Sometimes in conversation a remark is made that sticks in my mind for weeks after. One such recent remark concerned Romans 12:1-2 being the key to finding our way out of current controversies. A bit of thought is required to get from that remark to peace in the church! I won't attempt that here, but perhaps here is the beginning of an occasional series of reflections on Romans.
Various storm centres hover over Romans these days. Dark clouds which engulf those in the middle of them so it seems that some go into the storm over Romans 1 or 3 or 9-11 never to be seen again. But this epistle as a whole is worth an attempt at comprehension. Simply, it is the articulation of the gospel for all humanity, the announcement of a universal philosophy establishing a new way of being for all societies. To get stuck in Romans 1 or 3 or 9-11 is tragedy for the church. To understand why Romans 12:1-2 exists after chapters 1-11, as the foundation principle for a new way of being human, with effectively a series of notes of possible practical implications in 12:3-16:27, is to renew our vision of what it means to be 'church', the people called to be living sacrifices, transformed by the renewal of our minds, discerning the perfect will of God.
In our divided, fragile church today, whether we think of ecumenical divisions between major world churches, or disputes within those churches, or the emblazoned headlines telling the world of the sins of Christians, we appear to be a long way from the spirit of the Epistle to the Romans. We do not share its confidence of a new world order pervaded by the gospel, nor do we evidence a shared conviction that we understand the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.
What is to be done?
We could re-present our bodies as living sacrifices, according to the injunction of the apostle in Romans 12:1.
But before that perhaps we should reestablish what we think the gospel is, according to Romans 1-11!