Last week I was pleasantly surprised to see that a letter of mine to your Faith and Values section was published. It was the first part of a series of letters which link together to unify the Christian world. I am enclosing the second installment at this time, and leave it to your judgment, naturally, to determine its fitness for publication. In an effort to sway your judgment toward publication, let me say that this letter is an reincarnation, if you will, of the 14th Chapter of Pauls letter to the Romans, and brought up to date to include the homosexual question, but without mentioning that subject directly.
The first church, the one nearest in time and orientation to Jesus, was the Church of Jerusalem, and it was entirely Jewish and also communist. Paul, the recognized apostle to the Gentiles had begun to establish churches in other cities and included Gentiles in these churches.
In this 14th chapter Paul seeks to teach the Gentile Christians how to deal with the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem and elsewhere. The Jewish Christians had already determined (per Acts 15) that the Gentile Christians were not to be subject to Jewish laws (even though they were admonished not to offend the Jews anywhere--the Jerusalem Christians planned to convert these Jews to the new way). This was the first doctrinal decision to be made by the new church independently of the earthly tutelage of the Lord himself.
In Chapter 13 of Romans Paul expands the logic of the Council to encompass even Roman civil law. He asserts that the Gentile Christian in particular is not subject to civil law, but rather does what he does for the sake of conscience. In a word: the reason the Gentile Christian obeys the governor is not because he is the governor but rather because what he commands is right and wholesome. And so the Gentile Christian is freed from Jewish law and from civil law.
Later in his own writings to these Gentiles we find Paul constantly telling them to do this, that and the other. It seems that the notion of lawless could easily go to ones head. He even became quite specific, and it is not difficult to read him to say that the homosexual act were sinful. But the lesson we learn from him in his thinking as expressed in what you might call the theoretical or doctrinal aspects is this: you can do anything you want to; but with the underlying assumption being, of course, that you truly want to walk in the way of Christ.*
[* Augustine, called saint by the Christian community, expressed it slightly differently, namely: love God and do what you want to.]
In brief then: the Gentile Christian was subject neither to Jewish law, nor to Roman law, and yet he was not lawless, for he trod in the way of the Master. And yet there is a problem, for he must also get along with the Jewish Christian who had a host of rules and regulations to be complied with.
This letter that I am submitting to you now brings this point up to date to assert 1. that the Gentile Christians (implicitly referred to in Romans 14 as the strong in faith) are not subject to any law made by church or man, and thus including also Paul, whose protegees we ourselves are, and 2. these Gentile Christians are to be sensitive to the Jewish Christian with their additional rules and consequently additional worries. Therefore the logic of this ancient work of Paul for getting along with people of the faith but who think differently, becomes the solution to the present day division of the Christian world, and how the weak in faith or Jewish wing and the strong in faith or Gentile wing, each with its own orientation and conception, can nonetheless get along in one church (denomination), even if not in one assembly.
My letter now follows:
I am a Christian who is "strong in faith", i.e., I depend upon Christ alone and accept no law apart the Golden Rule. I recognize that there are Christians here and there who are "weak in faith," who also depend upon Christ, but not upon him alone; for in addition to wanting sincerely to conform to the Golden Rule in imitation of Christ, these beloved bothers and sisters also think it necessary to undertake certain, otherwise arbitrary actions in order to be pleasing to God. I accept them on this basis: equal brothers and sisters in and through the love of Christ, and who are somewhat fearful of acting in one of these forbidden ways; and I will endeavor to withhold from the eyes of all persons, and especially from those of the weak in faith, that which is offensive to them. If they are offended by long hair on men, I will try to hide my long hair when in their presence. I will certainly not seek to entice anyone to do anything that violates his or her conscience, for what is done apart from faith is sin. Instead I will earnestly strive to promote peace, justice and love in all conditions, and trust entirely in God for His providence in the life of the Community of the Way.
It is my prayer that my brothers and sisters who are weak in faith will not impede my approach to the common table of the Lord, for we all seek a sinless life, and each of us shall stand before the Master, for he is able to make us stand, each and everyone.