Peter’s Vision: An Inclusive Gospel

Last night the Lord presented some impactful dreams to me. I’m accustomed to this; it’s one of the clearest ways that He speaks to me. As I typically do, I recorded these dreams and lay back down to get a bit more rest, and as I lay in that half-asleep, half-awake state, pondering what the Lord had already spoken to me, He abruptly presented me with something entirely different. I had a sense I was personally watching the Acts story of Peter, of having a vision of a sheet of unclean things and being told “Arise and eat.” This was surprising, since I’m not prone to thinking of myself in terms of Bible heroes.

So let’s start by reviewing the story in Acts 10.

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16 NASB)

The idea of violating Levitical rules about unclean foods was deeply offensive to Peter. He was suddenly being told in this trance or vision not to call foods unclean that he was trained were unacceptable for religiously pure people. Yet the Lord specifically told Peter to not call them unclean any longer, because God had cleansed them.

As Peter pondered this strange vision, a group of Gentiles knocked on his door; Peter quickly perceived that he was being asked to apply that principle of Godly righteousness and cleanness to people he also knew were ceremonially unclean and outside the religious family from a Levitical perspective. He then became aware he was being asked to take that message to others, not simply practice it himself.

I find it particularly important to note that Peter’s obedience to accompany and fellowship with Gentiles is what led to the Holy Spirit being poured out on them.

17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius had asked directions to Simon’s house, and they appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” 21 Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging.

Now on the next day he got ready and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter helped him up, saying, “Stand up; I, too, am just a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner; and yet God has shown me that I am not to call any person unholy or unclean. 29 That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for.” (Acts 10:17-29 NASB)

So Peter realized the purposes of the Lord in the matter, and immediately began to teach the assembled Gentiles about Jesus’ lordship and grace, to all who would believe.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had also been poured out on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter responded, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:44-48 NASB)

Notice that the confirmation came in the walking out of the relationship; Peter could have just obeyed the call to personally not call anyone impure or unclean, but it would not have mattered until he went and associated with the Gentiles. THEN, the Spirit was visibly poured out on that group, and that outpouring confirmed that they were fully acceptable to God.

So how does that apply to me personally today? This morning, as I came more awake and pondered this new dream about Peter’s dream, like Peter I wondered about its meaning. Here’s the critical thing: I feel like the Lord directed me to think of it specifically in terms of how the church has handled LGBTQ issues.

You see, I have been wrestling with the morality of the queer spectrum for some time. It feels like a matter that the Lord has asked me to understand with clarity, no longer simply relying on my upbringing and my former church training, but to dive much deeper, studying the issue from both social/cultural and scriptural perspectives. In fact, in the last couple of weeks I’ve had a number of specific encounters with friends and family about this topic, and it’s been very clear to me that what I’m studying and considering sharply differs from my “home culture’s” perspectives.

So it’s not really surprising to me that the Lord gave me this dream about Peter’s dream, to specifically direct my steps.

In much the same way as with Peter, there are people in the church today who are finally becoming willing to associate with modern-day Gentiles – the queer community, who have been shunned by the church, disassociated at every turn, and avoided in almost every way. Invective is routinely launched against them, with even direct calls for public execution of gays and queers these days on social media by right-wing Christian extremists – with little to no pushback by other evangelicals. The situation is surprisingly similar to how the Jews treated Samaritans.

Yet amidst this ugly scene, there are those who are becoming like Peter: they have heard the Lord say “don’t call unclean what I have cleansed.” Although their minds are offended, just like Peter, at a clear breach of how they were raised to understand the Holy Scriptures, and at a clear breach of apparent meaning in a number of verses in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, they have responded to that call to “go with them.”

Just like what happened with the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles, the testimony coming from these “inclusive” churches is stunning, for those who will hear it. People who previously were rejected by the church are finding Christ, and entering into communion with the Body of Christ for the first time. The Holy Spirit is truly being poured out on them, very visibly and tangibly, and that testimony (readily available for those willing to hear it) is just like the testimony of the Gentiles receiving the Gospel from Peter. And those straight folks who interact with them are finding peace and joy, as they rejoice in their coming to Christ and they relax in a newfound freedom from fear of “otherness.”

It’s instructive in this moment to also consider the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8:

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Get ready and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got ready and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:

“He was led like a sheep to slaughter;
And like a lamb that is silent before its shearer,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 In humiliation His justice was taken away;
Who will describe His generation?
For His life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he ordered that the chariot stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:26-39 NASB)

Let’s consider a few non-obvious facts about this story.

Eunuchs in ancient cultures were usually servants or slaves. While valued by their masters for a supposed inability to be sexually tempted and lacking a masculine desire to conquer, they were generally otherwise outcasts in their culture. Lack of virility and masculinity was deadly to social status in strongly patriarchal cultures. It’s instructive that Jesus, in Matthew 19, honors eunuchs specifically, as does Isaiah 56 – both of these being shockingly counter-cultural to those who heard the proclamations from Jesus and the prophet.

But in the context of that society, remember that the Lord’s own Scriptures forbade man-made eunuchs (the servant eunuchs) from worshiping in the Temple:

1 No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 23:1 NASB)

So this Ethiopian court eunuch, having traveled a very great distance from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship, was certainly turned away from the Temple, and was probably unwelcome to participate in religious instruction in Jerusalem in general. We see this, in fact, as he asks Philip to help his understanding of the scriptures, pleading “how could understand I unless someone guides me?” This simple plea underscores his heart cry: he loves Yahweh, and longs to better understand the scriptures, but is an outcast from the Temple despite his faith.

Note that the scripture the eunuch was reading with Philip, in Isaiah 53, was just a few chapters before the verses about eunuchs in Isaiah 56. Imagine how his heart would have exploded with joy when Philip read further into Isaiah, and this eunuch for the first time perhaps understood how valuable he was to the Lord.

3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will certainly separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold firmly to My covenant,
5 To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be eliminated.
(Isaiah 56:3-5 NASB)

Despite being excluded from the Temple, the eunuch’s faith wasn’t broken, and as he was leaving Jerusalem to begin the long journey home, the Lord that day positioned Philip, a faithful disciple who was willing to associate with someone he likely believed to be a “damaged” or “lesser” human, to teach the Word of the Lord to him. And it went beyond associating: he was willing to immediately baptize the eunuch, showing his full communion in the Body of Christ that day.

Perhaps in that very moment, the Lord instructed Philip to look beyond Deuteronomy 23:1 and the man’s physical state. It’s pretty clear from Acts 8:26 that Philip knew he was specifically sent to that situation by an angel of the Lord.

We are not told what happened to the eunuch later, but it’s quite likely that he carried his newfound faith back to his homeland and to the court of the queen of Ethiopia. I find it very possible that he would have been the flashpoint for many thousands of people to come to faith in Jesus Christ, as a righteous understanding of the Scriptures spread in his home country.

And I also find it quite likely that Philip’s recounting of that story would have been shocking, and also enlightening, to the other Christians to whom Philip was traveling to minister. I can only imagine that it contributed to Paul’s later teaching about the need for a complete rejection of partiality in the church.

So why am I sharing a personal dream?

I’m keenly aware, as I write and record this, how it will be received by anyone still invested in the traditional understanding of sexuality in Christian circles. It will instantly make me a pariah in many circles. And that’s why I’ve been deeply pondering and studying this issue for months. But my dream today was a tipping point for me, of the Lord specifically pushing me off of my indecision and musing, into a particular understanding that was no longer negotiable in my heart. I trust His word to me, especially in my dreams; there have been many specific instances that I can recount where He has confirmed matters that I dreamed with great detail and clarity through other people and circumstances. So when the Lord presents this topic to me in this manner, I choose to follow His lead despite the very obvious cost. He has my “yes” and that doesn’t change.

I don’t know why you follow my blog. Some of you probably consider me as an example of what goes wrong when a Christian walks away from the faith – as a cautionary tale of sorts. And that’s fine. Certainly there were many Jews who attacked Peter for abandoning the faith. In Acts 11:2,

And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, the Jewish believers took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:2)

But as Peter retells the story to these believers, he ends with this:

“17 Therefore, if God gave them the same gift as He also gave to us after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has also granted to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:17-18)

And when I hear testimony after testimony about God’s Spirit being poured out on those that the church considers anathema, I have to reconsider my past doctrine. We either believe that God pouring out the Holy Spirit on people is a true sign of His acceptance of their full status as His children, per Acts 11:17-18, or we don’t.

On the other hand, some of you are probably following my blog because you hear something worth considering. And it’s to you that I offer this dream of my own. The Lord is requiring me to reconsider the religious practices that I honestly believed and faithfully followed for several decades, and He is showing me that He is expanding His kingdom to include those that I and many others have long excluded. And so I offer these thoughts and scriptures to you for your consideration. Perhaps the Lord is challenging you in this area also.

And perhaps not. It’s not my place to create or enforce doctrine. I refuse to even call you to join me, in this case. It’s too dangerous and too costly. I’m only responsible for what the Lord has given to me, what He has required of me. You alone are responsible for what He gives you. And that may well differ from me, and I won’t criticize you if you choose differently.

But if you resonate with these thoughts, I’d love to dialog with you about this, and I’ll welcome you on my journey.

And even if you disagree, I’d love to dialog with you. We can both learn from each other.

Be blessed. We’ll talk again soon.

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