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This is part of a series of posts based on the Churches Together in England publication one light: one world. If you click on the link you will find the biblical texts. This post of the same name covers the purpose of this series.
Romans 15: 1 - 2
This passage follows on from Romans 14, dealt with in an earlier post in this series. There I drew parallels between the 'strong' and so-called liberal traditions and the 'weak' and fundamentalist Christians. I made the point this parallel seems counter-intuitive because we tend to see certainty as strong and doubt as weak.
I suppose those who doubt are strong because they hold to faith in spite of their doubts. For the weak, their faith is to some degree contingent because they believe it depends upon on their belief in propositions, some of which are threatened.
So, Paul is saying the strong, amongst whom he includes himself, have to put up with the failings of the weak. We have to put up with their poor theology and intolerance, even though we find it painful. Our aim should not be to please ourselves because the weak need to be built up.
I suppose, loss of faith can be devastating to a weak Christian. But it is at times of crisis we all find ourselves at a crossroads between despair or moving on to a deeper understanding of God. Therefore, a crisis always needs careful handling by other Christians, rather than mockery!
I can't say I'm thrilled by what Paul is saying here but the logic is hard to fault.
As far as Protestants are concerned there is possibly no greater division between Christians than those between fundamentalists and the rest of the churches. Paul's message in these chapters in Romans may well be helpful but I'm not sure they resolve the issue entirely. I have to ask myself whether some of the excesses of fundamentalist Christianity are in fact Christian. Beliefs in the rapture, the role of Israel, the acceptance of religious violence and creationism are so far outside of mainstream Christian theology they might invalidate any desire for unity. Whilst the advice to put up with the failings of the weak might be sound, we still face real issues about the limits of what it is to be Christian.