By Dr. Esther Mombo
During the election of the chairman of our parish Nito was nominated for the post. Before the election, there was a sharp reaction from a group let by Tundo against the nomination and election of Nito. When they were asked why Nito should not be elected, they argued that he came from a community that did not practice circumcision. They could not be led by a ‘gentile’ (uncircumcised man) . The church was split into two bitter rivals which could not be reconciled. This split led to a creation of two parishes which later became two dioceses.
In the early chapter of Acts, we note that the church was launched as an institution that sought to do away with all oppressive, social and categories such as age, class, race/ethnicity, and gender ( Acts 2:17-18). The letter of Paul to the Galatians (Galatians 3:27-28) witnesses to the fact that all who are in Christ are a new creation. We see in the book of Acts how the disciples of Jesus struggle to make up what this means for the development of the church and chapter 10 is one of those chapters that we see Peter and Cornelius being taught that the church is a place of inclusion.
Although Peter was one of those who spoke about the launch of the church, he was initially presented as still very traditionalist and was not buying into the new wave of the church. In Acts 9:32-42, Peter had already began to open up to inclusion as he was he is staying in Joppa in the house of Simon the tanner, which was viewed as an unclean trade. This was preparation for what was to come which was the beginning of his conversion. The problem of inclusion led to the first Christian Council as we read in Acts 15.
In today’s reading, he has a vision of a sheet with all sorts of animals and he is asked to kill and eat, and he says nothing unclean has entered him (Acts 10:13-14). The spirit was prompting him.
Cornelius was a Roman captain at Caesarea. He worshiped God and gave generously to the poor. He had a dream in which an angel of God told him to send for Peter who was lodging with Simon Peter the tanner. When Peter arrived at the house of Cornelius, he found some people in the house, including soldiers, friends and relatives waiting to hear from him. After speaking with them, they believed and were baptized. They received the Holy Spirit and they became the first non Jewish group to be converted to Christianity. (Acts 10)
Both Peter and Cornelius were converted by receiving a confirmation from God that the church was not an exclusive sect of the Jewish in which people would be members by birth. The church was different having been inaugurated by the coming of the Holy Spirit and all who believed were accepted. They did not need to change their gender, religion or age to belong.
1. What are some of the things that make us exclude others from full participation in our churches and society?
2. How does the story of Peter and Cornelius help us to see that the church is a place to embrace all people?
3. Can you name some individuals or groups who have converted to Christianity?
Dr. Esther Mombo is Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) of St. Paul’s United Theological College in Limuru, Kenya