Acts 10

While I was in college I took a job leading worship for a young adult service on Sundays at a church not far from where I lived. During one of our weekly staff meetings, my friend Paul and I started talking about the quirks of our respective faith traditions. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that most of the Adventists he knew were vegetarian, and he wondered aloud whether that was in connection with Old Testament dietary customs. I explained that it was sort of a mix of that along with a focus on healthy living that was popular when our tribe started to organize in the late 1800s. I thought it was a well-reasoned explanation, but Paul gave me a look that told me he wasn’t convinced.

“What about the story of Peter and the buffet of unclean animals?” he asked. I had to admit that I didn’t know about that story—somehow in all my years as a born and raised vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist, no one had ever talked to me about the story of Peter’s vision recorded in Acts 10. Paul pushed his point a little further. “I don’t have any problem with people choosing to be vegetarian for whatever reason,” he said. “But when make those choices for religious reasons I think we need to be careful not to pick and choose the things that happen to be most palatable or convenient.”

I went home and pored over the text trying to find the argument to support my take on the story. But I had to admit that Paul had a point, and I never brought it up with him again.
In Peter’s vision, God spoke to him using specific imagery that would have been second nature. Peter knew the rules and how to abide by them. They were so deeply woven into his DNA that the instructions to break tradition didn’t make any sense to him. After all, this wasn’t just dietary preference for Peter. It was more than a sign of devotion. In Peter’s mind, the way he lived—including what he did or didn’t eat and the people with whom he did or didn’t associate—would have been all part of his identity as one of God’s chosen people. Peter was so confident in his identity that a voice from heaven had to give him special instructions three times before the words sank in.

I wonder what I might have done in Peter’s shoes. Would I have been willing to set my convictions aside if it meant walking for a season with someone who didn’t think or act or believe in the same way that I do? Would we know the story of Cornelius, his family and friends if Peter had been more committed to preserving his own reputation than listening to the spirit of God? How many opportunities have I missed because I couldn’t see past the blind spots in my own conviction? How many conversations have I sidestepped because they might pose a threat to my own sense of identity?

When I think back to my conversation with Paul, I wish I’d had given a different answer. Rather than trying to defend my own tribe or tradition, I wish I could have said something more like Peter’s response to Cornelius. Apparently Peter was willing to put prior notions about identity aside (“Stand up! I’m a human being just like you” v.26).

Instead of digging in to our differences, I wish I had found more common ground for our conversation. Maybe then I might have said something like, “Most people I know want to live long and healthy lives. Adventists are no exception, so we chase that in different ways. But like most followers of Jesus, what I think is really important to most of us is learning how to walk with him as long as we possibly can.”

By Elia King

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