Living out our faith together as a community of believers, we can find that there are different interpretations and beliefs on various issues. Some of these differences might be based on questions related to the scriptures, whereas other differences are related more to cultural contexts.
In Romans 14, Paul addresses some of these issues using examples such as eating meat or celebrating specific days.
It is possible that Paul, when speaking of the issue of eating meat, itself not necessarily an issue from the perspective of either Jews or Gentiles except that which has been considered “unclean” for Jews, is speaking of the issues of meat that has been sacrificed in temples of Greek gods.
Here in Sicily, we can still see the temples that were built to offer sacrifices and worship the Greek gods such as Zeus, Juno, Hercules, and others. In fact, the picture for this post is the Temple of Concordia, one of the temples where these sacrifices had been done that had been standing in the southern part of Sicily near Agrigento for around 400-500 years by the time that Paul wrote the book of Romans. In that place, many different animals were slaughtered as a worship sacrifice to the particular Greek god for which the temple had been built and the mean was then available either for distribution or for sale.
Of course, this would have raised a question for a Christian who serves the One true God: Should I eat meat that has been sacrificed to another God?
Paul says here that each person should do it according to his own conscience and should be convinced that he is doing what is right. What is more, that person should not eat the meat if it will cause another person to stumble, meaning that it would scandalize their faith to see someone eat that meat because they believe the opposite.
That doesn’t mean that they are correct, necessarily, so they shouldn’t be allowed to preach or speak against the eating of that meat, but it does mean that we should act in love and keep our convictions between ourselves and God instead of forcing others to believe and act in the same way that we do when it is, instead, a secondary issue that isn’t worth causing problems over.
In this way, because we are not causing someone else to stumble in their faith and instead act in love and abstain from eating something that prevents them from entering or remaining in the Kingdom of God, we are acting as to the Lord.
Paul uses another example in this chapter related to the question of celebrating specific days. This is actually an issue that we have run up against here in Sicily. Here, the Catholic church has had a strong influence for thousands of years and we have found that the Evangelical church has protested against practices of the Catholics.
An example of this is that the Catholic church has many different types of special days and someone that observes those special days is considered to be “faithful” to God through their observance. Here in Catania, for example, someone who participates in the Festival of Sant’Agata is considered to be part of the “faithful” to the adopted saint for the city.
I will say that, having gone to the Festival and seen what is happening, it seems to me to be idol worship. In fact, there is even an idol that is paraded throughout the streets of Catania, sponsored by the mother church of the city, specifically for the purpose of paying homage to Agatha.
I can, therefore, understand when the Evangelicals say that they don’t want to celebrate special days because they don’t want to follow the example of the Catholic church as they have experienced it here locally. However, we have found that this protest can also be taken to what we would consider to be an extreme position in that, even in the times of Christmas or Easter, the celebration or even remembrance of the time of year would not be mentioned in a time of worship in church, despite the fact that many people will then return home to celebrate the holidays there.
So, according to what Paul has said, to criticize the church for not celebrating specific days would be wrong. But to be considered wrong for celebrating Christmas or Easter as a remembrance of Christ’s birth or death and resurrection would also be wrong.
Instead, Paul says that the Christian life has nothing to do with any of these “religious” types of practices, but instead it is the life by the Spirit that makes all of the difference:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.Romans 14:17-18
Let us live in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. May God guide us so that we please him, living to the Lord, not just live to please and impress others with what appears to be our righteousness through our religious practices.