Acts 151,2,7-11 “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers:“Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question…7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
I am not sure who these “certain people” were…but today I wonder if our “certain people” wear uniforms and act the part of the pharisee from time to time. I don’t wish to sound judgmental…truth be told, we have all played this role a time or two…and we’re not proud of it (I hope).
The Early Church
There were certain fundamentalists within the early church; rule abiders, standard bearers, orders and regulation holders. When new comers (Gentiles) came to the faith proclaiming to be Christ-followers, these traditionalists demanded they be made practicing Jews in every way including circumcisions (yowza!). You see, in order for these new comers to be accepted as members of the faith in the eyes of these traditionalists, they had to change everything about themselves. The law had to be upheld, and these stiff regulations followed to the letter. It was practically impossible for these Gentile followers to obey the law completely. In essence these “certain people” were setting them up for failure.
Grace & Law
8 “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8-9)
Peter tells it like it is to those gathered in Jerusalem.
We are given the Holy Spirit…He purifies our hearts. We do not need additional ritualistic practices or outward performances to meet regulations of salvation. We have been saved through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been purified through and through.
Do Orders And Regulations Get In The Way?
Yes. At times.
Sometimes, even in The Salvation Army, we can get so caught up in the law and the ritualistic practice of the law that we can lose sight of a grace that purifies and transcends common practice. Are new comers joining our Army? Do they understand this Army? Are we helping them to understand our forms of worship? Do we lose them because of lack of grace, compassion, judgement, appropriateness?
I am not advocating anarchy, in fact just the opposite.
Could it be that the grace of the Holy Spirit is all the law we need? I am not saying that we throw out our orders and regulations…but do we hold far too tightly to these? Have they become our “Jewish law”? In order for visitors to truly believe and worship as Salvationists, do they have to meet our requirements of dress and practice?
Sound Doctrine?…yes…Rigid Rules?…no.
Again we should be mindful, as Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James were in Acts 15 of the trappings of ridged Law abiding practices that strangles growth. The Apostles didn’t say that they were throwing out sound doctrines, but they did loosen the stiff regulations for Gentiles coming to the faith.
Can new people & visitors truly come to your corps “as they are”?
Do we judge new comers based on their appearance and practice?
Have we lost potential soldiers and even officers because we rigidly follow our orders and regulations and “accepted” practices in worship (excluding foundational doctrinal beliefs)?
Do we really mean for new Christians or would be Christians to “come as they are” into our Holiness meetings and Salvation Meetings?
Are we exhibiting grace, love and compassion to the “whosoever”?
Have we ever discriminated (consciously or subconsciously) people because they didn’t fit OUR Salvationist mold?
Warning: Don’t Get In The Way!
Don’t be the “certain people” found in Acts 15.
Our world already contains enough judgement, condemnation and discrimination. If
the Church The Salvation Army cannot be a beacon of hope, grace and holiness, then a I fear we will have lost our way and God help us if we turn away individuals because they aren’t “our kind of people“.
If you have been a part of the “certain people“…I pray you can reconcile yourself once more to His grace and love. Ask Him once again to soften your heart. Ask the Lord to make you holy. True growth of our Army begins upon our knees in penitence as we seek to be inclusive of the whosoever regardless if they wear a uniform or look just like you and me.
Prayer: Lord make us holy. Set us apart for your missions here on earth. May we seek to love and to serve everyone regardless of their differences. Give us your eyes so that we may see others the way you see them. May we exude your grace, peace, love and acceptance of those who are so desperately in need of these qualities here on earth. May we be your people who will help usher in your kingdom here on earth today through our faith in action. In your name we pray. Amen.
-Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
Additional reading on this topic for your consideration:
Cookie Cutter Christians
Christians and Racism?
When Christians Get It Wrong
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