“If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)
The conversion of Cornelius as related in Acts 10 shows clearly that the Lord was extending His kingdom to include Gentiles, not just Jews. This new direction that the Lord was leading the church was hard to accept at first because the infant church was composed solely of Jews and the Gentiles were considered unclean. Hence the church called Peter to account for his actions in preaching to and baptizing the Roman centurion and his household. Despite the preconceived ideas of the members of that church at Jerusalem they accepted what Peter had to say and what God was doing because of the overwhelming testimony of 6 other witnesses. It was blatantly obvious that Holy Spirit authorized this new direction, not Peter.
Though we may wonder why the church would criticize an acknowledged leader such as Peter, the incident teaches us a lesson about church government. First, we must respect and trust the authority of those the Lord has placed over us. Secondly, any new direction or ministry any church or group of churches proposes to undertake should be discussed and examined by the members before being approved. This may seem like a tedious process but it does reduce the likelihood of deception by Satan as well as minimize the possibility that any one person or group of members would improperly dominate the whole church. It would also allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. Too often we in the church are blinded by cultural, national or ethnic world views or worldly templates that wrongly affect the way we think God and the church should be operating. The example of Peter and Cornelius shows us that God’s ways are not our ways, not the ways the world values. We the church should be more attune to the works of the Holy Spirit who will often overturn and supersede our imperfect thinking to accomplish His will. Who are we to stand in God’s way?