Read ACTS 11:1–18
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
What are the sticking points you have with your church? The style of music, perhaps? Do you find yourself criticizing and grumbling?
You may have heard of the ice-bucket challenge, where some hardy souls agree to be doused with a bucket of icy cold water in aid of charity. Peter’s reception back in Jerusalem (2) sounds equally icy! We Christians seem to have a penchant for criticizing first and realizing second. However, Peter graciously answered the criticisms, explaining how the Holy Spirit had left him no option but to do as he did. The sticking point for his accusers was, of course, eating with Gentiles. If Jewish Christians felt bound by Jewish food laws there could be no fellowship with Gentile Christians. However, the Spirit had clearly shown that God accepted Gentiles as they were, so, in the interests of Christian unity, the
hard-liners in the Jewish church must do the same, however earth-shattering it might feel.
Peter’s accusers were silenced and were able to praise God for what had happened (18), but the issue festered for many years (Acts 15:5,6; 21:20,21; see also Eph. 2:11–22) on the breaking down of barriers, and even Peter took a backward step (Gal. 2:11,12). Perhaps this was because things were heating up in Jerusalem prior to its overthrow in A.D. 70—some Jewish believers may have felt that accepting Gentile Christians as equal brothers and sisters was like fraternizing with the enemy. Whatever the reason, this was a lesson in the realities of cross-cultural mission. Sadly, the church in Jerusalem never seems to have thrown itself into this. Eventually the center of mission was transferred to Antioch; Jerusalem lost its importance.
N. T. Wright points out that our own theological debates are more conditioned than we sometimes realize by the currents of political, social and cultural pressure. Reflect on this. How far does our background and upbringing influence our opinions?
You may meet Christians who seem out of touch with the realities of cross-cultural mission. Using Peter’s example, how can you help them to understand the importance of Christian unity?