15:28 compliant: considering the testimony of boundary transgressors

One of the implications of the Spirit being poured out on all flesh is that The Spirit’s influence won’t be limited to people you hang out with. And Acts isn’t the story it is without people who transgress the perceived boundaries of the group. There border crossings may very well be instigated by the Holy Spirit.

The big example here is Peter and Cornelius. Peter, staying at Simon the tanner’s house (we’re already in iffy territory), has a vision in which he is told to kill and eat food considered unclean. But Peter is a good church kid and refuses the offer of a little guilt-free bacon. But the Spirit has bigger ideas than Peter and has been working on the Gentile, Cornelius, to send for Peter. Peter provides lodging for them and then travels to stay with Cornelius and enjoy his hospitality, all border crossings. And the Holy Spirit shows up.

As Peter returns to Jerusalem, he is encountered by the boundary police. They care little for a report about the Spirit, or speaking in tongues, or baptism. They want to know if Peter ate with Gentiles. Peter’s story about his time with Cornelius ends up becoming a major part of the reasoning of the church to accept the Gentiles as Gentiles.

My favorite story of boundary transgression comes after the persecution breaks out after the stoning of Stephen. This sends some believers “as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, but they spoke only to Jews.” Except for these guys from Cyprus and Cyrene. They didn’t get the memo. They were low level operatives. They thought “Go, Ye, means Go-im.” (Give it a minute). And so they preached to the Hellenists, and low and behold the Spirit was with them and they became obedient to the gospel. And in Antioch these Gentiles began worshipping with Jews, and Luke tells us this is the first place the early believers were called Christians.

And the boundary police send Barnabas to Antioch to make sure everything is kosher. And later, Christian Pharisees travel to Antioch to insist Gentile believers receive circumcision, the dispute that became the immediate occasion for the Jerusalem conference. The Spirit drew early believers beyond the recognized boundaries of the faithful and drew the church to the moment where a decision had to be made, to the “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” moment.

Apart from disruptions, apart from surprises or things that don’t fit into our framework of understanding, there is simply no need to discern anything, to make sense of anything. All that work has been done and boundaries suitably erected. The status quo rules. This is why I teach my ministry students that one of their evaluative questions should always be, “what was surprising?” This may be a disruption caused by the Spirit that leads to fresh discernment.

This will also require that congregations find ways to value their boundary crossers, people who may feel more comfortable with non-church people than with the Saints, who make the faithful develop a little purity rash, the voices of dissent.

Holy Spirit, Come!

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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7 Responses to 15:28 compliant: considering the testimony of boundary transgressors

  1. Bob Cornwall says:

    But, we love our boundaries!! Interestingly, neither Jesus nor the Spirit feel bound by them. Yet, we continue putting up the walls that divide.

  2. rich constant says:

    Too bad I’m not around I’d make you think …
    Discernment
    I’m telling you, you got to go with Out a shave for a week get dressed up in some Bad clothes and go in to a congregation where no one knows you.
    Ask to borrow $5.00 cuz you just happen to leave your wallet at home. you’re really hungry and need something to eat, whatever you do don’t drive up.
    hopefully they’re having a Love feast, set in those seat where you know all of them good people are first four rows.
    do that for a month and then show them your business card. I don’t really know what you do but you’re probably a professor or something.
    and if your lips come tell John Mark he has to do it too, telling rich said both of you have to do it.
    an exercise in what Paul went through every day of his life.

    • rich constant says:

      Oh and of course both you young boys ask if you can preach for a week or two and tell them exactly what you witnessed that month.
      Most likely they would say thanks but no thanks.

      • Mark Love says:

        Rich, thanks for reading the blog and commenting. I think it would help all of us if you posted more concisely and less frequently. It’s all a little overwhelming and I’m not sure I fully appreciate the thrust of your comments. I think less might be more in this case and this might help me know how to respond better.

  3. richconstant says:

    not a problem
    sorry
    i do enjoy your your perspective,
    please continue.
    I am new here,
    just delete anything you feel doesn’t stick on that wall of yours.
    oops! duck again there went another one. 😉
    ( I didn’t intend to be cynical but ironic.)
    sometimes i am a little to subjectively obtuse…
    or you could say sometimes i have a little TO much fun…
    thanks again, your brother in the Lord.
    i for one never try to take myself to seriously… 🙂
    blessings Richard Constant.
    Newport beach cal.

    • richconstant says:

      ok i promise to play nice
      i will narrow up the proverbial boundary lines

      also when i said “ya ya that,s it”
      on the last post you must have missed the reference to the skit from S.N.L. WORLDS BIGGEST LYRE.

      OH WELL

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