When in Rome

When St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, asked Ambrose, “At Rome they fast on Saturday, but not at Milan; which practice ought to be observed?” Ambrose replied, “When in Milan, I do as they do at Milan; but when I go to Rome, I do as Rome does” (Epistle 36). It’s all too easy to follow Ambrose’s advice, isn’t it?

“But Paul did that, didn’t he? He said he’d become ‘all things to all people, that he might win some.’”

Ah! You know about his words in 1 Corinthians 9:19! But they are often misunderstood, and therefore, misapplied.

“How so? They seem plain enough.”

Yes, at first sight you might conclude so. But he also said some other things . . .”

“Like what?”

Like “Come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord, and don’t touch the unclean thing.” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

“Oh! I guess he did say that too. Did he contradict himself?”

Certainly not.

“Then, how do you explain the relationship of the two verses to one another?”

The difference is this—

When Paul said he would adapt to Jews or Gentiles, he was saying he was willing to adapt—regardless of what inconveniences it might mean to him, to personally. He would even become a “slave” to them to do so! But he would not adapt his message, or any of his personal practices, in a way that would contradict what he was preaching. He would endure any disadvantages that proper adaptation would mean to him, but he would engage in nothing that could alter the message. He could take it on the chin, but the message must never do so! In 2 Corinthians 6 he is urging Christians to completely abandon heathen temple worship, and such partnership with unbelievers that would involve him in paganism of any sort.

“So, I can adapt to all kinds of disadvantages personally to witness to unbelievers, so long as that doesn’t mean participating in things that are abhorrent to God?”

“You’ve got it! For instance, you may want to win a Roman Catholic to Christ, and you may have to spend time and money in doing so, but you can’t participate in a mass with him, because Jesus was sacrificed once-for-all on the cross, and doesn’t need to be sacrificed (in what Romanists call an “unbloody sacrifice”) again in the mass. It is a travesty to have anything to do with it. Christ’s work on the cross was all-sufficient!

“So, I can take time out of a busy schedule, travel at my own expense, do whatever might inconvenience me, to win my Roman Catholic relative to Christ, but I can’t participate with him in anything that would contradict the Scripture’s teaching about the Gospel.”

Good! I couldn’t have said it any better myself!

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