Is there really going to be a “Great Reset”? 

So the latest catch phrase for solving all the world’s problems and recovering from the global challenges created by the pandemic is “the Great Reset.” Forgive me for being negative, but having heard promises of great resets expressed in endless promises of “change” at every political election, I can’t help having my doubts about anything man-made resetting the world on any sort of utopian course. 

On the other hand, we could do with a great reset. Conspiracy theories aside about the Great Reset being a corporate takeover of world governance, the world we knew before the pandemic has been turned upside down. It has exposed all kinds of weaknesses in our health and health care, it has weighed down many countries with huge debts and mental health problems from lockdowns, and wrecked small town businesses that are the beating heart of a community. And just when we’re on the ropes along come more depressing reminders that climate change is still a major worry too. 

So, how are we going to get out of this pickle without being exploited by cunning people who live for power and money? And who on earth is left on this planet that we can truly trust for a workable and viable solution too?

Fortunately, we have a God who has a lot of experience in Great Resets. Thanks to our proclivity as humans to make monumentally stupid decisions, plus our constant gullibility to the deceptive power of evil, God’s had a lot of practice through the years at resetting cities and civilizations after disasters and upheavals, starting with Adam and Eve. 

It was those two characters who started the trend of thinking we humans are masters of our own destiny and we can deal with evil on our own, which set the stage for evil to spread like a virus so contagious and unstoppable that it even made God wince at creating humans in the first place (Genesis 6:6-7).  

So he brought that world to an end through a Flood and did a Great Reset through Noah and Abraham. But many more resets would still be required in future years too, at the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the creation of the nation of Israel to save the world. But demagogues and tyrants like Jezebel and Nebuchadnezzar took shots at destroying Israel, which needed God’s intervention yet again. 

And eventually Israel became so corrupt that God had them dragged off into humiliating slavery in Assyria and Babylon, and the Jews under Rome. And at that point it seemed like all was lost, when even the ones through whom God had chosen to reset and save the world could not resist the power of evil either.   

But God had one great Ace up his sleeve, that he’d waited until the time of the ruling Herods to play: he sent his Son in person to do the Greatest Reset of all. And it would also be a reset unlike any other seen before, because it would be done through individuals, and for the most part very ordinary people too. There’d be no nations involved, no gathering of filthy rich global influencers needed at an annual World Economic Forum, and not even well meaning politicians pouring heart and soul into making their nations great again.

It would be done through people taking on God’s nature with God’s help. The result would be people you’d love to have in charge of this world, because they’d be living for what Jesus lived for as a human being when filled with God’s nature. And there you have the formidable solution to selfish ambition for power and wealth – and providing immunity to evil too, our greatest enemy of all. 

So for those who think they can come up with a brilliant new idea for resetting the world, they could do with a reminder that Jesus has already been resetting the world for 2,000 years. So maybe it’s worth a look at how he’s been doing it. And it’s not complicated either. It’s laid out very nicely and simply for all to see and read in Acts chapter 3. 

Is there really going to be a Great Reset, then? Well, Jesus did promise it and he has the entire universe and beyond at his disposal to make it happen too. 

“Because it’s the right thing to do” 

It’s fun watching a cashier’s face when you point out that he, or she, gave you too much change. And if asked why you did it, you simply reply, “Well, it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?” And how many great acts of bravery – or admissions of guilt – are driven by that same desire to do what’s right?  

“It’s not right” has also driven people to resist the crowd at huge risk of being publicly humiliated. It happened in both world wars, when pacifists rejected the call to join up and kill people, and were branded as selfish cowards. Some were even beaten up and killed.  

Scripture, however, very much supports doing what we believe is the right thing to do. James 4:17, for instance, says, “if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.” Think what difference that would have made in the pandemic if government officials, pharmaceutical companies and big corporations had made that their standard, rather than power trips and profits.

Doing the right thing is not easy, though, in a world that’s easily manipulated into mass hysteria creating huge pressure to conform. I find it very interesting, then, that in the first world war the most decorated non-commissioned war hero in the British forces was a pacifist who refused to fire a shot. Lance Corporal Bill Coltman joined the army and carried a gun, but then realized he couldn’t kill and refused to do so. So he became a stretcher bearer instead, and he was so brave in saving lives that he won Britain’s highest honour of bravery, the Victoria Cross, and a whole chestful of other medals too without ever firing a weapon. And instead of being shamed as an irresponsible, lazy, selfish coward he was heralded as a hero.  

