the weblog of Alan Knox

Does acceptance make our beliefs illegitimate?

Posted by on Feb 3, 2010 in books, community, unity | 5 comments

Recently, when reading about the Jewish influence on the early church, I came across this interesting paragraph:

For the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, however, the issue [of circumcision of Gentiles] was not so clear. The inferences were obvious to them; the ramifications were potentially damaging to the Jewish traditions. That God had poured out his Spirit on the Gentiles was amazing in its own right; but the subsequent inference that the Jewish believers would be required to accept (and even have table-fellowship) with the Gentile Christians without the latter having to undergo circumcision or to observe the law brought into question the legitimacy of the Torah. (Brad Blue, “The Influence of Jewish Worship on Luke’s Presentation of the Early Church,” in Witness to the Gospel: The Theology of Acts (ed. I. Howard Marshall and David Peterson; Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1998) , p. 492)

An amazing thing happened in those early years after Pentecost (as recorded by Luke in Acts). God’s Spirit began to indwell people… and not just Jews, but Gentiles as well.

Before, Jews would only interact with Gentiles when required to (for instance, the Roman army or government officials) or when the Gentiles agreed to be circumcised and keep the law. In other words, if it were up to the Jews, they would only spend time with people who were like them and who believed like them.

But, now, the Holy Spirit was indwelling uncircumcised, law-breaking Gentiles, and the ramifications of this indwelling was about to turn the Jewish-Christian’s view of the world upside down. They knew that they were required (by their common relationship to God and by the common indwelling of the Spirit) to not only spend time with these new Gentile Christians, but to treat them as brothers and sisters!

Outrageous! And, many of those Jewish Christians refused, fought, argued, kicked-and-screamed against this type of behavior. They knew exactly what this kind of acceptance meant. If the Jewish Christians accepted the Gentile Christians as brothers and sisters, then the Jewish Christians would have to admit that neither circumcision nor keeping the law were necessary for God’s acceptance.

Thousands of years of traditions and belief were about to be thrown out the window because God was accepting, saving, and indwelling Gentiles.

Now… today… what are we going to do when we recognize that God is accepting, saving, and indwelling people from different traditions and with different beliefs? Are we going to accept them? Or, are we going to refuse, fight, argue, kick-and-scream against the work that God is doing?

Can we admit that God can accept, save, and indwell people who do not have the same traditions, practices, and beliefs as us? Are we willing to admit that our traditions, practices, and beliefs are not necessary for God to accept, save, and indwell someone?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-3-2010


    Its a good question and the answer must be predicated on what you mean by “traditions, practices, and beliefs”. I’d hate to give my answer and find I was on dangerous ground.

  2. 2-3-2010


    Well, I’m not talking about the gospel. However, accepting others as God accepts them would probably change our view of the gospel, much like it changed for the Jewish Christians once they began to accept Gentile Christians.


  3. 2-3-2010

    Not to be melodramatic, but I wonder if the future (condition/existence) of the church/Church (at least in North America) hinges on this very question just as it did in the first centuries in Palestine.

  4. 2-3-2010


    I understand where you are going, but that seems very vague. What exactly do you mean?

  5. 2-3-2010

    Over in Facebook, there have been some questions about what I mean in this post. Let me try to restate the purpose/question of this blog post:

    The Jewish Christians recognized that God had accepted Gentiles. They recognized that the Gentiles were saved. Therefore, they recognized that they needed to accept the Gentile Christians as brothers and sisters (not distant cousins) with all rights and responsibilities of family members even though the Gentile Christians did not have the same beliefs (specifically concerning circumcision and keeping the law) that the Jewish Christians had. The Jewish Christians did not stop being Jewish, but they also did not require the Gentiles to become Jewish. They accepted them just as God accepted them.

    Now… if we recognize today that God has accepted someone. We recognize that the person is saved. However, let’s assume that this person has different beliefs (remember, we already recognize that the person is saved/accepted by God) are we willing to accept the person as God accepts them as a brother/sister in Christ (not a distant cousin) with all rights and responsibilities of family members? Or will we require the person to conform to our beliefs before we accept them as brother/sister?

    Beliefs include traditions and practices (some things from Scripture – i.e. circumcision/keeping the law – and some things not from Scripture).