There is a scene in our wedding video (originally recorded on VHS) that makes Eric and me laugh every time we watch it. Our ceremony and reception were both outside at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Montgomery County. During our first dance as husband and wife, apparently we were very close to the buffet table. We didn’t notice this at the time as we only had eyes for each other and were savoring that once in a lifetime moment. But, on the video, you see first my uncle, then my grandfather and then the dear man who married us all walk up to the buffet table for another plate of food. While we were dancing. Walking right by us and around us, to and from the buffet table. It looks like they are completely unaware that we were there. They may have been really hungry, but more than likely they were trying to busy themselves with another task to avoid watching something that made them very uncomfortable. These are all men of deep faith who have deep Mennonite roots. Men who I’m pretty sure never danced with their wives or with anyone else because dancing in their faith worlds was considered wrong.
In the early Roman church dancing wasn’t the issue, but the people were divided about what to eat and drink, and Paul addressed this in Romans 14. As a well-studied Jew he knew the deeply rooted traditions from the Old Testament law about what to eat. God gave Moses very specific details to obey in regard to food, so that the people of Israel – His chosen people – would be set apart from other nations. They took great measures to be holy in God’s eyes. To be right with Him. They made animal sacrifices for their sins according to God’s instructions and participated in multiple feasts each year that helped them remember God’s faithfulness to them.
When Jesus died on the cross He made a way for us to be right with God. Once and for all. Our sins were forgiven. We were justified. Animal sacrifices were no longer necessary because of His love, mercy and grace.
Paul refused to believe that this was true until the Lord interrupted his journey to Damascus where he planned to persecute people of “The Way” – the way to God through Jesus. Through a local believer, Ananias, Jesus told Paul that he was His chosen instrument to bring the good news of His gift on the cross and through His resurrection to the Gentiles. These were an uncircumcised people without the same faith history as the Jews – a people without rules of sacrifices, what to eat and what to celebrate when. Jesus was and is the great equalizer.
But now the church had a problem. “Disputable matters” entered the scene. What was necessary to be right with God? To be a people set apart for Him? A holy people.
Shortly after Paul was convinced that Jesus was God on the road to Damascus, Jesus’ disciple, Peter, was in Caesarea where God was working in the heart of a very prominent Gentile named Cornelius. Peter had an afternoon dream where heaven opened, and something like a large sheet was let down to earth containing all kinds of four-footed animals as well as reptiles and birds that Jews would not eat. This repeated three times (just as Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times, and Jesus asked him after His resurrection if Peter loved him three times before commissioning him). Peter’s mind and heart were being prepared in advance to share the good news of his Messiah with Cornelius and his whole household, and the next day they believed this message and were baptized.
For almost twenty years of marriage, whenever we host my extended family, Eric and I choose not to serve alcohol. As followers of Christ, we don’t personally believe that drinking a glass of wine with dinner or sharing a margarita by the pool is wrong, but in an effort not to offend or to “put a stumbling block or obstacle” in the way of other believers, we don’t even have a bottle visible in the kitchen when certain loved ones are in our home.
It doesn’t matter which of us is “right” about this subject because one day every knee will bow before the Lord, and every tongue will confess to God, and we will all stand before Him and give an account of ourselves (Romans 14:11-12). Not each other. And, as Peter learned, God does not show favoritism regardless of what we eat and drink.
I am so thankful that we are instructed not to judge each other, but to make “every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). May we follow Jesus in obedience out of love for what He has done for us and share that good news with those around us.
Jennifer Hiltebeitel and her husband, Eric, live in Malvern and have been members of Hope for almost 20 years. They found this church through the yellow pages in the phone book about three weeks after they returned from their honeymoon. Jennifer is the Director of the Orphan-Widow Ministry at Hope, leads a small group of 7th-8th grade girls on Sunday mornings and looks forward to studying God’s Word every week with her Morning Light friends on Wednesday mornings. She and Eric are blessed with two daughters, Skyler (16) and Cameron (12).