Is Your Personal Opinion Paramount?
“NEW Church Split Over Gay Priests,” said the headline. The news report went on to expose deep divisions in the Church of England over the question of homosexual priests.
“There is a place in the church for homosexuals,” claimed the minister in charge of recruiting church clergy. In his view, a homosexual who is ‘honest and responsible’ in his relationship with another man has a right to be ordained.
“Practising homosexual clergy are sinful and must resign” was the opposing belief of a church rector. He felt that clergymen should be exemplary in all their moral behavior.—The Sunday Times, London, November 8, 1987.
No doubt each of these men was convinced that his opinion was right. But should personal opinion be the final authority in matters of vital concern? Perhaps you will say yes, maintaining that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion.”
Yet, consider these two inspired comments in the Bible: “So, then, let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.” “Now I exhort you, brothers, . . . that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind.”—Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 1:10.
So, what if you, as a Christian, found it difficult to agree with the Christian congregation on some important matter? How would you deal with that so that the vital peace and unity of the congregation could be maintained?—Matthew 5:9; 1 Peter 3:11.
Consider a situation that developed in the first-century Christian congregation when some viewed their personal opinion as paramount. See what this eventually led to and ask yourself: ‘What would I have done if I had been there?’
Questions Over Circumcision
In 36 C.E. uncircumcised Gentiles were first accepted into the Christian congregation. Though God had prepared the apostle Peter for this dramatic event, Peter and those with him were amazed to see holy spirit poured out on uncircumcised people. (Acts 10:1-16, 34-48) Many other Jewish Christians found this hard to take. In fact, some Jewish Christians, “supporters of circumcision,” criticized Peter for associating with uncircumcised people.—Acts 11:2, 3.
Why were these critics disturbed? Because for almost 2,000 years, circumcision had been a sign of a special relationship with God. When Jehovah God commanded Abraham to have all the males in his household circumcised, He said: “It must serve as a sign of the covenant between me and you . . . to time indefinite.” (Genesis 17:10-13) Many centuries later, circumcision was still very important to the Jews. Many of them felt that uncircumcision meant uncleanness. (Isaiah 52:1) They felt that God’s holy people should have no dealings with unclean, uncircumcised Gentiles.
In 49 C.E. the apostle Paul was confronted in Syrian Antioch by some of these “supporters of circumcision.” At the end of his first missionary trip, he reported to the congregation there how God “had opened to the [uncircumcised] nations the door to faith.” It seemed clear to him that there was no need for these people of the nations to be circumcised. Certain men from Judea, however, had a different opinion. “Unless you get circumcised according to the custom of Moses,” they asserted, “you cannot be saved.” They felt that circumcision was essential for salvation and that all Gentile converts to Christianity had to get circumcised.—Acts 14:26–15:1.
Strong feelings were involved. No doubt they mustered persuasive arguments to support their opinion. How was the peace and unity of the congregation to be maintained? After there had been much discussion of the subject, the congregation in Antioch “arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.” (Acts 15:2) There was no suggestion that in a matter of such gravity, each one was entitled to his own opinion. These Christians had enough humility and loyalty to theocratic order to seek an authoritative decision from their central teaching body.—1 Corinthians 14:33, 40; James 3:17, 18; 1 Peter 5:5, 6.
A Decision Made
The apostles and older men in Jerusalem (obviously recognized as a governing body in the early Christian congregation) carefully examined the spirit-inspired Scriptures and reviewed how holy spirit had directed things over the previous 13 years. Their decision? For Gentile converts, circumcision was not a prerequisite for salvation. (Acts 15:6-29) Here was a clear directive to take the place of personal opinion.
The congregations that heeded this guidance “continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.” (Acts 16:4, 5) Some persons, though, did not accept the governing body’s decision. They were still convinced that their opinion was correct and that complying with the Mosaic Law was essential for salvation. What would you have done? They became a dangerous, divisive influence among Christians. Take a look at the counsel given by the apostle Paul over the next 15 years as he tried to protect faithful Christians from the influence of such stubbornly opinionated ones.
Galatia, Asia Minor, c. 50-52 C.E. The freedom gained by Christians through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was endangered. Fear of persecution by Jewish enemies made some Christians want to impose precepts from the Mosaic Law on fellow Christians. (Galatians 6:12, 13) The apostle Paul reminded the disciples that to take up such Jewish practices as circumcision would be to let themselves “be confined again in a yoke of slavery.” Since they were sinners, none of them could keep the Law perfectly, so they would be condemned by the Law, just as the Jews were. Only Jesus’ sacrifice could make them clean and save them. “If you become circumcised [and thus become obligated to perform the whole Law],” Paul said, “Christ will be of no benefit to you.”—Galatians 5:1-4; Acts 15:8-11.
Corinth, Greece, c. 55 C.E. Arguments over circumcision were dividing the congregation. Paul knew that circumcision in itself was not sinful. It had been part of God’s perfect Law. (Psalm 19:7; Romans 7:12) Paul himself had even arranged for his young companion Timothy (whose mother was Jewish) to get circumcised. Paul did so, not because it was obligatory, but because he did not want to give the Jews any cause for stumbling over the good news. (Acts 16:3) He encouraged Christians to refrain from getting embroiled in disruptive arguments. “Was any man called circumcised?” he asked. “Let him not become uncircumcised. Has any man been called in uncircumcision? Let him not get circumcised [thinking that this was vital for salvation].” The important thing was to obey God’s clear commands, including those coming through the Christian congregation.—1 Corinthians 7:18-20; Hebrews 13:17.
Philippi, Greece, c. 60-61 C.E. Those who felt that Christians were still bound by Jewish law continued to ignore the clear evidence that Jehovah was blessing the Christian congregation, which now included many uncircumcised believers. Those advocating circumcision were causing spiritual injury to others by pushing their personal opinions. Therefore, the apostle Paul’s language is now stronger: “Look out for the dogs [considered ceremonially unclean by the Jews], look out for the workers of injury, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”—Philippians 3:2.
Crete, c. 61-64 C.E. The apostle Paul had left Titus to oversee the work of Christians in Crete. Interestingly, the non-Jew Titus had not been compelled to get circumcised. (Galatians 2:3) Now Paul directed Titus to deal firmly with enemies of the truth, which is what these promoters of circumcision had become. They should even be expelled from the congregation if they persisted in publicizing their divisive personal opinions. He spoke of “unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind, especially those men who adhere to the circumcision,” and continued: “It is necessary to shut the mouths of these, as these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not.”—Titus 1:10, 11; 3:10, 11; 1 Timothy 1:3, 7.
What sad consequences! These men were so proud of their personal opinions that they rejected the direction of the Christian congregation, subverted the faith of others, and destroyed their good relationship with God.—Compare Numbers 16:1-3, 12-14, 31-35.
What Will You Do?
Can we avoid making the same mistake today? Yes, if first we make sure that our personal opinion does not conflict with the clear teaching of the Bible. On the matter of homosexuality, for example, the Bible says: “Neither the sexually immoral . . . nor homosexual offenders . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, New International Version) However, when the Scriptural direction may seem to us to be open to different opinions, we need to demonstrate the humble responsiveness that was shown by the early Christians and accept decisions and directions from God’s congregation. Finally, even in areas in which a matter is Scripturally neither right nor wrong but is left to personal decision, we should highly esteem peace with others, thus being open to yielding frequently.
Are you willing to manifest that spirit? If so, you are showing a fine sense of balance, recognizing that peace and unity are more precious than your own personal opinion.