In the first century a division emerged in the early Christian church. As we are well aware, Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were Jews. He taught about the Jewish G-d, and claimed to be His Son. His followers believed he was the Jewish Messiah. It seemed destined that Christianity was destined to be a sect of Judaism. Christians were to celebrate the same holidays, follow the same Mosaic laws found in the Torah, and insist new converts become Jews through the traditional conversion rituals. However, all that changed on a rooftop in a town called Joppa.
The story is told in Acts 10. You can read the full story for yourself here. I’ll condense it here for those of you who are too lazy to click on the link 😉 In the account Peter has a vision. In said vision he sees a smorgasbord from heaven descend right before his eyes. The buffet was filled the delicious delights like bacon, ham, Philistine National® hot dogs, clams, shrimp, lobster, etc. It contained every delectable dish that, according to the Torah, was impure and unclean. A voice calls to Peter from heaven telling him to eat the feast that has been set before him. Peter, being a good Jew, attempts to correct G-d’s mistake. Apparently G-d had forgotten that he commanded his chosen people never to eat such animals in His holy, infallible and eternally applicable scripture. G-d assures Peter he is quite serious…three times.
When Peter comes out of the vision, he hears a knock at the door. It’s a couple gentiles, inviting him to the house of their gentile master, Cornelius. Peter starts to get the point of the vision. Apparently the vision wasn’t as much about discarding Jewish dietary traditions as it was about moving past the exclusivism of his religion, which has traditionally rejected non-Jews. So Peter goes with them, and once he arrives at Cornelius’s house he makes this declaration: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But G-d has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
One might imagine how the conservative Christians of the day would respond to Peter’s new-found leniency on issues of Jewishness of G-d’s followers and on the Mosaic Law. They would likely complain that Peter was teaching a doctrine that was unscriptural. They would accuse him of leading others into sin by encouraging them to pick and choose which parts of the law they would follow and what parts they would ignore. Surely he just accepted the gentiles because it made him feel good. They would, of course, say that Peter was denying the absolute truth and authority of G-d’s Word and in so doing was denying G-d himself.
Although it’s of little doubt this debate occurred in the early church, Peter and many other early church apostles pressed forward. Their love for the gentiles and confidence that G-d did not and would not exclude them caused them to persist despite challenges of the more conservative crowd. Before long other Christians began to accept the gentiles, then other leaders like Paul and Barnabas followed in their footsteps. The movement proved to be as unstoppable as an avalanche. The global, primarily gentile, face of Christianity emerged out of that one vision on that one rooftop, in Joppa nearly 2000 years ago.
From time to time the church takes another inclusive step in this worthy tradition. In our past, minority races were once put in subservient roles in our churches. Today such racial discrimination is abhorred by almost all Christians. There was once a time where women were to remain silent in church and were not allowed to hold any authority over a man. Although not yet quite as successful as the transition away from racism, sexism is fast becoming a thing of the past in our faith.
A new movement is afoot in today’s Christianity. Many christians are now tiring of holding homosexuals at arm’s length. The preconceived notion that they are an abomination, that they are immoral, that they are not worthy of G-d’s love is losing popularity. Of course the fundamentalists will pull out their bibles as if they were weapons and attempt to brow beat our acceptance of and love for the LGBT community back into submission. They will proclaim the corruption and impurity of gay people. They will insist that because they are gay, they must be rejected by G-d.
When they do, I hope that we respond in the manner Peter did when he faced the same criticism: “Brothers, you know that some time ago G-d made a choice among you that LGBT people* might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. G-d, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test G-d by putting on the necks of the LGTB community* a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” – Acts 15:7-11
*My word replacement, LGBT for Gentile.