3.11 Acts -- The Counter-Reformation
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them" (Acts 11:2-3).
Peter had to "pay the piper." In Joppa, it was all sweetness and light and six choruses of Kumbaya with the Gentiles, once they stopped speaking in tongues -- but the morning after, Peter had to face the home church. "What in the world got into you, Peter? Have you lost your mind? Have you denied Christ yet again?"
This was hardball, the future of the church was at stake. Here were these New Testament people locked into an Old Testament mentality -- several years after Pentecost! They still expected Jesus to return any day and "restore the Kingdom to Israel," probably by driving the Romans into the sea. In these Last Days, they believed, it was necessary to be more focused and holy than ever -- and here was Peter grieving the Holy Ghost by supping with pig-eaters.
This is the problem with entrenched religious-based racism. It is nearly impossible to argue against. Because it is sub-rational, it takes a revelation to dislodge the stronghold -- and only Peter and Cornelius had the direct word. But Cornelius' household, and those Jews who went with Peter, were also witnesses to the revelation of God's new work among the Gentiles. In fact, Peter's whole defense to the Jerusalem church was a recitation of his vision and of God's pouring out of the Spirit. Note that he gives no doctrinal teaching, no Old Testament Scripture references, quotes no words or acts of Jesus. What might have been a better strategy, certainly more dramatic, would have been if he had brought Cornelius with him to address the assembly. Then they would have seen the fruit of the Spirit's work at first hand.
Peter's words, and his pre-eminent authority in the leadership, mollified the church:
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18).
We know, however, that this was not the final resolution of the problem, as we will see later in Acts, and also in Galatians, when Paul argued with Peter. And there will always be a reaction to this aspect of the Kingdom of God from those who profit from the status quo, or feel threatened by the inclusion of "foreigners."
Let us finish this section with the observation that the Gospel imperative towards "inclusion" has nothing to do with modern notions of tolerance:
a. There was no compromise of the Gospel by letting Gentiles into the church: no one toasted the Emperor, or lit candles to Diana of the Ephesians. Only those Gentiles who forsook their pagan heritage were joined to the church.
b. Inclusion did not mean approval of non-believing Gentiles. Romans and Greeks were still pagans, representatives of a hostile civilization. Greek religion was idolatry. Converted Romans were expected to give up their own cultural prejudices against Jews, just as believing Jews scandalized their friends by eating with Gentiles. Kingdom relationships trumped traditional tribal hostilities.
c. Reluctance to admit ethnic outsiders is a sister to outright discrimination. There is an imperative in the Gospel to actively recruit and welcome the foreigner, the outcast, the unworthy, the homeless. It was not enough to allow Gentiles to become baptized members of the fellowship. The Holy Spirit wanted the church to seek them out and "compel them to come in." The outpouring of the Spirit through speaking in tongues was a sign of His intention to engage the whole world.