|Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: The Gospel, Keeping Torah, Power and Table Fellowship (A Tribute to Dr. King)
On this day of national remembrance for a minister of the Gospel, I thought it appropriate to write a piece that both honors Dr. King's memory while also issuing a fresh challenge for today to the church in the US. I'd like to briefly reflect on the Gospel in the New Testament with an eye toward how it might have implications for race, power, and table fellowship in US churches.
After Jesus' ascension, and after the church was endued with the power of the Holy Spirit, God used Peter to share the Gospel with the Gentile centurion named Cornelius. Peter initially objected to this mission (Acts 10.9-23). He was a 'good Jew.' He obeyed the Torah, including the call to be undefiled, separate from "the nations." Father Abraham was promised that his offspring would be a blessing, would reveal the Most High God, to the whole world—including the Gentiles. But by Jesus' time, those who called themselves Abraham's children saw the nations as enemies to be despised and avoided (Luke 10:25-37). Those who taught the Torah sought to justify themselves with the Scriptures (v. 29). But Jesus taught that even the despised Samaritans are 'neighbors' whom God's people are to show mercy (v. 36-37).
Peter was slow to catch on to Jesus' program, but eventually he got it. When he saw that the Spirit had led him to Cornelius, he said,
"I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." (Acts 10.34-35)
And after he witnessed the Holy Spirit being given to Cornelius' household, just as He had been given to Jesus' Jewish disciples, he said,
"Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." (v. 47)
Peter's declaration that these Gentiles should not be prevented from receiving water baptism is highly significant. Water baptism is initiation into the one Church of Jesus Christ. Peter was so thoroughly convinced that Cornelius and his family were true disciples of Jesus, that he was willing to welcome them into the church and join them around the Lord's Table in fellowship.