Private Christian schools, Bible Colleges and Universities, and Seminaries have instilled in us an approved Christian orthodoxy from the cradle to the grave. And woe be it to us if we depart from the accepted path. We’ve heard the same information and answers to all of our questions for so long that only certain conclusions seem reasonable and acceptable to us now.
Tradition, pride, and prejudice die hard. So said a popular minister in Dallas, Texas, this past Sunday (March 5, 2017). How true that is! But how little each of us believes it is true of us personally. I find it interesting that most of us think everyone else is bound by errant traditions, but we have somehow remained free from them. But the truth of the matter is we are all programmed by the messages that we’ve heard all our lives. Few have any interest in even looking into the possibility that they might need to correct some part of what they have been taught. Even though we all come from different traditions, we somehow think that our tradition is, without any doubt, the correct one, and everyone else must adjust to what we believe to be true.
To make my point I’d like to show you how good men, well-intentioned men, who have a heart to serve God, need to free themselves of this quagmire of presumed orthodoxy. The preacher who made essentially the comment given above in italics can serve as an example of what I am suggesting is universally present in all of our pulpits around the world.
The comments of the local pastor, that I would like to focus upon, are those he made in an attempt to supposedly expound the correct meaning of Acts 10:34-35 which says,
“… ‘I most certainly understand [now] that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation, the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.’”
By running to theologically acceptable verses and concepts which, eventually, focus upon the need to believe in Jesus to be saved (e.g., Mic. 6:8; John 6:28-29; Acts 4:12), this pastor rewrites Acts 10:34-35 in order to make it say,
“Unless a person believes in Jesus he cannot be acceptable to God.”
Assuming that no “unsaved” person can have any chance at being acceptable to God, and with a quick, forceful argument, the pastor replaces “fearing God and doing what is right” with “believing in Jesus.” Why does he do this? Because, as he admitted in his opening monologue, tradition, pride, and prejudice die hard. What he doesn’t realize is that his tradition has caused him to rewrite Acts 10:34-35 so that the verse fits with the presumed orthodoxy that he had been taught.
The shocking, even frightening, thing that is going on here is that the clear statement of Scripture is not allowed to stand on its own two feet and proclaim its own meaning to the reader: the man to fears God and does what is right is welcomed or acceptable to God. That is what the verse says, and that is what God wants us to believe. To use one Scripture to overrule another is to misuse the Scriptures and mislead God’s people. Every Scripture should be taken literally (either plain literally or figurative literally) and allowed to affirm the truth it was meant to set forth by the words, grammar, and syntax that are used.
To justify rewriting the verse and making it say what his own tradition has deemed to be the message and point of the Scriptures, the pastor quotes several times Acts 4:12:
“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
This is one of the most popular verses in the New Testament. And I must admit that I too had understood the verse, just as this pastor does, for over thirty-five years. But it has recently occurred to me, as I have been testing the things that I have been taught (better late than never I hope), that this verse has nothing at all to do with spiritual salvation. This verse is not equivalent to Eph. 2:8-9:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that [salvation] is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.”
Nor is it synonymous to Acts 16:30-31:
“and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, you and your household.’”
There is spiritual “salvation” by believing in Jesus (John 5:34; 10:9). That salvation is the reception of the life (John 3:16) that Jesus promises to those who believe He is the Messiah of God (John 6:47; 20:31). But this salvation is not by any stretch of the imagination what Peter is referring to in Acts 4:12. Peter is referring to a salvation from disease and sickness as the context of Acts 3:1—4:12 so clearly establishes beyond any reasonable doubt (unless, of course, the person is more locked into the theological traditions that he has been taught over the straightforward teaching of God’s Word).
In the context, the name referred to in Acts 4:12 is explicitly stated to be the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene (v. 10), which is repeated over and over in the previous chapter of Acts.
Not only does Acts 4:12 not “trump” Acts 10:34-35, but the point Peter makes in the home of Cornelius is a repeated motif that can be found in both the OT as well as the NT. Acts 4:12 was never meant to suggest that Christianity, especially as it is known today, is intended to be an exclusive path to God.
What Peter learned from the Holy Spirit on the day he visited Cornelius is still true today: “I most certainly understand [now] that God is not one who show partiality [which He would be if Christianity was the only way to Him], but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right (works righteousness!), is welcomed (or accepted) by Him.” That is what the verses plainly say. And we should not dismiss them because they don’t fit with what we’ve been taught.
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