Long before pastor and author John MacArthur spoke out publicly and disrespectfully to speaker and author, Beth Moore, we have been having conversations around our table about various beliefs within the Christian faith; how should we handle it when other people have different perspectives or even (gasp) different theology? Can we coexist? Can we appreciate what the other brings to the table or do we throw it all out because we don’t agree on everything? Can someone who believes differently be welcome at my table? Should I trade out the table for a wrestling mat?
For three years Sean has been a National Presenter for Logos Bible Software; traveling all over to conferences where he presents, trains, and sells the software. He has participated in expressive, loud, Pentacostal services with worship that lasts hours and the next day landed in a new city at a quiet seminary to participate in theological discussion with doctors. He’s seen every end of the spectrum and come away with a deeper love for the Body of Christ on a global scale, not merely a “people who sit next to me Sunday who look and think like me” scale.
On the heels of these conversations, I came across a beautiful story in Acts 10:
Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Cohort. He was a Gentile, outside of the Jewish faith, yet he knew the God of the Jews. He was devout, generous, and prayed to God. He was sincere. But Cornelius didn’t know about Jesus’ resurrection and forgiveness of sins. He hadn’t heard about the Holy Spirit yet. He knew a bit of truth, but the picture was incomplete. God had a plan to grow Cornelius.
Peter was a Jewish disciple of Jesus’. He walked with Jesus and knew him face to face. He also was devout and sincere. He knew about the resurrection, Jesus’ forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit. However, he didn’t know that salvation was also for the Gentiles. He planned to stick to the Jews and didn't plan to share life (or meals) with Gentiles. He knew a bit of truth, but the picture was incomplete. God had a plan to grow Peter.
God sent an angel to tell Cornelius to send for a man named Peter. Peter was underneath Cornelius’ status, and not the type of common man a person like Cornelius would normally seek counsel from. But he did.
God sent a dream to Peter. He showed Peter through a dream that what Peter believed was unclean (both in food and in Gentiles), God made clean. It took 3 times for Peter to begin to have a paradigm shift. It rocked all he had known and believed. But he listened and the paradigm shift happened.
Messengers showed up at Peter’s door and he went with them to meet Cornelius.
Isn’t it ironic and beautiful? Both Cornelius and Peter had to bend down from their status, genetics, and cultural ideas to have this conversation. They may have doubted the other’s faith was real. They may have questioned that God could do something with the man in front of them. Their friends may have said, “You’re going to have a conversation with who?!” But, Peter and Cornelius heard God and it compelled them to step outside of their comfort zones.
Instead of shutting down, shutting each other out, and ranting on social media about their differences–they listened. They weren’t afraid to wrestle and dialogue with new information. They listened to God and they listened to each other. God did a holy work.
Peter saw that Jesus was for the Gentiles, too. Cornelius saw that Jesus was raised from the dead and left the Holy Spirit to empower believers. With Peter standing witness, the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were watching and receiving Peter's words. It was the evidence that God had indeed done a work in both men.
Cornelius and Peter both came to the table with holes in their theology. Neither of them had it all figured out. Yet, both of them were committed to the Lord and the Lord didn’t leave them where they were! He came to them. He gave them each other to fill in the holes. This is the what He designed the Body of Christ (the Church) to do. They responded with big faith and big humility.
I’ve been falling in love with the Body of Christ–even with the warts, hurts, the misperceptions and the things we haven’t figured out. I recognize the Body of Christ is bigger than my denomination, bigger than my culture and social status, and certainly contains people who don’t have it all figured out (Ahem…all of us).
It’s freeing to admit I’m in process. I need other believers to open my eyes to blind spots. I need other believers to help me hear the Lord and understand His Word. I need other believers to come to me with soft hearts, willing to listen, too. I need other believers to celebrate with me when God brings me to understand his Word.
If Peter walked with real-in-the-flesh Jesus, talked with Jesus, was taught by Jesus, spent his life preaching Jesus…and STILL had room for growth and correction, I can confidently say I have much room for growth and correction, too.
It isn’t comfortable. It’s messy. It requires us to listen inquisitively instead of listening to respond with our already manufactured “right” answer. But the deeper I get into my study of Acts, the more I see that it’s not optional.
God chose to love His Church and his grimy, limited people…not because we are lovable but because He is God and chooses to love us regardless. He has commanded us to do the same…not because we can do it on our own but because He fully intends to equip us. When I am able to forgive someone who burned me, when I am able to listen to someone who believes differently, when I am able to have my own eyes opened to a blind spot because another believer comes alongside and speaks truth into my ear, I experience the Holy Spirit. I can't love like that without Him.
The prayer I pray most often for myself is that God would make my heart soft. Currently, I’m praying the same for the Church. I don’t want any of us to miss the holy work that Peter and Cornelius experienced when they trusted that God provided them with each other for sharpening and growth.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Ahem. Raise your hands if you read that verse and thought perhaps we could trade a throw down on the mats for a kind conversation over dinner…with a big, happy slice of humble pie for dessert.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...