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?