Romans 14 is primarily about how Christians should handle differences over “disputable matters” (v. 1, NIV 1984). In this chapter, the apostle Paul writes about issues that were important to the church of the first century A.D., such as dietary questions and observance of special days, such as the Sabbath. Paul urged the believers to put their brothers and sisters in Christ ahead of themselves, and to neither judge nor despise those who disagreed with their convictions.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 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. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (vv. 1-4 ESV)
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (vv. 10-12 ESV, emphasis added)
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (v. 19 ESV)
Paul was writing about ethical matters, but I think we can extend this in our day to secondary theological matters, such as the details of our doctrine of creation, such as the age of the Earth. Some might argue that the age of the Earth is a primary matter; all I can say is that I do not agree. My acceptance of an old Earth does not compromise the integrity of Scriptures nor any essential doctrines (see, for instance, my Creation Creed).
In Romans 14, Paul doesn’t tell anyone to change their views on their dearly held positions. He does tell them to accept one another. As for me, I will voice my convictions, but I will seek earnestly to do this in a way that promotes Christian unity and neither judges nor shows contempt for those who disagree with me.
With love for all believers
2 thoughts on “Romans 14:10-12 and the age of the Earth”
Well, said, Geo.
In my opinion secondary issues only become a bone of contention because someone is pushing them unnecessarily. If we were concerned for the central and all important teachings of Christ, we would not be flagging them up.
In a local Christian publication it was reported that God was chastening the church in the UK because we weren’t supporting Israel. I wrote in to say that I don’t think the state of Israel is a priority and we should be allowed to come to our own beliefs about such a complicated issue. I was then very enthusiastically attacked for what I had said by fellow Christians and the church I attend was brought into it. As it happens I believe we should pray for and support Israel, but I am aware of injustices meted out to muslims and Christians by the Israeli forces which complicate things. What upset me was that I was commenting on the right to evaluate issues, not the issue itself.
Keep it up, old chap!
Problems arise when Christians disagree on what is of primary importance and what is of secondary. It seems that all too often, the Christian who views an issue as being of primary importance is rude and condescending towards the Christian who disagrees with him. I can understand being zealous for the truth, but how does one honor the importance of truth and still maintain godly character?
What does the Bible say about dealing with those who call themselves Christian but who disagree on primary matters? Here are a few thoughts that come to mind off the top of my head (with a little concordance help).
1) Make sure it is a primary matter. The more I study scripture, the smaller my circle of “absolutely necessary” things becomes.
2) Trust God to set them straight in His time. (Phil. 3:15)
3) Pray for the one with whom you disagree, that they would “live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way.” (Col 1:10) The context is not really doctrinal, but it is related to item #2.
4) Jesus was harsh with the religious leaders of His day because of their pride and self-righteousness. I don’t think that applies to someone who humbly holds his position.
5) Paul warns the Corinthians not to associate with anyone who “calls himself a brother” but is involved in open, blatant sin. (I Cor. 5:11) Does disagreement with doctrinal issues count as blatant sin and require such treatment?
6) Christians are warned against following after false prophets and teachers. This fits more with doctrinal areas.