We Took The Word Unclean Out of Our Vocabulary Years Ago

The fifth book of the New Testament is commonly called “The Acts of the Apostles”.  I appreciate the editor’s attempt at inclusivity.  However, if we wanted to be more accurate (I’m not trying to go Dan Brown here), we’d probably call it the Acts of Peter and Paul.  They’re the apostles who seem to do the most talking.  Peter and Paul drive the story.

In the 10th chapter, Peter is speaking.  He seems be preaching sermon after sermon since the resurrection. It’s hard to find a place where Peter isn’t talking about what Jesus did or will do.  Here’s the catch, Peter rarely gets time to wrap up his message with a witty conclusion.  Sometimes he finishes his sermons and at other times he’s arrested.  In this instance, Peter is interrupted; not by an unruly crowd, temple guards, or a know-it-all with questions.  Instead, the Holy Spirit breaks in, much like Pentecost, and descends upon those listening to his message.  As with Pentecost, Peter’s message is redirected (by the Spirit) toward Gentiles who hear the message in their own language.  For a second time now, Peter realizes that the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t reserved for people like him, those who talk like him, or people who claim to have known Jesus personally.  The Holy Spirit is for anyone and everyone.  Whether you’re consider clean or unclean, you get the gift of the Spirit.  You’re in the church.  There is no litmus test.

If we need to be convinced of this idea, that inclusion is a divinely inspired mandate, it’s probably too late for the United Methodist Church.  If this is the first time you’ve read Acts 10 and realized full inclusion in the body of Christ is not a limit to be set by the writers of the Book of Discipline, it’s probably too late for the United Methodist Church.  If Acts 10 doesn’t remind you that scripture’s ideas about inclusions are more powerful than its limited definitions of marriage, it’s probably too late for the United Methodist Church.  If we’re afraid welcoming difference will compromise our Biblical, historical, and theological witness, the moment we asked that question, we stopped being church (United, Methodist, or otherwise). We can talk about anniversaries all we want but the day we asked that question, that’s the day we died.

I’ll tell you the truth.  I’m not into practicing a zombie Christianity no matter how doctrinally pure it claims to be.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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