The book of Acts is filled with stories of cross cultural mission but it required the early church to wrestle with who they are and how they should do it. It took seven years between Peter receiving the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and his first mission to the Gentiles (the household of Cornelius). This delay was mainly because of his Jewish traditions (the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 was called to try and resolve the issue). Peter had to break into a new mindset to fulfil the Great Commission. What principles can we learn from Peter sharing the good news for the first time with a non-Jewish household in Acts 10?
1. We need to step outside our comfort zones
Peter had been restricting his message to his own culture, the Jews around Jerusalem. Following a vision to call no-one unclean, he left his familiar territory (he was staying in Joppa at the time) to go to Caesarea. This is a journey of 54 kilometres. Its not a big distance geographically but it is a big step theologically.
For many today our church tradition has limited our ability to reach and connect with people from a different culture even if it is ethnically similar. In my case most of the people in my community are Scottish, and mainly working class but they have very little experience of church or the gospel. In fact they are often antagonistic because of bad experiences or a false idea of what it means to be Christian. It is not a comfortable situation to have to break new ground and introduce ideas that might be rejected. That means we need to be willing to get outside our comfort zones.
2. We need to be open to divine appointments
Peter needed a vision to get him to share the good news outside of his Jewish community. Even though he was a good and faithful follower of Christ, he still had a mental block. We need God to intervene and awaken us.
In Acts 8:26-27, Philip had to receive instruction from an angel "“Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official."
Both men were apostles and had spent three years with Jesus but needed divine conformation to go beyond their comfort zones. If this is true for Peter and Philip, then it is true for us.
3. People of peace will often gather others to hear the message far better than we can
When Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius he "found a large gathering of people." (Acts 10:27)
It is better that a friend bring a friend to hear good news. There is already a relational bridge and trust established. Cornelius gathered a large group and he prepared them to hear the message. The growth of the early church often happened through households, extended networks of people who were connected. We see this "person of peace" principle over and over again in the New Testament. The first two disciples of Jesus were Andrew who heard first and then called for his brother Peter. In John 1:35 it says "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
The majority of people who hear the good news, hear it first from a friend. This is an easier form of cross cultural mission.
4. Listen to each others stories
Peter asks Cornelius "May I ask why you sent for me?" This is a great question. Both men get to tell their story. All good gospel practices are rooted in story, it is the story of Jesus integrated into our own story. Before any mention is made of Jesus and the resurrection, Peter introduces his own context and his own internal wrestling, which shows an honest and authentic approach. It is not a sales pitch. People want to know you are interested in them as a person and it also helps us tailor what we say to make it relevant.
5. How we live matters
Peter says in Acts 10:38 "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him." The good news included the example Jesus set by doing good and releasing the oppressed. We should include in our good news presentation "this is what Jesus is like, this is how he lived." Peter then shares the death and resurrection of Jesus in the context of his life. How we live matters, the gospel is incarnational when it is lived out and observed. How we live might actually speak louder than the words we use.
6. Repentance and faith are essential ingredient of the good news
Peter tells them in Acts 10:42-43 "He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Good news includes the fact that Jesus is also a judge, and we all need forgiveness of sin. This has become a little bit unpopular as a methodology and there is a tendency to avoid sin talk. Yet without a recognition that we have "all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" there is no need for repentance. I accept there are different ways and styles to communicate this but it is still a necessary part of the message.
7. Be open to the work of the Holy Spirit
Acts 10:44 says "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message."
It is the work of the Spirit to lead people to a place of faith and repentance. We cannot make that happen. This takes the pressure off. Our job is to speak and be open to God.
Peter was working in a cross cultural setting. In the West today we are often in situations where people do not know the gospel, it is foreign to them, it is unfamiliar or they are immunised in some way. The principles above will help us break ground and see households come to faith.
If you have any examples you can share, please do so.