Summary: The Gospel unifies people of all nations, races, ethnicity, culture, education and economic status. The Gospel is over culture, therefore it can be adapted to culture.
Is Christianity for everyone? Is it available to everyone? How much does a person need to be removed from their culture to become a Christian?
This issue about the Gospel and culture is not new. Christians have struggled with the Gospel and the effects of culture since the very beginning. Today in our Scripture we see Paul directly dealing with this issue.
See Jesus in his ministry on earth, gathered twelve disciples who were Jewish. After His death and resurrection the Holy Spirit came upon all those gathered together, the church was born and everyone in the church was Jewish. Remember, we talked a little bit about this last week. In the very early church everyone was Jewish. It turns out that most people in the very early church carried on with life with being Jewish after becoming Christians, living life like good Jews would, even continuing to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. In fact, many Christians would make a practice of gathering in the Temple, it was kind of like a church building to them. Geographically the church was centered in Jerusalem, with few believers living outside the city. So, Christianity was exclusively made up of people who were formerly Jewish and who, for the most part, lived in or around the city of Jerusalem.
You can see that as the Christian church started, it was very much culturally tied to everything Jewish: Jesus was Jewish; His disciples were Jewish; The Bible was Jewish; The church members were Jewish and they lived at the center of Judaism in Jerusalem. In the minds of many of the early believers, the thought would have never crossed their minds that anyone other than a Jewish person could become a Christian, or would even want to become a Christian.
What they had was great. They had family and friends who were joining the Christian church left and right. They all shared the same great music, the same great food, and the same ancient language. They all dressed alike, they all had the same political preference, they were all the same race, they all looked like each other – for all practical purposes they were all the same. This community was tight, so tight, they shared everything with one another – one big happy family.
But then persecution started. Paul, who is writing this letter we are reading this morning, was one of the most powerful instigators of this persecution. (Acts 8:1-3) This is why we see Saul heading out to Damascus in an attempt to head off the spreading influence of the Gospel. This persecution was harsh with families being split up, with people being dragged to prison and left to rot, or executed. How could God let this happen? There was nothing good about this persecution, people’s lives were being ruined in a hurry….. but there was one thing, one thing this persecution caused….the Jewish Christians scattered, many fled Jerusalem, and the Gospel was no longer a local phenomenon.
Then in Chapter 8 of the book of Acts we see the Gospel spread for the first time outside those who were of Jewish origin – sort of. We see Phillip go to Samaria with the Gospel. The Samarians were a people who were part Jewish, and in many ways culturally tied to the Jews, and they looked just like the Jews. So this wasn’t too much of a cultural stretch for the early church. But then, in the same chapter, we see something amazing happen, the Gospel leaps outside of the Jewish culture and outside of the region of Jerusalem, and it spreads not to Europe, and not to Asia, but it spreads to Africa. Philip has a conversation with a man from Ethiopia and he becomes a Christian. This Ethiopian then heads back to Ethiopia and the Gospel arrives first in Africa. In fact the church that has the oldest and longest ties to the early Christian church in Jerusalem, resides in Africa. Africa has been Christian longer than any other continent, outside of the Middle East.
I just crack up at those people who give us the line that Christianity is the white man’s religion, or that somehow Christianity is European based. That such ignorance is taken as fact today is astounding.
– And then in Acts chapter 14 we see, almost by accident the Gospel is accepted by people in the city of Antioch who were also not of Jewish origin. And a problem is born.
The people in Antioch don’t look anything like the Christians in Jerusalem, they speak another language, they eat different food, to the Judeo-Christian mind of the early church, these people, honestly, were repulsive. A good Jew would not associate with Gentiles, especially Greeks. A modern day way of saying it would be, they were racists. They were prejudiced against anyone who was not of Jewish origin.