases.
The exception is where those things become the basis of worship and stand between the believer and God. Then they become a problem. When, for example, the believer sees it is more important to, let's say abstain from certain foods and that becomes the focus of their worship, then it is a problem. When someone does something like this they are in effect being idolatrous.
Idolatry is having some other “god” in the place of the one true God and Jesus Christ. When a person worships a certain day or the need to eat or abstain from a form of acceptable food, then they are not worshiping God but are worshiping their own desires.
Look at it like this, which is how Jesus explained this issue to the Pharisees of His time.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! – (Matthew 23:23-24)
Jesus saw that the Pharisees had based their forms of worship on works, in this example, tithing. They tithed to the extreme so that even the herbs that grew in their windowsill herb garden was tithed.
But…they did not do the things that were important, which was to show the love of God through justice, mercy, compassion and faith to those around them. Thus they failed and proved themselves hypocrites.
Again Jesus showed the falseness of the Pharisees for their observance of traditions and how they twisted traditions to suit themselves, and effectively negated the words of God. As Christians we too have certain traditions, but those that are based in the truth must be followed according to the truth and not twisted as the Pharisees twisted their traditions. Look at what Jesus says,
5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands? 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' 11 But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”' (that is, given to God)- 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” – (Mark 7:5-13)
Traditions are OK, but not when holding the tradition opposes the truth, or establishes an idolatrous form of worship or twists the truth in some way. If such things are possible, scrap the tradition.
However, we know not everyone understands these things and many do and will continue to hold to beliefs that are not quite right. So what should you do about it?
First and foremost, do NOT attack them over their beliefs. It serves no purpose and will alienate that person for whom Christ died just as He did for you.
If you alienate them, how can you show them the truth of the matter? If they are believing something that is not in full accord with the truth, how can you help them come to a knowledge of the truth if you stand opposed to them?
Even though they may not know what you know, they are still your brothers or sisters in the Lord for they are walking to the same destination you are. They may not yet be as far along the journey as you are and so have things to learn. They may also need time to learn things that are more important at this time than to worry about issues that are relatively minor such as foods that can be eaten or days that should be observed or whatever.
Do not for the sake of food destroy the work of God or the opportunity to help a brother or sister find another grain of truth.
Most of these things do not matter unless they become the focus of worship, as Paul discovered in the Galatians church where he said,
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. – (Galatians 4:8-11)
In their case the worship of days, months, seasons and years became the focus of their worship, which is idolatrous and works based, rather than the worship of God in truth and in the faith we have in Jesus Christ. And we see Paul's heartfelt chagrin and pain as he says, “I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.”
Let us not feel the same. And let us not destroy the work of God but rather be convinced concerning the truth and our faith in what Jesus taught. Let us find the truth and walk in it, always seeking to understand and be understood, helping our brothers and sisters as we hold fast the faith that will take us into God's kingdom.
What is important is that we share the love of God with our brethren, supporting each other as we walk with Christ towards the kingdom of God. And in matters that really are of little importance we do not judge each other but recognize and ensure that whatever we do and they do, we all do it in honour of the Lord.
(Image sourced from freeimages.com provided by Craig Parylo)
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