In my last post (Frameworks for Mission: Direction or Dogma) we looked at the experience of Cornelius as described by Luke in Acts chapter 10. I asked the question, Are we saved by cognitive acceptance of certain doctrines or by the direction of our lives?Â Â
I suggested that
Many of us think we are “made human again” by correct doctrine or teaching. Others of us believe that we are saved by leading humane lives. Before our dogma (doctrine) or our direction (humanity), there is the prior initiative and work of God among us. There is (before we comprehend true doctrine and before we embrace true humanity) a prior act of love on our behalf.
The issue here is that before we cognitively grasp anything, before we move in any direction, before we even breath, God is at work among us (the Cornelius’ of the world) whether we are Hindu, Muslim, Christian or secularist.
The conversion of Cornelius required that Peter have a conversion of his own. Peter now realized that God accepted the gentiles as he accepted the Jews. The Jews kept themselves away from the Gentiles. God had a different practice. He actively engaged with both Jews and Gentiles, the “clean” and “unclean”.
The way Luke tells the story we see that God was at work in the life of Cornelius, the gentile, as he was in the life of the Christ following Jew named Peter. It’s important to remember that Peter was not a Christian. He was a Jew. Cornelius was not a Christian either. He was a God fearing Gentile. Peter knew the gospel and Cornelius did not, but God was at work in both of their lives.
After listening to Cornelius explain how a “man in shining clothes” instructed him to send for the Apostle, Peter says a remarkable thing:
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10. 34
Peter explains the gospel to Cornelius and Cornelius and his whole family become Christ followers too. The question arises, as it did in the comments from the last post, What does a convert to Jesus Christ become? (See comment #8 from OneBadPig).
This kind of question was an issue for the early church that was made up of Jews. It intensified as the Christ following faith began to spread among the Gentiles. The particular case of Cornelius and Peter was debated in Jerusalem (Acts 11) and things finally come to a head in Acts 15, the heart and soul of the book of Acts.
Gentiles must become Jews, argued some. Unless you are circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, you cannot be saved.
If this argument had prevailed, the early church would only have recognized the “salvation” of Christ following Gentiles who became Jews. But this view — which would have contradicted the gospel itself (See Galatians 3.8) — did not prevail.
Peter argues that “…it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” and the council at Jerusalem decides that Gentiles who turn to Christ need not become Jews.
Ok, what then do these converts become? What did the God fearing Gentile named Cornelius become? There was no world religion called Christianity in which to enroll. There were no Christians as we know them. The question, what do converts to Christ become may betray our need to “name” things, to give things labels. I suffer from this need and so I suggest the label of “Christ following Gentile”. The shift in Cornelius’ life was not a horizontal move from one religion to another. The shift in his life was of a vertical nature. In embracing the gospel, Cornelius realigned his life with God’s work in the world.
In time, others would add labels for these Christ following Gentiles. Christ followers would be known as “disciples”, or as those who “belonged to the Way” (Acts 9.2), and/or (eventually) as “Christians” (Acts 11.26).
Today, because Christianity is for so many a synonym for “West”, it is important to remember that long before Christianity became a religion and an institution, converts did not turn to it, they turned to Jesus. Converts were Christ following Jews or Christ following Gentiles. Even today, for example, a Muslim that turns to Christ does not necessarily turn to Christianity. They become Christ following Muslims.
The fundamental turning in Cornelius’ life was towards Jesus not Judaism or Christianity. Because I like to name things too, I like to say that at the deepest level, he became human again. The natural result of God in our lives is not that we become an adherent to a particular religion (even Christianity). The natural result is that we become human again. Becoming human again does not require a horizontal move in terms of religion, but it does require a vertical realignment of the heart with the God who whispers our names.
What do you think?
Next “Frameworks for Mission”: What in the world can be meant by the term “Christ following Muslim” and the such? Also, how can becoming “human again” be the goal? Isn’t being human the problem?
Mike Harris has now joined the faculty for the Human Event in Orlando, Fl on Feb 5-6. His topic will make some of your mouths water: Men, Cigars, and the Gospel: A Combo For Missional Community. There’s still time to join Mike, me, Eric Bryant (Mosaic), and Eric Sweiven (Voxtropolis) in Orlando on Feb 5-6.
For a complete list of presenters and topics, Click here.
There’s still time for you to register. Hope to see you there. Here’s the Registration link: http://human.voxtropolis.com