by Rev. Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor
Whoever knew that food could be a source of church conflict?
That being said, I can think of a few lively impassioned conversations had about church potluck dinners with strong opinions about what the main courses should be, how much dessert to offer, whether there should be a vegan option and so on. Whether wine is served at a church function also comes to mind as quite contemporary.
So, all of a sudden the Corinthian situation does not seem so remote. I Corinthians 8:1 lays out the conflict at hand — “Now concerning food sacrificed to idols…”
What is happening here?
Certain persons in the Corinthian church did not worry about eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. They understood that there is only one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. Others were more bothered by eating meat sacrificed to idols so would refrain.
Paul’s words are to the former, essentially saying that it’s good that you know there is one God and that you don’t worry about it, but if you have brothers and sisters who are worried about it, then you should refrain.
One scholar of this chapter notes, “What knowledge allows as perfectly ethical, love forbids as sin, since it could destroy those for whom Christ died.” If it is a “stumbling block” to one, it should be refrained from by all.
Being part of the church together obligates us to each other. There are things we don’t understand about each other, things we flat out disagree with about each other. We might even believe that we “know” the truth.
The apostle Paul is building toward a climax in this letter, arguing that it is Christ-like love that ultimately keeps the church together. This love has high obligations and commitments to every member of the community — those we like, those we dislike; those with whom we agree, those with whom we disagree.
Churches certainly have to have a common understanding for what we understand to be true, what we will do and not do, and so forth. These are called covenants.
Paul would assume that the Corinthian church has already made covenant to be a church together. Therefore, they must work out disagreements based on not who is more enlightened but on their Christ-like love for one another.
This requires a posture of humility that is hard for most, especially in our modern landscape. In culture and church, we tend to draw out the battle lines very distinctly and the “true believers” on whatever side is occupied have very little tolerance for people who do not fit neatly into the box of either end of the political or theological spectrums.
What the apostle Paul is calling us toward is difficult. We would more naturally run toward easier answers and more monolithic communities. We at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church are aptly named. Holding the namesake of one who sought to strengthen the church through Christ-like love, it is my hope for St. Paul’s, the United Methodist Church, and any Christian community, that we can stand in that often unpopular place where — because of love — we stick together.