“Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
I almost did not include this passage about the first Gentile conversion in this series of articles. The situation of Cornelius, though it speaks to race relations in New Testament times, is very different from the situation that exists today in one important way. It’s this: Gentiles had indeed been excluded from the chosen nation of God. Until a laborious process of cleansing occurred, they were yet unclean in the eyes of God and His circumcised people, Israel. This situation had persisted up until just a few years prior to the events of Acts ten. The disparity in Peter’s mind in Acts ten, when he was called to go and teach a Gentile the gospel was real and founded in the Old Testament will of God. Thus Peter had to have a direct relation from God in Acts ten in order to free his conscience to go and tell the gospel to Cornelius.
While God distinguishes between people based on beliefs and actions, racial problems in the history of the United States have never been a result of the will of God in exalting any particular race. In fact, the cultural and legal supremacy of white people that existed in the United States was antithetical to the teachings of the New Testament. People who were truly following the New covenant never would esteem themselves better than the other. In fact they would seek to regard the well-being of others above their own (I Corinthians 10:24; Matthew 7:12) Those, in the kingdom who used their voices many years ago to denigrate those of another race should have been ashamed to violate the code of Christ in such self-exaltation. We showed this earlier in this series. It was blatantly sinful. If someone in the body does so today, it is still blatantly sinful.
But there is yet a point to be made with the example of Peter in Acts 10. At this time, Peter lived under the New Covenant just as we do. His unwillingness to associate with and teach Cornelius was no longer pleasing to God. Thus, God showed Him a new way.
We live under the same covenant as did Peter. Because of passages like Acts ten and many others, we know that none of us can bring anything to the table of communion with God that is of any relative value. We are all lost, without hope, desperately dangling over an eternal fire without the precious blood of Jesus and His invitation to commune. But my question is this: Can we recognize that the same gospel that made Jew and Gentile one in Acts ten still work on hearts today? Can we admit that, in the past fifty years, brethren have made great strides to put aside prejudices and esteem one another better than self? Although, there was never an acceptable basis for any exaltation of white people, and although it was always sinful, can we not exalt and be thankful for the gospel that has so influenced the body of Christ in the past fifty years for unity? It is the same gospel that transformed Peter and the early church in Acts ten and eleven! I am thankful that I am privileged to be a part of a congregation of His people, even in the deep South, where Christians are truly striving to serve together in the spirit of our God who shows no respect of persons (Acts 10:34).