If you are paying attention to our culture, you will know that the topic of intersectionality and critical theory has become a significant part of the national conversation. This is sadly true inside the walls of the church as well as outside. Believers today in certain circles are focusing a great deal of interest on divisions between people in the church. People are particularly drawing lines of division based on skin color or gender. And these same folks are seeking to silence the voices of the privileged, those who do not belong to previously oppressed groups, in order to allow the formerly oppressed (or perhaps those still oppressed) to present their own narrative.
My goal here is not to weigh in on the theories themselves. Nor is my goal to pretend that there has not ben a great deal of harm done in many a society based on ethnicity, injustice, or cruelty. Rather, my goal is to highlight a simple statement from Scripture that I came across in my quiet time that should call believers to be very careful not to allow ourselves to set up new walls of division based on anything beyond the word of God, including walls based on our pasts.
In Acts 10, Peter has finally come to the home of Cornelius, a gentile centurion. This man was faithful to worship the Lord as best he could based on Old Testament law. HE was a God-fearer. But, since Cornelius was a gentile, there was a division between him and the people of Israel. After all, for a person of gentile birth to be a part of the nation of Israel would require a great deal.
There was a question that God was settling in Acts 10 that we need to pay attention to. What would God do? The gentiles had oppressed the Jews. Rome was certainly oppressing Israel. Cornelius was a privileged man, operating from a position of power whether he wanted to or not. Now Peter arrives and brings the gospel to the home of this man. What happens here will do a great deal to set the tone for Jew and gentile relations in the church going forward. And what happens should set the tone for how the church deals with how people often divide over ethnicity or social lines.
Acts 10:34-35 – 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Notice what Peter brings to the forefront and what he does not say. Peter was uncomfortable going to Cornelius’ home. But, when he was there, Peter realized that God had called him to bring the gospel to the gentiles. And Peter admits a thing that he had not previously understood. All are welcome in the family of God. Regardless of ethnicity and regardless of past, all are welcome. And peter is absolutely clear here and in the verses that follow that no walls of division are to exist.
There are no new requirements for Cornelius and his family. HE is not required to stop being a gentile. HE is not required to let go of his privileged status as a centurion. He is not required to do something extra to be allowed to be a part of the church, to be thought of as a brother. There is nothing that would give us any indication that Cornelius was supposed to just be quiet and let the more oppressed Jewish believers be in charge while he relegates himself to a lower position. There was no indication that Cornelius was being asked to do something to atone for being Roman or a part of the military.
No, what happened here was that, once Cornelius believed, once the Spirit of God came upon him and his household as happens in a few verses, he was baptized and welcomed into the church. All former walls of division were done away with. There was no place for them. Cornelius was as much a part of the church as was Peter. There was no call for Peter to stop being an apostle simply because he had been privileged to be Jewish and to have the gospel first. Nor was there any move to make Cornelius humble himself before Peter because Cornelius was a part of the Roman empire. These men were welcomed by God into his family without any distinction. Or, as Peter says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Christians, let’s be very careful never to embrace any social philosophy that undermines what Peter has said. WE must not pretend that God shows partiality. WE must never assume that one people group is more acceptable to God because of their high position or their low position in any society. Once a person is a believer in the Lord Jesus, that person is a part of the church. We are called to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. WE are called to love one another and sacrifice our rights for one another’s good. We are called to shock the world by not buying into their lines of division, but to let the world know that we are Christ’s disciples as we love one another.
Am I pretending that all this is easy? Of course not. Nor am I suggesting that we do not have to listen and speak and think carefully as we deal with each other’s pains and pasts. But we must start with the understanding that God is not about to allow for us to divide his church based on skin color or social status. God will not show partiality. He does not set high the rich or the poor. HE does not elevate those who have had it easy or those who have been treated unfairly. God makes a new people out of formerly divided people. WE must not give the lie to that beautiful truth by developing divisions where the Lord sees none.