Slowly, but surely, we’re winning this argument. Slowly, gradually, more and more Christians are coming around to understanding the Apostle Peter’s rooftop vision from God the same way that Peter understood it.
On Wednesday, evangelical theologian Scot McKnight shared a guest post by Jeff Cook.
It’s a kind of personal testimony in which Cook — who serves as pastor of an evangelical church in Greeley, Colo. — describes “What I Have Learned From the Lesbians in My Church.”
That’s where Cook begins, with his sometimes-awkward personal account from how his faith and life have been enriched by two women at his church whom he describes as “an absolute treasure” to him and to the congregation. But Cook goes on from there, beginning, apprehensively, to question whether this experience ought to lead him to rethink his thinking.
Here is Cook’s conclusion:
In the early church, the Jewish Christians became convinced that God desired to save Gentiles through faith in Christ alone, because they saw the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Gentiles. The common understanding of conversion in the first century was that one needed to physically change — to be circumcised and give up certain foods in order to be acceptable to God. But the early church shifted its perception of this entire group of people, not because of the Bible (the Bible was clear that all males needed to be circumcised and eating shellfish was a no-no), but because they saw the work of the Holy Spirit bursting forth from the lives of these Gentile believers.
After seeing the Spirit’s work, they changed the rules of inclusion.
I do not have a clear conviction from Christ on this point, but I wonder if that same lesson is being offered to the American Church, who so clearly sees the Holy Spirit alive and awake in some of our gay friends. I wonder if empirically we might make the same move as the first Christians who disregarded the many verses on circumcision and food laws, disregarded traditional mores, and embraced the present activity of God’s Spirit in their midst as authoritative.
I think if we did, we would not only begin to see God in new ways, we might gain many new sisters, many new brothers — just as the early church did.
This makes me very happy. Scot McKnight is a respected and influential theologian in evangelical circles, and while he doesn’t quite endorse the conclusion Cook doesn’t quite come to, I’m very pleased to see both of them giving some serious, thoughtful consideration to this argument.
It also makes me very happy to see another mainstream evangelical blog, Internet Monk, with a follow-up post titled “Is Jeff Cook on to something here?” IMonk, like McKnight, has the attention and the respect of the evangelical mainstream establishment, and it’s good to finally see that establishment beginning to contend with the parallel between the early Christians’ inclusion of us unclean Gentiles and the imperative for the church today to include LGBT Christians as full participants.
The Apostle Peter was against including Gentiles in the beloved community. He wasn’t a bigot, necessarily — it was simply a matter of the authority of scripture. He could recite dozens of clobber-verses to show that such inclusion would have been “unbiblical.”
“It is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile,” Peter said. The Bible said it. He believed it. And that settled it.
Until a vision from God and a knock on the door unsettled it.
“It is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile,” Peter said, “but …”
That, right there, is what will get you in trouble with the evangelical tribe every time. If the scripture says something is “unlawful,” the tribe insists, then there is no “but” about it. It is unlawful. Period. Full stop. No excuses. No exceptions. No buts.
“It is unlawful,” Peter said, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”