Connections 05.15.2022: Open Doors

Acts 11:1-18

Over my four decades of involvement in church life, I have heard all kind of arguments against letting certain kinds of people into the group. There have been a lot of closed doors.

“They use the wrong Bible translation.” “They watch R-rated movies.” “They listen to rap music.” “They’re gay.” “They believe women can be pastors.” “They use obscene language.” “Their culture is too different.” “They do yoga.” “They believe in meditation.” “They think God can be feminine.” “They aren’t sure about Jesus’ resurrection.” “They think abortion is okay in certain circumstances.” This list goes on and on and on….

Maybe you’ve heard other arguments. Maybe some of them have been your own. Of course, many of these arguments are important and bring up valid concerns. But are they grounds for shutting people out of the Christian community?

I think we can learn a lot from Peter in our lesson text. First, he truly listened to his community’s argument against letting certain kinds of people into the group: “They are uncircumcised, and you ate with them!” (v. 3). Second, he respected his community enough to offer them a lengthy explanation of his actions (vv. 4-17). Third, he admitted that he was skeptical about these other people too and even argued with God in a vision (v. 8). Fourth, he recognized his place as a minister of the gospel rather than the author of the gospel: “Who was I that I could hinder God?” (v. 17).

When we in our churches encounter new kinds of people, we may feel frightened, threatened, protective, and defensive. We may want to offer all kinds of arguments against letting them in. Maybe, though, we can remember Peter’s story here and approach these encounters differently. Instead of listening to our gut instincts, let’s trust God’s leadership. Let’s recognize our hesitancies and be open about them. Let’s look beyond cultural boundaries and be humble enough to realize that God might be doing a new thing among us. Let’s remember that we are ministers of the gospel—not the author of the gospel. Who are we that we can hinder God?

Discussion

• What are some arguments you have heard or offered against letting certain kinds of people into your faith community?
• What are the effects of “closed doors” on people who desperately need God’s love in their lives?
• What closed doors do we need to open in our church?
• Some of the arguments are reasonable and valid. In such cases, how can we balance the safety of our community with welcome to those who are outside it?
• What lessons can we learn from Peter about the ways we might try to hinder God?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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