II. The One Family of God (Continued)

A. The One Family of God in Shaping Convicditons

2. Convictions Shaped by Love

A third One Family theme is that of love, a baseline for which was established in Rom. 5:8. Rom. 12:9-13:10 is a catalog of love-based ethical imperatives that comprises a large portion of the ethical block identified as D', the Ethics of the one family of God, in the chiasmus of Figure 1.

a. Ethical Exhortations of Love

ethical exhortations in Rom. 12:9-13:10 stand apart from such ethical pinnacles as Job 31 because of its tremendous focus on intra-church relationships--the corporate church dynamic that is the core of house church ecclesiology. That this focus is present is especially evident when one considers the material that immediately precedes this block, exhorting Roman believers to act in the unity of a single body in Christ. Consider tables 2 through 4.

Table 2. Rom. 12:9-13:10: Clear Intra-Church Passages.
Rom. 12:10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love
Honor one another above yourselves
Rom. 12:13aTaking an interest in the needs of the saints
Rom. 12:15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn
Rom. 12:16Live in harmony with one another
Rom. 13:8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another

While the material in Table 2 is often taken as general statements of right Christian behavior, the hermeneutic of the believers' church suggests that Paul's intent was most likely directed toward intra-church relationships. "One another" appears four times. Rejoicing and mourning are best seen as sharing the praises and laments within the local fellowship. That the church members should avoid becoming debtors and creditors to each other can be seen as preventing the possibility that such obligations may threaten the intra-church openness.

Table 3. Rom. 12:9-13:10: Probable Intra-Church Passages.
Rom. 12:11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord
Rom. 12:12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer
Rom. 12:13bPractice hospitality
Rom. 112:17bBe careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody
Rom. 12:18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone

The material in Table 3 is less clear, but makes the greatest sense as intra-church exhortations when the main message of the letter is taken into account. Hospitality and living at peace are thus meant as references to hospitality and peace within the church. The zeal, joy, patience, and faithfulness are, of course, key aspects of believers' church fellowship.

The "everybody" (pantun anthpupun) of Rom. 12:17b, can be taken to mean that the determination of what is right should be the result of the corporate process within the fellowship, a key believers' church doctrine of discernment developed above. While the Greek supports the notion that Paul is just saying that they should not do anything that would appear unacceptable to the public at large, such a reading seems odd here.

Table 4. Rom. 12:9-13:10: Passages with Possible Intra-Church Application.
Rom. 12:9Love must be sincere
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good
Rom. 12:14Bless those who persecute you
bless and do not curse
Rom. 12:16Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position
Do not be conceited
Rom. 12:17aDo not repay anyone evil for evil.
Rom. 12:19Do not take revenge ...
Rom. 13:9The great commandment
Rom. 13:10Love is the fulfillment of the law

Even the remaining material, listed in table 4, has intra-church possibilities just as they may also have a more general application. That the church be a classless fellowship is a richer interpretation of Rom. 12:16 in the context of the letter to the Romans than understanding it in a general sense. A similar argument may be made for every other verse mentioned.

Not all of the ethical material shown in the above tables contain direct references to love, but it is not difficult to demonstrate that love is the underlying motif of the whole passage. Nothing is more important in believers' church ecclesiology than the relationship within the corporate body, and love is the best way to characterize that dynamic.

b. The Weak and the strong

While commentators on Rom. 14:1-15:6 often identify the Weak and strong in this passage as being Jews and Gentiles, respectively (as does Fitzmyer) Käsemann is probably closer when he simply suggests that the terms are "general designations which bring out the fundamental differences between circles which do not agree in every respect." Paul is careful not to set himself up as an arbiter between the groups, nor is he concerned with the merits of the two positions, but he is very concerned about the relational problems that such positions create within the community.

Table 5. Weak and strong Behaviors in Rom. 14:2-6.
 Topic strong Weak Paul's Observation
ARom. 14:2-4 EatingEats everythingEats only vegitablesGod has accepted them both
BRom. 14:5-6a DaysEvery day alikeSome days more sacred than othersBe fully convinced in your own mind. The "strong" position is in dedication to the Lord.
A'Rom. 14:6b EatingEats meatabstains from meatBoth do it in the name of the Lord

Table 5, which shows a chiasmus with outer elements on eating and an inner on how one regards particular days, brings each subject to the same conclusion. In all three areas, however, Paul sees no basis for associating God's favor with either position. The positions on eating and on days were taken in each case for the purpose of honoring God, and in such matters as these, advocates should respect the motives of their opposites. The conclusion drawn from Paul's observations in these verses is stated in Rom. 14:10, and is repeated in Rom. 14:13: "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another." The apostle then returns to the intra-church love discussion in Rom. 14:15 ("... you are no longer acting in love"). The discourse among the brothers and sisters of the church should not be on those individual aspects of piety that they have chosen or not chosen as they each honor God in their lives, but should be focused on how the community might show "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). Paul narrows this relational argument in Rom. 15:1-6, bringing it to a conclusion in "a spirit of unity" in Rom. 15:5-6. This leads naturally into the theme recapitulation of Rom. 15:7, which goes back to the Jew/Gentile basis of the whole letter. Once the Roman Christians have managed to deal properly with their minor differences in matters of eating and the honoring of days, then they should also be able to accept those who might have different religious backgrounds.

c. The Corporate Dynamic in the Historical House Church

The 1527 Schleitheim Conference, from which the Schleitheim Confession was to emerge, embodied the kind of love that puts aside personal agendas and seeks the will of God through a gathered people. S. A. Nelson describes it as acting "in a community of love."

The dialog process was that of expressed love. Most important for present purposes, the dialogue process gave concrete expression to community love that guided the conference, and the community love shaped the ethics of the movements. These people were united concerning baptism, the ban, the bread, concerning separation from evil, concerning shepherds of the church, the sword of the world, and finally the swearing of the state's oath.

Michael Sattler, who most historians regard as the probable author of the Schleitheim Confession while serving a church at Horb, wrote the following to that church:

Further, dear fellow members in Christ, you should be admonished not to forget love, without which it is not possible that you be a Christian congregation. You know what love is through the testimony of Paul, our fellow brother; he says: Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not puffed up, not ambitious, seeks not its own, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity, rejoices in the truth, suffers everything, endures everything, believes everything, hopes everything. If you understand this text, you will find the love of God and of neighbor. If you love God you will rejoice in the truth and will believe, hope, and endure everything that comes from God. Thereby the shortcomings mentioned above can be removed and avoided. But if you love the neighbor, you will not scold or ban zealously, will not seek your own, will not remember evil, will not be ambitious or puffed up, but kind, righteous, generous in all gifts, humble and sympathetic with the weak and imperfect.

d. Conclusions

For a fellowship to function in the house church model, its membership must understand the importance of being a gathered people. McClendon calls this a "sharing together in a storied life of obedient service to and with Christ." Hauerwas and Willimon express it this way:

Christian community, life in the colony, is not primarily about togetherness. It is about the way of Jesus Christ with those whom he calls to himself. It is about disciplining our wants and needs in congruence with a true story, which gives us the resources to lead truthful lives. In living out the story together, togetherness happens, but only as a by-product of the main project of trying to be faithful to Jesus.

This is the environment in which the Holy Spirit can manage a body of human believers into an instrument that is responsive to God's agenda, for only in such a body can one find the discernment associated with binding and loosing. This would be rediscovered by the radical reformers of the sixteenth century; it is an ethical imperative that Paul's would like the Roman believers to discover as he attempts to shape their convictions regarding intra-church love.