October 8, 2017

Why the Carpet Doesn't Matter

I am firmly convinced that most conflicts which arise in a church can best be settled by the authority of the Bible. The problem is, sometimes the Bible doesn’t tell us how to handle specific situations. For example: at what temperature should the thermostat be set? At what time should services begin? How long should services last? What color should the carpet be? What kind of music should we sing? Should we have a Wednesday night service, or just Sundays? And most importantly, for Baptists, when do we eat?

Well, the answer to that last one is actually another question: when DON’T we Baptists eat?? But I digress.

The point is, sometimes the Bible gives very specific instructions that really only apply (literally at least) to certain people at a certain time. Joshua’s instructions to topple the walls of Jericho by marching around the city while blowing trumpets and shouting would be such an instance. But other passages in the Bible establish general principles that should be kept in mind during a great many different possible scenarios, with Romans chapter 14 being a prime example.

While the subjects literally mentioned in this passage are 1) whether one should eat meat or only vegetables, and 2) which holidays and festivals should one observe, the principles established in Romans 14 can be applied to many different areas of conflict in a church. Of particular importance are decisions which are really just a matter of personal opinions, styles, or preferences – such as the color of the carpet.

Churches have indeed been split because folks couldn’t agree on the carpet. Or… have they?

Romans 14 indicates that it is not so much the particular issue at hand which is the problem, but rather whether or not our response to the conflict reflects “walking in love.” In all honesty, no church has ever split “really” because of the color of the carpet. The real reasons for such conflicts leading to church splits is that when disagreements come, some church members may feel as though their voices are not being heard – that they have been left out, ignored, or ostracized. And it’s not about whether or not we intended to hurt those individuals (that should never be the motive of any Christian), but rather how we react when the problem has been revealed.

Do we show love? Do we show a willingness to reach a compromise? Do we honestly consider the “other” point of view? Do we try to find a solution that will accommodate everyone?

I’m going to quote some verses from Romans 14, with one slight edit. I am going to remove all the references to eating and drinking or holiday observances and replace them with *X*. Wherever *X* appears, you should feel free to substitute your area of conflict.

From Romans, Chapter 14…

13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block (or a cause to fall) in our brother’s way.

14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 

15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of *X*, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with *X* the one for whom Christ died. 

16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 

17 for the kingdom of God is not *X*, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 

18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.

19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 

20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of *X*. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who [is offended by] *X*. 

21 It is good neither to *X* nor *X* nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.

22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 

23 But he who doubts is condemned if he *X*, because he does not *X* from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

One final note: while it is vital for those who have done something which others might find offensive to examine themselves and their actions under the microscope of love, the same is true of those who feel offended. Conflict resolution is always a two-way street. It is always uncomfortable. It is always difficult. It always takes hard work and a willingness to ride out the rough spots until the road becomes smooth once again.

In disputes which are not clear-cut matters of sin under God’s law (the Old Testament law), there is often NO right or wrong – merely differences of opinion. Does it really matter what color the carpet is? The only path open to resolve conflicts of this nature includes a willingness to give the other side the benefit of the doubt, and to assume that they just might have a good point.

And indeed, all sides must be willing to do so.

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