Changing Your Mind
May 16, 2015
by Adam Thomas
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. (Acts 10:44-48)
The most extraordinary event in the history of the early days of the church happens in the verses above, which come from last Sunday’s readings in many churches. You might think this extraordinary event would be an epic conversion story or great speech or harrowing adventure across the sea, but no. The most extraordinary event in the history of the early days of the church is simply one person realizing he is wrong and then changing his mind.
That person is Peter. And we might expect Peter to be a hardliner, sticking to all of his positions and presuppositions just because he had been with Jesus from the beginning. After all, Jesus did give Peter the figurative keys to the kingdom. What could be more human of a reaction than for Peter to lock out any change that threatened the integrity of the in-crowd?
But Peter, thankfully, listens to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He has recently had his vision of the newly clean animals and been invited to meet Cornelius the Centurion. And while Peter is preaching to this Roman’s household, the Holy Spirit encounters all who hear him. Peter’s companions are astounded that the Holy Spirit of God would deign to manifest itself through unclean Gentiles. “But what about our in crowd,” they seem to protest. “We thought we were the special ones. We thought we were the ones that had the Holy Spirit.”
Then Peter remembers his vision of the now clean animals. And he finds himself standing at the precipice of a decision. His society, his upbringing, and everything he has ever known pulls him to reconfirm that Jews and Gentiles can never be united, that the good news of Jesus Christ is for Peter’s people alone. But that same Holy Spirit, which is even now dancing around Cornelius and his Gentile family, pulls Peter in a new direction toward unity and acceptance and radical welcome of the estranged other.
And this time Peter doesn’t balk. He asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And then he baptizes them. With these words, Peter admits that he has been wrong about who’s in and who’s out. He changes his mind, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the good news of Jesus Christ spreads like wildfire to new peoples who simply would have been written off before.
Think of times the church has courageously changed its mind due to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. What is going on in our own day that may lead us toward further change? How are you helping or hindering that newness?