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Replay: Does acceptance of others make our beliefs illegitimate?

Posted by on Feb 2, 2013 in books, community, unity | 15 comments

Replay: Does acceptance of others make our beliefs illegitimate?

Three year ago, I wrote a post called “Does acceptance make our beliefs illegitimate?” Among many Christians today (and for the last several hundred to two thousand years) there is a huge problem when it comes to unity. The problem is that we assume that accepting someone as a brother or sister in Christ means that we must set aside all of our beliefs and convictions. It means we must agree with everything that they other person believes. (Well, to be honest, most separate “doctrines” into different groups with each group allowing different levels of agreement.) I think this practice is a huge slap in the face to our unity in Christ.


Does acceptance make our beliefs illegitimate?

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. 2-2-2013

    Alan, this brings up a great topic, one that has far reaching implications. Acts 15 provides a tool for unifying diverse points of view.

    Jewish tradition was a given in the early ekklesia, and to be fair to this point of view, why wouldn’t it. It was their life, Jewish tradition has deep and far reaching aspects into all parts of life. They had walked along side of the Messiah, saw His adherence to the Law of Moses, this had to validate their position, yet there was something missing. This was the perfect storm in the making.

    Enter the Jews, Jews Saul, now Paul, and the fruit of his ministry, the Gentile disciples of Christ. I love how Paul and Barnabas encountered the Jewish minded disciples. Please keep in mind, there was more than circumcision on the table, the Law of Moses, and its list of do’s and don’ts was considered critical.

    To have been apart of this gathering, and to have experienced the emotion, and passion would have left us with a profound lesson.The lesson, how to resolve conflict. In this event both sides were ‘dug in’. In the annals of ekklesia history, this example cannot be overlooked, or misunderstood.

    The litmus test was the Holy Spirit, Paul didn’t dismiss his ‘Jewish’ sisters and brothers, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit they came to embrace their Gentile ‘dog’ brothers and sisters. This was a case of profound reconciliation, healing, and unity.

    Today we see the lack of unity, in something that is in actuality One, the body of Christ. Just as our history has indicated, we can resolve these differences.

    These differences when viewed from the fruit of the Spirit are in fact nothing. The effectual working of the cross in our lives, and the mutual embracing of ‘one another’ ‘in’ His love is the proven answer to our dysfunction, and lack of impact in today’s world.

    May we have ‘eyes to see, and ears to hear’.

    “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

  2. 2-2-2013

    This is such an interesting topic! Without going into all of the many aspects of this question, I would point out that the Gentiles, though being obviously very different than the Jews, were not doing anything that would be considered Sin to the early Church. Since they hadn’t had the gospel brought to them until Christ, they also did not hold to any beliefs or doctrines that would keep them from Christ. That is not to say that the Jewish community wouldn’t have a problem with some of their traditions or practices. The question I would ask is how does the Church today work this out? Are there things that are non negotiable for fellowship or to be considered Christian? And how would you define unity? If unity means acceptance without conviction I am not sure that is pleasing to the Lord. Likewise, there are numerous things Churches squabble over today that absolutely should not keep us apart (Predestination anybody?). So, where is that line?

  3. 2-2-2013

    Rob, it would seem to me that we could use the example of Paul & Barnabas and their response.

    Some of the key points that were addressed in Jerusalem were:

    1- hypocrisy, Peter refused to acknowledge the Gentiles in the presence of Jewish elders.

    2- Works verse grace, the Jewish disciples were striving to enforce their tradition upon their Gentile brothers and sisters. This as Paul stated in Galatians was no gospel at all, so heresy was being addressed.

    3- There was a us and them, cultural division within the Body

    4- Failure on the Jewish brothers & sisters to see they were blind to Gods will.

    In this scenario there were deep seated emotions, but in and through the grace of Jesus, these very divisive issues were resolved, harmony replaced upheaval, grace trumped works, and the Body of Christ moved forward with Gods rich blessings.

    This seems to be highly applicable today within the Body of Christ.

  4. 2-2-2013

    Jim, well put. I guess what I am wondering is where we draw the line when we are not just talking about emotions or traditions. Rather, how do we find the same comfort zone when we are dealing with things like sin. How can we be the Church and stand for the gospel and call it what it is and at the same time be filled with grace and love our neighbors. I think this is a major issue for the Church today. I seem to find two extremes today: 1) a Church that separates over anything, whether scripture makes it a big deal or not (think predestination), or a much bigger one in my opinion 2) A Church that is increasingly hesitant to take a stand on ANY issue or to hold to ANY doctrines in fear of excluding someone. It seems to me like the right balance is possible if we try hard enough but I don’t think the Church is succeeding right now.

  5. 2-2-2013

    Rob, when Paul addressed the ekklesia at Corinth, he was dealing with a myriad of issues, his focus was not the divisive issues first, but the unifying Person of Jesus Christ. In all of the issues that may perplex us, the solution is the same.

