Chapter & Verse: Acts 11: 1-18
Francis Brienen on standing in the way of the Spirit
The power of story can change things: minds, hearts, culture, even “the way we do things around here”. This story in Acts changes everything. To give it even more power and significance, the author, Luke, tells it twice, in Acts 10 and again in Acts 11. He does the same with the repetitions of the story of Paul’s conversion. The milestones in the life of the early church are worth telling more than once.
This second time, the story is told by Peter, the main actor in the story. (Or is he?) Peter tells the gathering in Jerusalem what happened when he visited Cornelius’s house in Caesarea. After sharing the Good News with Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit comes upon all who are listening and Peter orders them to be baptised. This should be a cause for great rejoicing, but it is not. Instead, Peter is criticised by the believers in Jerusalem. For Cornelius is not a Jew, but a Gentile, a centurion in the Italian cohort, who participates in the synagogue prayers and generously helps the Jewish people. Peter has baptised an uncircumcised believer – a most controversial issue in the apostles’ generation. The problem, however, does not seem to be the conversion of Cornelius, but the fact that Peter has gone into his house and taken food there, thus breaking the laws around purity.
Not long before, Peter himself would not have found that acceptable either. Listen to how he talks before he meets Cornelius: “No Lord! Nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth!” (Acts 11:8) The idea of eating unclean food with uncircumcised people is unthinkable to him. But a vision from God and the powerful experience of the Spirit lead him to admit with astonishment that God has no favourites, and that this Gentile household has become part of the same family of God that he belongs to. Seeing that they have received the same gift, who is he to hinder God? And so this story is about much more than the conversion of Cornelius…
This is an extract from the April 2016 edition of Reform.