unity

No Religious Additives

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:22-29.

Since salvation came first to the Jews, many of them thought that salvation belonged to the Jews, and that anyone who would be saved had to first become a Jew. So the Apostles decided to make it clear that salvation only came THROUGH the Jews, because the Messiah came through the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But when Christ died for the sin of the world, the world qualified apart from being Jews. The only requirement for Gentiles was that which the Jews were also commanded: no idols, no overt pagan practices, and no sexual immorality.

Now that God has made us all one through the sacrifice of His Son for all of us, we are ALL called to obey Christ’s commands. We are ALL to love one another, and forgive one another, as Christ forgave us. We are to extend the grace of God to ALL people, regardless of what tongue, tribe, or nation.

This was a tall order for many Jews, who had been persecuted brutally by the nations of the Gentiles for centuries. And the Gentiles also had a bone to pick over the way the Jews sought to eradicate them from Canaan. There were real opportunities to incorporate some payback for systemic racism and acts of genocide. But the blood of Christ was given to take ALL our sins away. And He came to make us one in Him.

Segregation Ends

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Acts 9:34-48.

For centuries, in order to become a Jew, men had to be circumcised. And that is a pretty high barrier to entry. But God changed all that by pouring out His spirit on thesem non-Jews, known as Gentiles. The Good News, that Jesus has taken away the sin of the world, is available to anyone, from any tribe or nation. In this way, Abraham would now be the father of many nations.

When Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, it really didn’t click right away that this meant that someone from a pagan culture could end up as your brother in Christ. And even for years after this event, there would be Jews who insisted that the Gentiles had to be circumcised to enter the kingdom of God. This is not unlike the blindspot America’s founders had about the ramifications of all men being created equal.

What the constitution could not do (change people’s hearts), the Holy Spirit can. He makes us one in Christ, no matter where we come from. He accepts us all, so must we do the same. For us, it may be our denominational walls that separate us. But God does not recognize those walls, because He didn’t build them.

Our New Status

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:7-15.

How could it be to our advantage for Christ to leave? Because He was going to empower us to replace Him. As the Holy Spirit, the Helper, had empowered Him, He would be given to us to multiply Him in the earth. And we would not just be multiplied numerically, but we would be changed to be like Him, and given the same access to the Father.

Jesus was the Body of Christ during His earthly ministry. After He, the seed, died, He would be buried in the ground, only to live again through us. Now we are His body, spreading the seed of God’s word throughout the earth. But we would also be able to demonstrate His power because the Father will do what we ask in Jesus’s name.

So why don’t these things happen today? Actually, they do. No one person is the body of Christ. That describes us collectively, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed. People are healed, delivered from demon possession, and miracles happen around the world. But many parts of the body see nothing because we have been deceived into believing the gifts are withdrawn, or are not for today. But the power of God is asked for and received by those who believe Jesus’s words and receive His gifts. That is why Paul wrote: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14).

It is to our advantage to Christ to leave so the Helper would come and make us into a new manifestation of Christ and His power throughout the world. And He gave us the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip us all to manifest the distributed power of God throughout the Body of Christ, bringing us into unity. This mission has not passed away. It is still as necessary as it ever was.