Can the Church Be God’s Instrument of Change?
Peter is probably one of the most radical figures in the New Testament. Often we focus on Paul because he wrote so much of the Greek Scriptures. But the most explosive, radical changes that came in that generation came through Peter. We read in Acts 10 that Peter opened the door for the Gentiles to be grafted into the promises of Abraham. That may not seem like a big deal to us today, but put yourself back in the heart and mind of Peter’s day. The Gentiles were absolutely excluded from God, from His promises, and from a relationship with Him (Acts 10:28; Ephesians 2:11–12). The Gentiles had no covenant, no salvation, and no hope. Therefore, Peter’s statements were radical when he proclaimed that the Gentiles were included in God’s plan of salvation, that the cross of Christ applied to them, and that through Yeshua (Jesus) they were grafted into Abraham and God’s chosen people (Acts 10:34–35, 11:1–18).
God was looking to do something new through the early Church and in order to do that He had to have an instrument. God had to drive the conditioning out of Peter that made him not want to enter the house of a Gentile. He had to repeat the vision three times because it was so contrary to everything Peter knew and the traditions he had been raised in his entire life. The revelation of the Gentiles was not a simple thing for him. Yet Peter did not try to hold everything together and fight to keep things normal in the Church. Instead, what he did created confusion, especially among the leaders. After the Holy Spirit fell on those in the house of Cornelius, the leaders called Peter back to Jerusalem and asked, “What in the world are you doing?” Peter was probably confused himself because he did not know what was going to happen, and he certainly did not have an opportunity to read the book of Acts before he went. We know the end of the story; he did not. It is never comfortable to be in the middle of the story when God is creating something new.
However, we are in a time again when God is looking to do something new. He is ready to move, but He must have instruments who are willing to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Church has had over two thousand years of a consistent belief system and ways of doing things. But God is getting ready to do something different in this end-time. When Peter saw all the creeping creatures in the vision, he thought, “I can’t do this.” God had to tell him repeatedly, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:15).1 God must work the resistance out of us and have a people who are able to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I am very concerned about this. Are we so conditioned by what we know, by our traditions and our history that God cannot get through to us? Peter was an orthodox Jew who carefully followed the teachings. Likewise, we are orthodox Christians. But thank God Peter was obedient and had the courage to stand up against everything that refused to change. The glory of the latter house will be greater than the former because there will be a people who, like Peter, have been shaken out of their reluctance and resistance (Haggai 2:9; Hebrews 12:26). If we trust Him and are obedient, God will back us up with His presence.
1 All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible 1995 (NASB1995).