An Inclusive Church
Acts chapter 10 recounts a critical event in the early spread of the young Christian church, the point in time when the Good News began to be spread among Gentiles as well as Jews. Peter has a vision in which he sees a large sheet with many different kinds of animals, and is told to kill and eat them. Peter protests, since some of the animals were considered ritually impure by the Jewish people. Peter is told in no uncertain terms, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Peter then goes to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius and many of his friends and relatives. Cornelius was a God-fearing man, but he and his companions were Gentiles. At the time, it was against Jewish law to associate with Gentiles, but Peter explains that through his vision, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Peter then tells them all the story of Jesus and his resurrection. As he is speaking, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.”
Prior to this event, there had been much discussion and disagreement about whether or not Gentiles should be allowed to join the new church. Peter’s testimony that the Holy Spirit had come upon a group of Gentiles was convincing evidence about God’s intentions. As described in Acts 11:18: “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’”
In the age of HIV and AIDS, we in the church often think and act like those ancient Jewish believers who thought the news of the risen Christ was only for them. We often view people living with HIV and AIDS as impure, somehow different and less deserving. Peter’s vision shows that different doesn’t mean impure, and the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the Gentiles shows that the Good News is intended for all. God wants an inclusive church, where all of His children are welcome.
Jesus’ words in John chapter 15 show us how to achieve that. “This is my command: love each other.”
To Think About: If God intended his Church to be inclusive, why do we so often think and act in ways that exclude people who seem perhaps a little different from us?