Saturday, 14 November 2015

Daily Reading: Acts 11v1-18 'Challenging a prejudiced church culture'

"Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Luke gives considerable weight to the issue of the gospel going to the Gentiles.  48 verse sin chapter 10, another 18 here, and the issue resurfaces again in chapter 15.  The crux of the issue is the very nature of the gospel also it is no wonder Luke gives considerable time to these events.  The mission of God, which he has called to the church to be part of, to take the gospel to the whole world, from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth.

But there seems to be an assumption that has been made by the church and here in chapters 10 and 11 God is challenging the church to see the world and the gospel as he does.  The assumption they have made is that the gospel is to be shared with Gentiles who have become proselytes - followers of Yahweh through Judaism.  In verse 1-3 that is made apparent as Peter is criticised for doing the very thing he struggled to do until God showed him, associating with Gentiles.  What is the problem?  Peter has shared the gospel with non-proselyte Gentiles.  They are not culturally Jewish with everything that entails, and so Peter is criticised because they are uncircumcised and unclean.

Peter's explanation focuses on the fact that he, and they (17) by implication must not oppose God but rather join with God's mission as he defines it.  They cannot put up barriers to others that God does not.  The Jerusalem church cannot be monoculture and after this realisation the spread of the gospel round the world accelerates. Understanding that God is prejudice less that his mission is prejudice less makes his people prejudice less.   God leads the church to get over its prejudice of culture so that it can take his gospel to all.

So what does this mean for us?  Where may our church culture be a barrier to the spread of the gospel?  What are type cultural norms that we assume people either must adopt to hear the gospel or to be welcomed into church?  In the UK church is overwhelmingly middle class. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but the question is are we willing to take the gospel to others? What is there in our assumptions, our church culture, which means we limit practically who the gospel is for? Are there ways in which we preach what are cultural norms as gospel norms?

I want to suggest a few areas where our church culture may be a barrier to the gospel being for all:

Identity – for most of us our identity is linked to our education and achievements. For those from deprived area and working class areas identity is linked to appearance, dress and respect in community.

Community - For many of us our relationships are network based and are spread out. For those from working class cultures their networks are neighbourhood based. What does this mean for reaching them?

Attitude to learning - We have generally enjoyed learning and school. For others school has been a place of failure and learning has been hard or had little relevance.  How welcoming is church for those people?

Ability to access and be involved in church - We generally prize logic and clear dispassionate thinking. For those from working class backgrounds they value passion and concrete practical teaching.

Use of the home –we regularly use homes and invite people in for meals and are comfortable with that. That is not the case for many in working class culture and may be a barrier, as they prefer social spaces.

Perception problem – for many the problem is perception, they feel we judge them, they feel they aren't welcome. Unless we work hard to overcome this and get up and get out and invest in getting to know them we will never overcome this barrier.

I could go on about cultural differences – attitudes to money, people, the future, love, time, family, language, authority and so on. Whatever differences there are everyone needs the gospel and everyone can find in the gospel the hope of salvation. God is prejudice less, how can we not be.  The great gospel is for all and God invites us to be part of taking it to people everywhere.

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