Peter’s pragmatism

I love it when I discover pragmatism in a Bible story.

I’m sure you remember this one. An angel appears to the Gentile army captain, Cornelius, and tells him to summon Peter, who is staying in Joppa, a day’s journey away. As Cornelius’ servants near Joppa, Peter is praying on the rooftop. Through a vision, God persuades him that all food is good to eat. When Cornelius’ servants arrive at the door, the Holy Spirit speaks and Peter reinterprets the dream to mean that he is supposed to go with them even though they are Gentiles.

Arriving in Cornelius’ home where his household has gathered, Peter preaches the gospel. Even while he is speaking, the Holy Spirit falls on these Gentiles and they begin to speak in tongues. Peter regards this as evidence that the Gentiles, too, can enter the Kingdom of heaven, and baptizes them.

Later on, Peter describes this story to the leaders back in Jerusalem. Speaking into a context where the stricter Jews were criticizing him for entering the home of a Gentile and where people believed that Gentiles were not included in the salvation Jesus won, he makes a remark that to me seems full of pragmatism:

“… Since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)

And the response?

When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” (Acts 11:18)

Can we not apply that same pragmatism to the church’s attitude to women?

All around the world God is using women in remarkable ways. In China, around 80% of the leaders are women. In India, women are planting churches everywhere—I know a woman church planter who has started more than 6,000 churches. In a rapidly growing Middle Eastern church planting movement, 60-70 percent of the leaders are women. Our friend Heidi Baker, along with her husband, Rolland, has seen more than 10,000 churches begin in Mozambique and the surrounding nations. Women teach and preach, they baptize and give communion. They are free to follow the Holy Spirit however he leads them without being told they are usurping men’s authority or that they aren’t allowed to behave in these ways because of their gender.

I’d love for Peter’s pragmatism to apply here too. Since God sees fit to use women all over the world, can we not say with Peter, “Who was I to stand in God’s way?”

Questioning one-on-one discipleship

One-on-one is a preferred method of discipleship within evangelicalism. I have no doubt as to its effectiveness (wish someone had been there to disciple me as a young believer). However, recently I’ve been questioning this.

Presumably we all believe that the way Jesus worked with his disciples is the best pattern to use. So I’ve been fascinated by a study I’ve recently done.

There were only two occasions I could find in the gospels where Jesus had a conversation with one of the disciples alone. One was with Peter over the paying of taxes (go and catch a fish) and the other, also with Peter, was about forgiving people seventy times seven times. As far as I can see, every other interaction that is recorded involves a group of them–of at least two or three.

There was one occasion where it specifically states Jesus was alone for a conversation with someone–the woman at the well. And we assume (although it doesn’t say so) that he was alone with Nicodemus in John 3.

Other than that, once he had chosen the twelve, Jesus worked with groups–groups of his disciples, the crowds, challenged groups of Pharisees and Sadducees. Other conversations where it appears he was talking to individuals, if you examine the context, were all within a group situation.

What does that say about one-on-one discipleship? What are the advantages of group discipleship?

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