There is No "Us" and "Them"
The early church, led by Peter and a handful of others, was beautiful—and that’s an understatement.
From the moment Holy Spirit burst onto the scene in the upper room, as depicted in Acts 2, there was an evangelistic explosion. With “many wonders and signs,” folks were added to the church daily, weekly, and monthly. (1)
Unity marked this early church. The phrases “all together” or “of one accord” can be found five times in the first five chapters of Acts. The power of God displayed by leadership was remarkable. Even Peter’s shadow healed people. (2)
Young leaders—most notably, Paul and Timothy, both championed by Barnabas, and later James, championed by Peter—were raised up and commissioned to spread the Good News from village to village and city to city. (3)
Miracles occurred at a rate the world had never seen. Yes, there was persecution, and yet the church grew, and “throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria [they] had peace and richly increased in numbers.” (4)
The presence of Holy Spirit manifested in every aspect of the church. From Pentecost on, Holy Spirit was present and known to fall “on all who heard the word.” (5)
In this beautiful church, sons and daughters grew confident in the love of a good Father! This was a church passionately releasing heaven on earth, the Kingdom within us; a church where righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit were deeply rooted in the soul and every aspect of life. (6)
This was also a generous church where the lost were being found, the sick healed, the sinner forgiven and transformed, the lonely placed in family, all who were thirsty could come and drink, and “where they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (7)
All could be saved.
Except anyone who wasn’t Jewish.
So, not literally all, I guess. Just, well, the Jewish all.
In those first nine years or so of the early church, when I write, all could be saved, what I mean is that a small exclusive group of people could be saved; all of the included us, but none of the excluded them could be saved.
Just like today, the understanding of the Good News of Jesus within the church and her leadership was limited but ever-expanding. In those beautifully formative early church days, the limitation was that only Jews were in.
Imagine a church stunning in fellowship—a church Jesus referenced as “the light of the world, a city set on a hill.” Imagine the revelation of eternal life flowing through their veins. Imagine the power of their evangelism.
Now imagine, because of their tradition, culture, and limited understanding, they only shared this life-transforming Good News with a select few. Imagine meetings like the one I had with those two elders, except it was not just women who weren’t at the table. Most of humanity was excluded, as well.
I know, it’s nearly impossible, but imagine a church interpreting Scripture to reveal Jesus as the Savior of a select group, a people who looked, believed, and acted like them—as though atonement was somehow limited… Imagine they interpreted Scripture in ways that separated Gentiles from Jews, in from out, and women from ministry.
I know it’s difficult, but try to imagine a church experiencing profound revelation, favor, life, joy, and unity while simultaneously living with a heart-breaking limited perspective regarding the all-inclusive nature of our heavenly Father.
You may be picking up some playful sarcasm.
Why? Because it’s actually quite easy to imagine this church. You likely have participated in it. I certainly have.
I don’t mean that as a condemning statement. Rather, it is an invitation to daily repent—to mature in reconciling Love.
The early church and her leadership were authentic, sincere, and growing in revelation. At the same time, the early church had a serious flaw on its God lens, the same dualistic hierarchal flaw the church and her leadership continue to discover and repent of today.
Us and Them
For and Against
In and Out
And I could go on.
The early church knew the transformational revelation of Jesus’ great affection. And this church was led by a man who had experienced mercy, grace, and the all-inclusive love of His friend, Jesus, in a way that few ever have.
And in every day that passed, Peter and the early church grew in the revelation of our Father’s always good, no distance, no separation love. And yet, even in the daily profound manifestation of God’s presence, for the first nine years or so, the early church seemed oblivious to their devastating (especially if you were a Gentile) ‘us and them’ flaw on their God lens.
God didn’t ignore their delusions, nor did He condemn them for their exclusivity. He just kept revealing Himself. He continued to meet them where they were, His presence profoundly known.
Throughout history, God always seems to believe that His love is more powerful than our flawed understanding. God seems to think our hearts will win out in the end.
And it is, and they do…
Along the way, the early church’s fallen ‘us and them’ thinking and their closed hearts began to change. Peter first. Then one day, when the soil was ready to bear good fruit; Peter is given a vision by God that is offensively good. A gospel so expansive as to include the whole world in the finished work of the cross. It even included bacon! (See Acts 10)
And Peter was willing to be offended by the goodness of God. And that’s a big deal. The willingness to be offended by God’s goodness is the birthplace of revelation and transformation and an absolute requirement for leaders.
Peter rises from that vision and within hours, welcomes me and several billion more into the family. Within hours, the gospel included the whole world. Within hours, every tribe and tongue was a welcomed son or daughter. Within hours, the good news was even better than Peter or the church could think or imagine.
Many of us today long to go back to the early church days, viewing those first few years as the high-water mark of what a church is meant to be. They weren’t. Not even close! As beautifully transformative as She was, the early church was even more beautifully transformative the day She repented, and Cornelius and his family, and my family, and every family was included! And She continues to grow more beautiful each day because Her foundation is firmly laid upon the rock of an all-included finished work of the cross.
One of the reasons I love Peter’s leadership is because the man’s heart was ever-expanding, his mind ever open to rethinking. He was a man who knew how to repent.
Jesus said, “upon this rock,” I will build the expansiveness of my church. Then Jesus gave the reins to a narrow-minded hothead. But a narrow-minded hothead who was continually open to being offended by the all-inclusive goodness of God. And as Peter matured in his faith and leadership, he became way less narrow in his thinking…
I believe a good leader is continually discovering a gospel that is more inclusive than the last time he or she checked. A good leader is one who is daily repenting from ‘us and them,’ ‘for and against,’ ‘in and out’ thinking.
The love of God is all-inclusive, and a good leader is a person who is ever learning not to divorce their heart from their head.
In my 46 years, I have often been surprised by how many leaders divorce their hearts for the sake of their understanding. I know it’s not just leaders, but I expect more humility from them.
I have sat in many rooms and watched love undermine every argument of separation, every case made for ‘us and them,’ only to witness leaders close their hearts and deny love for the sake of their dualistic understanding.
Peter, as a leader, was the gateway for changing the way the church thought regarding the inclusion of Cornelius and his family into the Family. If Peter had been too proud to repent when the goodness of God was revealed to him, he’d have actually stood against God and made a mess of things for those who followed him. So it’s a big deal!
Leadership, the kind Peter revealed, is evidenced by repenting from the exclusivity of ‘us and them’ thinking. Leadership, the kind Peter revealed, is evidenced in the willingness to rethink theologies, systems, methods, traditions, and institutions that undermine the all-inclusive other-centered love of our Father.
But I am encouraged! Lately, and more regularly, I speak with leaders, sons, and daughters, in all walks of life and leadership, who are willing to be offended by His love, then willing to repent, rethink, and re-imagine.
I believe the church is on the cusp of another “Cornelius breakthrough”—a deeper understanding and agreement with the same revelation that Peter was stewarding in the early church; there is no ‘us and them’ in how our Father thinks, no ‘us and them’ in His Kingdom, no ‘us and them’ in our Family.
There is no Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male or female, no black or white, lost or found, sinner or saint, gay or straight, republican or democrat, capitalist or socialist, Christian or Muslim or Atheist… there is nothing that separates us from His all-inclusive love. “…For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (See Gal 3:28)
There is no death He hasn’t defeated, no hell He hasn’t invaded, no delusion He hasn’t infiltrated, no darkness He hasn’t illuminated; there is nothing that separates us from the love revealed through His death and resurrection.
As Bono sings, “One love, one life…”
We are one, and we are growing in this ever-expanding revelation; one family discovering our Father’s great desire revealed through the prayer of His Son, Jesus.
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:21)
These are not early church days, these are 2020 church days! Isn’t that amazing!? You are the church! And you’re beautiful!
So go find your Cornelius today and reveal the desires of his or her heart: that they are loved and included!
Be the leader Peter was to your spouse, kids, family, neighborhood, shopping mall, and even your local church gathering.
“No other except the impulsive Simon could have been at once the embodiment of the Adversary (get behind me Satan) and the incarnation of the Rock on which the church should rest (Matt 16:16-23).” – Frank Grant Lewis, Peter’s Place in the Early Church, 1909
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children.
YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE…