Why did you do it? (11:3)
That was the question the Jewish followers of Jesus back in Judea asked Peter about visiting and eating with the Gentile Cornelius and his household. This sort of thing was not done. God’s people are Jewish not Gentile, or so they thought. Why would Peter of all people extend table fellowship to uncircumcised and therefore unclean Gentiles?
So Peter tells them his story. I am amazed at how it ends.
“As I [Peter] began to speak, the holy spirit fell on them, just as the spirit did on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word which the Lord had spoken: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the holy spirit.’ “So, then,” Peter concluded, “if God gave them the same gift as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus the Messiah, who was I to stand in the way of God?” When they [the Judean brothers and sisters] heard this, they had nothing more to say. They praised God. (11:15-18)
It sounds so easy. Everything was so clear-cut for them all: We Jews had this experience. Then those Gentiles did too. So that confirms God’s will here. Nothing more to say. Praise God for His generous grace!
When Christians today argue with each other over who is acceptable to God or not, I am afraid it is rarely that easy to resolve. Each side has a whole litany of reasons why there is “more to say.”
It seems to me that the best way to explain why consensus was so easily attainable in this passage is that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” mentioned here in Acts 11 was manifested as speaking in tongues. It did say in 10:46 that Cornelius’ family spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit “fell on everyone.” Therefore, this phenomenon was immediately observable and objective. They must have been thinking: We received this. They received this. That is how God works. So, there is nothing more to say.
I am afraid it just isn’t that easy today. How I wish it could be. For many of us the tradition we come from does not believe speaking in tongues is still a common experience at salvation (or that it ever happens anymore). Maybe we could point to the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life as a testimony to divine election and approval, but that is not completely visible, it takes a long time to develop, and even non-Christians are observably and objectively patient and gentle many times.
What I really want to say is maybe we just need to stop worrying about who is accepted by God and not. Most of those debates involve groups of people who both claim to have faith in Jesus. Maybe we should focus our attention on other matters, like those who don’t believe at all. But there will always be people amongst us who would say like Peter did, “I can’t do that. I have never done that before. I don’t think that is right.” And for those people these debates are very real and important. I just wish the way to resolution could be as easy as what we are seeing here.