27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
One of the most scandalous aspects of the ministry of Jesus was table fellowship. Jesus had quite a reputation for celebrating the kingdom with the wrong kinds of people: tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. These meals were not random events for the Messiah who simply needed to eat but rather actions that revealed the kingdom of God every bit as much as any of the other miracles Jesus performed whether healings, deliverance, or the feeding the five thousand. In celebrating these meals with the “wrong” people Jesus was making the statement that the kingdom was not simply for the followers of the Law or ethnic Jews but for anyone who would follow the king in his work.
The apostle Paul picks this theme up as a main theme in the book of Galatians. Paul writes in Galatians of a time when he, the freshman apostle, had to confront the senior most apostle Peter to his face. The issue was Peter’s hypocrisy. Though Peter knew the only identifier in his life that mattered was Jesus he was acting otherwise. This was particularly evident when it came to mealtime. Peter had no problem eating with gentile believers until Jewish Christians showed up from Jerusalem. Then Peter would separate from the gentile believers so as to keep himself “pure”. Paul has to call Peter on this issue because it is not a simple matter of doctrinal preference but rather it is fundamental to the gospel itself.
Paul sums this whole argument up in Galatians 3:26-28
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Jesus is the only identifier that matters! Once one has been baptized into Jesus Christ every other identifier in life becomes secondary from race to gender to social status. We all get in to the promises of Abraham through Jesus! This is really good news!
This brings me to a story that I read this morning of a church in Kentucky that has forbidden interracial marriages or couples from their church. Here is an excerpt from the story
In early November, Thompson [pastor of Glunare Free Will Baptist Church, Pike County, Kentucky] proposed the church go on record saying that while all people were welcome to attend public worship services there, the church did not condone interracial marriage… The proposal also said "parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services" or other church functions, with the exception of funerals.The recommendation "is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve," the copy supplied to the Herald-Leader read.
I am really puzzled by the reasoning behind this decision being that it promoted greater unity in the church and the community. Really? It sounds more likely like the church is actually pandering to anti-gospel ideas both in their church community and in the surrounding community.
These types of issues have been present since the early days of the church but we cannot afford to treat these issues of unity in Christ as peripheral for they are central to the announcement of Jesus as king.