The Dog and the New Doorbell ...
11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-13).
Viara, our wonderful but somewhat eccentric beagle that we inherited from friends, has taken it upon herself to be an amplifier for our doorbell. In fact, a lot of the time the doorbell is not even necessary. If she hears the UPS delivery person ,or Amazon, or whomever steps foot on the porch, she goes from the most laid back, liquid beagle to the Bugler in the Beagle Band. Her loud, sonorous barks (although expected by us now) always seem to startle us and of course the very act of barking seems to wind her up so that it is tough to get her calmed down (dog trainers—save your advice unless you’re willing to train the other two women in the house as well—I of course never give in to her pitiful eyes!). On Father’s Day, my two sons decided they wanted to get me something that I wouldn’t buy for myself … so I am the owner of a new Ring video doorbell. I decided that I probably didn’t need it on my office door, so I installed it on our front porch door, the one that Viara so vigorously defends. While setting it up, I had to (of course) ring the new ringer several times to find the right tone. Viara was laying right next to the new ringer, taking her second or third afternoon nap while keeping an eye on the porch, and only responded to one of the available tones I tried … the one of the dogs barking (after all, I’m going to be hearing that sound anyway … eventually).
It was interesting to me how she has not yet paired the stimulus that we would automatically recognize as a doorbell to what she currently recognizes.
So what does this have to do with Peter, Paul and the Gentile Christians?
Well, if anybody was going to treat the Gentiles right, you would think it would be Peter. After all, he was the one to whom God gave the vision (you remember the story in Acts … the sheet coming down full of “unclean things” and God declaring them clean and telling Peter to eat a ham sandwich, and oh, by the way—some Gentiles would be stopping by to hear the story of Jesus).
But Peter failed at Antioch … apparently he had paired the acceptance of Gentile believers with a particular situation and when other Jews came around, he didn’t hear the doorbell. It just wasn’t there for him yet.
Thank goodness Paul was there!
And lest we be too critical of him, let’s remember that we too sometimes pair the new things that God is doing as being only for certain times or situations. How many of us are sure that once the stay-at-homes are gone that worship can only happen live and in-person. Oh, sure, you can worship online in an emergency, but not when the doors of the church are open!
Like Peter, one of the mistakes that many will make as churches are able to reopen their buildings is that they will fail to recognize that the permission we experienced during quarantine to worship in new ways is still available. God specializes in Sunsets … not sunset clauses.
What God desires for worship, isn’t the offerings you bring to the church-house or the smells of the potluck burnt offerings (1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6). Indeed, God desires our obedience, mercy and love for worship, not our mere presence at a particular place and time.
And if online worship is going to keep reaching the unchurched and being a front-door for community as “experts” predict… we better learn to hear the bell.
Prayer: Lord, help us to recognize the changes that must take place for your future church and to embrace them with a joyful heart. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains