Controversy in the Church
Peter’s Report to the Church (Acts 11:1-18)
For Peter and the Jewish Christians who accompanied him the evidence of God’s direction was both immediate and unmistakable. But, for those Jewish Christians who were not privy to this compelling information the news must have hit like an earthquake. There must have been extreme agitation and confusion throughout this small, vulnerable community of believers.
11 Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”
Note first that there is already at this extremely early time (i.e., the 30s A.D., or less than a decade after Christ’s resurrection) an identifiable “circumcision party” within the Church. It’s natural to therefore assume that there was also something on the order of a party that did not cling so tightly to their Jewish heritage in existence.
The specific point of controversy was that Peter had violated Jewish ceremonial law by eating with Gentiles. In fact, this was the only point of controversy.
4 But Peter began and explained to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.
Peter responds by first recounting his vision from God concerning once forbidden sources of food.
11 At that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesare′a. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brethren also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’
Next Peter recounts the amazing sequence of events that brought him and the six brethren together with Cornelius and his household. Here we find Peter including Cornelius’ vision and obedience as integral parts of the common experience of God’s leading among Jews and Gentiles.
Peter’s explanation may answer a mystery discussed previously, that being why Cornelius “fell down at his feet and worshiped him” (i.e., worshiped Peter, in Acts 10:25b). As Peter recounted in Jerusalem, the angel who met with Cornelius said of Peter that “he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” Thus, it is reasonable to conjecture that Cornelius’ expectation for salvation originally but erroneously were attached to the person of Peter rather than to Jesus Christ. However, this initial confusion in no way prevented God from achieving His providential purpose.
15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
Peter reaches the climax, where God’s purpose in all of this becomes so unmistakably apparent that the only faithful response is immediate and joyful obedience. Note that Acts’ author, Luke, has chosen to recount virtually the entire story from Chapter 10 here in Chapter 11. The fact of this complete repetition is strong evidence for the tremendous importance of this event to Church history.
18 When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”
I wonder if there were two distinct groups being here described, those who “were silenced” and those who “glorified God.” For, in Paul’s letters and later in Chapter 15 of Acts, the “circumcision party” didn’t simply melt away. Certainly some from the “circumcision party” could have been (and likely were) so convinced by Peter’s testimony that they completely and permanently changed their position. However others certainly did not.
However, we must not lose sight of the primary point, that being that the Church in Jerusalem had overwhelmingly accepted the principle that Christianity is intended for all, Jew and Gentile alike. In this they chose obedience to Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” over their Jewish heritage. And, God’s providential promise to make Abraham’s offspring a blessing to all nations had, in His good time, come to pass in this fallen world.