One of my favorite books, perhaps the best, I’ve ever read is Vincent J. Donavan, Christianity Rediscovered, 25th Anv. Ed., 2003. The book is an account of Donavan’s ministry in Tanzania as a Catholic missionary and his reassessment of what it means to follow Jesus which led to rediscovering his Christian faith. I like the book because not only is it a great story to read but whether you’re reading the book as a lesson on multi-cultural mission work or just a devotional text on faith, Donavan’s story is encouraging.
Donavan’s story reminds us that when we follow Jesus, the church Jesus desires will always follow but that church will not necessarily be what we expected. This was the lesson the apostle Peter learned too. If you recall when Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be crucified, it was Peter who rebuked Jesus (Mk 8:32) for speaking about dying on a Roman cross. While Peter was able to discern that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, his imagination for what it meant to be part of this Jesus movement couldn’t fathom how crucifixion fit into that scheme. But Peter would learn and learn again.
In Acts chapter 10 we read about the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile who served as a Roman soldier. In the story Peter is given a vision during his sleep of heaven opening up with animals that Jews considered unclean appearing in the vision as Peter is told to eat. However, Peter rejected such an idea and why… because his imagination for what it meant to be a part of this Jesus movement did not have any capacity for inclusion of the Gentiles. But the Lord spoke saying in v. 15, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Thus Peter, who was still loyally committed to following Jesus, learned.
What lesson did Peter exactly learn? Well, we can obviously say that Peter learned the kingdom of God is inaugurated the the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. We also can say that Peter learned the kingdom of God is a realm without an ethnic and national boundaries. But I believe Peter learned even more and that there is more that we can learn too.
Peter learned that in following Jesus, the church Jesus desires will always follow too but that church will not necessarily be what he expected. But can we learn that lesson too? You see, everyone has an imagination for how we understand the church to be…
- What the church should look like.
- How the church should act.
- Who belongs to the church.
- What the markers of the true church are.
- How the church should participate in the mission of God.
These ideas all constitute what we hold convictions and there’s nothing wrong with having convictions per se. The question is hold tightly or loosely do we hold our convictions about the church. Can Jesus challenge our imaginations about what it means to be the church?
I hope so.
One thing I am certain of is that if we follow Jesus then the church Jesus wants us to be will always follow, though it may be different from what we imagine the church to be. However, if our imaginations for what the church should look like, how it should act, who belongs in the church, what it’s true markers are, and how it participates in the mission of God never changes, then perhaps we might start asking if it’s Jesus whom we’re really following.