By Bishop Sunny Emmanuel*
Peter’s identity crisis
Peter had a rough time getting over his group mentality: Paul relates that while they were together having a meal with some Gentiles, something no practicing Jew would have done, Peter separated himself immediately when men from Jerusalem arrived, and Paul rebuked him in front of everyone. (Gal 2:11-14).
Peter didn’t know which group he belonged to; was he a Jew who accepted Gentiles or should he retain his Jewishness in front of them and eat separately?
Temple or family?
The early church went through the same identity crisis in the year following Pentecost – they were raised as being either a Pharisee or Sadducee or other denomination, and now suddenly Christ lived in each one individually rather than in the Temple!
When the Lord moved from the one Temple in Jerusalem into individual human beings as temples of God he destroyed all groups and redefined everyone by being the family of God. (Gal 3:28, 4:7 among others).
This also meant they had to start thinking on their own while at the same time letting their new family members in Christ speak into their lives – connected yet retaining their individuality – uniqueness that religion had previously robbed them of.
Right after Pentecost, for a little more than a year, they went back and forth between their new family in Christ thinking, and their group thinking: “And they continued daily with one accord in the temple (group), and breaking bread from house to house (family).” (Acts 2:46)
But Acts 8:1, a bit over a year later, tells us everyone except the apostles left Jerusalem because of Saul’s persecution! The Lord seems to have allowed that year of going back and forth in part so they could work through their group thinking; but they said goodbye to the temple/group thinking and left town!
Peter loses the group thinking; realizes it’s all about family
The good news is that Peter too got over his group thinking. Galatians 2:9 says: When James, Peter and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave to me and Barnabus the right hands of fellowship; that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.
You see, the New Testament identifies 2 groups: Jews and Gentiles, and then there is the family of God. You may have been born either Jew or Gentile, but once in Christ you left those groups, your gender, and even your status in life, to be found in Christ. (There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus – Gal 3:28)
I see people all over the world living with the fact they’ve been raised in the group mentality all their Christian lives when in reality the New Testament describes us as individuals able to retain our individuality while being in the family of Christ.
Once you’ve been delivered from the man-made group mentality and into the family of God thinking, the focus becomes “perceiving the grace” in individuals. Peter had a ministry to the Jews, Paul to the Gentiles; Peter was an uneducated fisherman, Paul was well educated. Paul already walked in this grace, but Peter had to learn how to perceive God’s grace in others.
It’s all about perceiving grace
Perceiving the grace in others becomes the pivot point around which New Testament relationships grow and are cemented. I can minister to or receive ministry from, and be friends with people in denominations or various streams in the faith; all I do is look for the grace of God and perceive it in them – discern where that commonality exists, then build from there.
In Peter’s last letter, in the closing verses of that letter, he states that some of what Paul writes is hard to understand. Amazing. He perceived the grace of God in Paul, but even at the end of his life he didn’t fully understand the grace Paul walked in and wrote about. (II Peter 3:15-16).
That means I don’t have to understand you to perceive the grace in you – For example: I perceive the grace of God in what you do in the gang culture, but I can’t completely understand. I perceive God’s grace in you in the business world, but I can’t completely understand. I perceive the grace of God in you as a (fill in the blank) woman, wife, mother, abused person, formerly abusive person, formerly homeless, former Muslim, current or former denominational person – when I perceive the grace of God in you, I will treat you as family.
Once out of the group mentality you will find labels and ‘streams’ of the faith are irrelevant and you’ll be free to cross group lines as you perceive the grace of God in others (as they allow you to).
We are a body with individual parts, meaning individual graces and giftings, and we love and respect and honour each other based on those graces; not on which man-made group you belong to.
Yet perceiving the grace of God in others is only the start, for the purpose of that grace is to serve one another not to be a loose cannon connected to no one, but that’s another thought. Like King Arthur’s words in the movie “First Knight” (OK, Sean Connery’s) “In serving each other we become free.”
*Bishop Sunny Emmanuel is a Senior Pastor with Christian Faith Centre International, Tilburg (Holland). He may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org