FROM TIM DOERING
This is part 3 in the Table Manners series.
What does “middle-school cafeteria” bring up for you? Some get shivers down the spine at the mere mention. For many it was a forming ground of anthropological self-discovery. In a “coming of age” stage of life, wrought with insecurities and unknowns, the lunchroom often forces unspoken questions: “Where do I fit in the social eco-system?” “With what group will I be associated?” “How will I be seen and known among my peers?” Much of that boils down to a primal, post-fall human question: “Am I ‘in’ or ‘out?’” During that vulnerable season of relational development, many are wounded by rejection or misled into false identities. Let’s be honest, many adult lives are still shaped by either trying to reclaim or rewrite those school days.
Does God care about the cafeteria table? We know that Paul sure did. If one were to make a list of the top moments of righteous anger in the New Testament, high on the list would be the great apostolic confrontation when Paul, the great missionary, squared off with the Christ-proclaimed “rock,” Peter.
Galatians 2:11-14 - When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Wow! Talk about social cliques!
Peter’s fear of rejection from the Jews was causing rejection of the Gentiles, and ultimately distorting the gospel. Paul was not throwing a fit over something little. He was defending the gospel. The gospel is about God in relationship with humanity and his presence transforming their relationships with one another. God desires the family at his table to have as much flavor as the food.
The gospel of the New Testament cannot be understood apart from the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles becoming a singular covenant people with Him. God calls out folks from the whole sphere of human culture. The reconciled diversity of generations, ethnicities and gender in Him is the glory of the gospel. It takes deep intentionality to pursue those unlike us, and this is what God loves to see at his table.
When we find ourselves fearing, catering to or gravitating to one group over others we are not only in danger of violating God’s table manners, but also of distorting the very gospel of Jesus Christ!
Can you imagine what Paul would have done if someone tried to start a “Jewish church” or a “Gentile church?” But we often find ourselves afraid of widening our circle. We often guard “doctrines” (that define who is “in” our culture) in the name of the gospel, while simultaneously failing to reveal the power of the Gospel to bring us to a common table and reveal the beauty of the kingdom.
"It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." MLK
When working for unity in the body of Christ, if our first concern is about who is “in” and who is “out,” there is a good chance the gospel is not rooted deep enough in our heart, and our mind is trying to compensate in fear. Remember, Jesus broke bread with Judas knowing exactly where he stood. It was always love first. When fear, comfort and self-protection define my lunch table, I am probably forgetting that I am sitting at Jesus’ table. The posture and culture of the table is always love, to family members and guests alike. The heart of the gospel is embraced in the heart of a people, and ultimately embodied in the relational practices of the Church. The understanding and explanation of gospel is held in what we call orthodoxy. But that is bracketed by a life of orthopraxy and a heart of orthopathy*. Once we have been reborn in God’s love, we are able to begin an appropriate conversation about doctrine without fear. Paul was quick to point out when orthodoxy was in danger, but he seemed to go to the next level when Peter’s heart and actions were compromising the culture of the gospel table.
Father, we confess that we have a culture of systemic church division. Triune God, we acknowledge that you cannot be divided. Jesus, we pray that your precious ministry of reconciliation would bring us back to the reality of our oneness in you. Spirit we are so grateful for your presence among us. Lord, move powerfully in producing your fruit within us that we will dwell generously together as you do.