Change is a major characteristic of our modern world. For example, technological developments, increased mobility and multiculturalism all impact on our way of life. How then, should believers respond, both individually and collectively, to change and diversity in their communities?
Two New Testament truths seem relevant here, namely: acceptance, not favoritism; and principles, not regulations.
It is important that we practice New Testament attitudes and behaviors, and not those more appropriate to Old Testament times.
Acceptance – not favoritism
God’s favored people in the Old Testament, the children of Israel, were of one nationality. They were given special promises (Gen. 12:2-3; 17:7-8), the sign of circumcision, and detailed rules and regulations for their customs and culture. (See Exodus to Deuteronomy). Other nations were despised as they had detestable customs (Lev. 18:30).
But in Christ, God’s favor and loving concern now extends to all humanity (Jn. 3:16-17), as His salvation is for all people and nations across the world (Mt. 28:19; Acts 1:8).
The New Testament principle is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts people who follow Him from every nation (Acts 10:34-35). All believers are now accepted and favored by God, regardless of their nationality, customs, culture, status in society, or gender (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). Clearly, God does not discriminate among believers. In fact, we are told to accept one another just as Christ accepted us (Rom. 15:7), and that it is a sin to show favoritism (Jas. 2:9). Similarly, we are urged to do good to all people, especially all believers (Gal. 6:10).
The only people we should not accept are those who claim to be believers but who are immoral, greedy, who cheat, slander others, get drunk, worship idols (1 Cor. 5:9-13), cause divisions (Rom. 16:17-18; Ti. 3:10-11), or do not bring the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9-11).
Principles – not regulations
The Bible contains many important principles for humanity from the time of Adam and Eve up until today.
The Old Testament also contains detailed regulations and procedures on how many of these principles were to be practiced by the Jews of that period. This even included the design of their building and furniture to be used for worship (Ex. 25-27, 35-38; 2 Chr. 3-4). These were for a particular time in the history of the Jewish nation.
But Christ freed us from slavishly following the Old Testament law and its regulations (Gal. 5:1; Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14; Heb. 9:10). So detailed regulations are absent from the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is left free to apply biblical principles among the diverse nations, customs and cultures across the earth since the times of the early Church described in Acts. This means that local practices and methods may vary in different communities according to their
way of life and particular needs.
A changing world
The greatest change that faced the early Church was when Christianity extended to the Gentiles (Acts 10, 11, 15). Prior to this time, the believers were mainly Jews and converts to Judaism (Acts2:11, 22; 6:1). Cornelius’ conversion represented a significant step in the separation of the early Church from Judaism. The divine principle of acceptance– not favoritism was given to Peter at this time. Evangelism among the Gentiles was pioneered by men from Cyprus and Cyrene (Acts 11:20), encouraged by Barnabas (Acts 11:23) and was Paul’s mission (Acts 9:15).
Different people can react differently to change in their circumstances and environment. When conflict arose among believers because of this change it was resolved after discussion by the elders. Peter claimed that God does not discriminate among believers, but accepts all by giving them the same Holy Spirit. Consequently, unnecessary requirements should not be imposed on fellow believers (Acts 15:8-11). He had profited from Paul’s rebuke of his pride and hypocrisy in forcing Gentiles to follow Jewish customs, and then separating from them (Gal. 2:11-21). James agreed with Peter: they should not insist that Gentile believers obey Jewish regulations (Acts 15:19).
Likewise, we should not make it difficult for people in our community who are turning to God by placing unnecessary and non-biblical requirements on them.
A multicultural world
Many of us live in multicultural communities where there is a diversity of customs and lifestyles. The Bible recognizes and allows for diversity among believers in the nonessential aspects of the Christian faith.
Such issues faced by the early church concerned food and drink and whether one day was more sacred than another (Col. 2:16).
Paul commanded that we accept one another, as Christ has accepted us (Rom. 15:7) by respecting the other’s viewpoint and their conscience (Rom. 14:1-15:7; 1 Cor. 8; 1 Cor. 10:23-33). This means not criticizing and not stumbling another, particularly a weaker believer, but acting in love towards them. We will give an account of our conduct to God (Rom. 14:12). Remember, how we treat each other is how we are treating the Lord (Mt. 25:40,45).
Consideration of others, rather than selfishness, is given as the key to unity among Christians, with Christ the greatest example (Rom. 15:1-7). He always acted to please His Father (Jn. 8:29).
This principle also applies to our attitudes and behavior towards non-Christians. Paul went out of his way to identify with all kinds of people, by serving them rather than imposing on them in order to effectively communicate the gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-23; 10:33).
We also should be aware of local customs and respect those that are not evil (1 Th. 5:21-22).
Let’s understand our times (like the men of Issachar in 1 Chr. 12:32) and follow the examples of Christ, Peter, Paul and James in our changeable and diverse world by:
- Accepting and welcoming other believers and non-believers.
- Encouraging each generation, nationality and community to express the Christian faith within their culture.
- Assessing the appropriateness of our customs and practices. Some may hinder the communication of the gospel or the building of relationships among believers.
Summary of attitudes to others
(from Romans 14:1-15:7 and Acts 10, 11 and 15)
|Divine Nature||Sinful Nature|
|Accepts, welcomes, encourages||Criticizes, discriminates|
|Pleases and builds up||Selfishly dominates and controls|
|Allows diversity||Imposes uniformity|
|Is humble, confesses, forgives||Is proud|
|Is loving, patient, tolerant||Causes to stumble or fall into sin|
|Presents Christian liberty||Loads with unnecessary rules|
Published, May 1995