    “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” ~ Paul

  6. 2-3-2013

    Good discussion.

    Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you. Romans 15:5-7

    But what do you do in the middle of the other person socially doing something that would violate your own conscience – or you doing something that would violate theirs? Drinking alcohol might be a good for instance. Or another example might be – Speaking in tongues.

    We’ve got a close friend who is going to college somewhere – that if they knew she spoke in tongues they’d probably kick her out and label her a heretic or a witch. I mean our advice so far to her has been – look get out of there – the risk financially, emotionally, socially, etc is just way to high.

  7. 2-3-2013

    I think Jim P. has the answer. We can focus on Jesus and not on people. Then the people will have access to the solution to any problems they face.
    It’s not our place to decide who is in and who is out. (I’m personally glad God didn’t check with some of my former associates before He accepted me.) It is our privilege to show the way to whoever will come to the throne of Grace.

    I like your answer to ‘what do you do?’. If I get your meaning, we can offer our best advice when asked. Otherwise, it is none of our business.

  8. 2-3-2013

    Nelson and Jerry,

    I agree with each of you wholeheartedly. Jesus should be our focus and we should point people to him. I know that simply telling people “do this but don’t do that” is not enough and that the Holy Spirit working in us is how sanctification comes about. But what do we do when someone looks at the Bible, knows what the Bible is saying on any given topic (and can articulate it as such) yet chooses to either explain it away or to live openly in opposition to it. I am not saying we say who is in or out, but there does seem to be instances in scripture where that is precisely what is being done. Is not some form of excommunication or Church discipline taught in scripture?

  9. 2-3-2013

    great entry & discussion too. appreicate all the comments! :)

  10. 2-3-2013

    “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?”
    Yes and NO! While traditions and practices are certainly open to reinterpretation, SOME BELIEFS are non-negotiable if a person is to be accepted as a Christian…I call them the essentials. I think the minimum set includes the Gospel…the death burial & resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also I would include the deity of Jesus Christ. Finally I would somewhere include the authority of Scripture, although there could be some discussions in this area…I would surely disqualify someone who believed Scripture was all an interesting historic document like the Iliad, but how far back from there is far enough is a good question.
    [I discuss this in much more detail “Revisiting Scripture: Assumptions” available from Amazon]

  11. 2-3-2013


    I’ve enjoyed the discussion here as well. I’m sorry that I’ve been away and haven’t been able to take part as much as I would have liked. I think the main point comes about when Paul writes, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.” (Romans 15:5-7) If we believe that God has accepted someone, then we must accept them as well, regardless of our differences.


  12. 2-4-2013

    Rob: I’ve wondered a lot about excommunication – I know some groups that pretty much do this over just about anything they disagree with.

    But does excommunication even have any teeth without a very close relationship? In 1 Corinthians – they expel the immoral brother – in 2 Corinthians – they reinstate their relationship – and the whole wording around those passages seems to be a very close relationship with this ‘brother’.

    I kind of see excommunication now as a big fancy ‘church building’ word that doesn’t really mean anything. What I’m saying is – that person just goes to the next corner where there’s another church building and starts over – or just drops the church altogether.

    But I think there is a time when you confront your friend – and you have to say – look – I don’t want you coming over or calling until you’re ready to really deal with this. I mean this sin is bad enough that it is hurting others deeply – and I’m not going to be a part of this in any way. Incest is probably a really good example of what a sin like that might look like. Wife or child abuse might be another.

    I’ve been a part of ‘1 Corinthian expel the immoral brother’ decisions and implementations – but I’ve never been a part of the 2 Corinthians reinstatement – and that really bothered me because we didn’t fix anything – we just sent the problem down the road. (We probably sent them to your church – sorry :(

  13. 2-4-2013


    In Scripture, it seems that any time someone is separated from the community (church), that person is then assumed to be a nonbeliever (i.e., not a brother or sister in Christ). The difference that I see today is that people often separate from one another, but still consider on another to be Christians.


  14. 2-24-2013

    No! If someone is a genuine believer he/she truly is my brother/sister to accept. A born again believer is a legitimate child of God despite difference in secondary doctrines.

    Most of the people who are judgmental about beliefs and convictions are raised in traditional churches where head “knowledge” is emphasized over the heart knowledge! Because, the central “activity” of church is usually preaching and teaching.

    BTW: a person’s doctrines and convictions will be changing as the person matures and journeys with God. If someone has an awkward doctrine, we still should accept the person and a brother/sister, not necessarily as a theology student.

    If someone have difficulties accepting another one in Christ it will tell more about him than the person with the questionable doctrine!

  15. 2-25-2013


    I agree. The problem is that many followers of Jesus have based on their fellowship and relationship with others on their agreement on certain topics.