In the second world war the U.S government gave their highest award of all, the Medal of Honour, to three men who also didn’t fire a shot, the first of them being Desmond Doss who believed it was the right thing to do to save lives not take lives. He was ostracized and bullied by his unit, and his commanding officers attempted to have him discharged for mental illness. 

But he soon proved he was made of stern stuff, refusing to desert 75 wounded men on Hacksaw Ridge, and saving the lives of every one of them. For dedication to his comrades and bravery treating wounded men under fire, he was awarded two Bronze Stars as well as the Medal of Honour. At the awards ceremony President Truman shook his hand and said, “I consider this a greater honour than being president.”  

Doss and Coltman stood their ground against peer pressure and threats from officials, because in their minds not killing was the right thing to do, and they eventually won great respect and honour for it. 

And Jesus said that of his disciples too, that “Blessed are you” – honoured and respected are you – “when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” Matthew 5:11. Because if we stick to what we we believe is right in Jesus’ eyes, then he makes sure that “great is our reward in heaven,” verse 12. A “heavenly” Medal of Honour, or Victoria Cross, awaits us. 

Christians and non-Christians alike in this pandemic have shown great bravery and courage in standing up for what they believe while under heavy pressure from family, friends, employers, officials and even medical personnel. Whether that meant taking the vaccine or refusing it was immaterial, when what mattered most in making a decision was saving lives rather than risking lives, and respecting others for their decision, not condemning them – because that for them was the right thing to do. 

Does Scripture support “conscientious objectors”?  

The term “conscientious objector” first arose after the United Kingdom Vaccination Act of 1853 resulted in a conscience clause being added in 1898 that allowed exemption from mandatory smallpox vaccinations for infant children. So the origin of the phrase was directly attached to resisting government mandated vaccination.

But then, three years later in 1901, a smallpox epidemic swept through the North Eastern U.S. resulting in vaccination being mandated for all adults. Again the mandate was challenged, just as it was in the UK earlier, but in February 1905 the Supreme Court ruled that “a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.” The only exemption allowed was “reasonable certainty” that vaccination for a person would “seriously impair his health or probably cause his death.” 

The safety of the general public, therefore, trumped all objections to vaccines, the only exception being an individual who would likely suffer serious adverse effects from the vaccine, including the risk of death.  

And from that point on the battle lines were drawn. On the one side were the “anti-vaxxers,” like the Anti-Vaccination Society of America, whose argument against vaccines was based on nature being the “greatest safeguard against disease.” To them natural immunity trumped vaccine induced immunity, and any attempt at enforcing vaccines was a threat against individual liberty and freedom of expression. 

On the other side, following an objection in 1922 to state laws requiring children to be vaccinated before attending public school, the court unanimously declared that “it is within the police power of a state to provide for compulsory vaccination.” In other words, the state knows best when it comes to public health and safety, and it must have the power to enforce what it believes is best too. In 2002 a federal court reinforced that ruling by refusing any exemptions to state mandates on public health, including religious beliefs, and even denying parents the right to decide what’s medically best for their children. 

Seventeen years later, in 2019, a measles outbreak in the New York area created a public health emergency which fined unvaccinated people if they didn’t comply with mandatory vaccination. No exemptions were allowed and therefore no conscientious objections either. Public safety came first, again. 

And government had Scripture on its side to support that too, because public safety is what God instituted human government for (Romans 13:1-4). So, is there ever room in Scripture for conscientious objectors?  

Well, yes, the obvious one being when government isn’t fulfilling its God-given duty to protect its citizens from harm and evil. A clear case in point being Ephesians 4:14, when government itself has fallen victim to being “carried about by every wind of [shifting] doctrine, by the cunning and trickery of [unscrupulous] men, by the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything [for personal profit]” (from the Amplified Bible). 

And what better example of that today than governments supporting drug companies promoting vaccines with no data on long term effects, and no acceptance of liability for any other adverse effects either? So much for “public safety.” It also borders on severe abuse if governments then mandate these vaccines for children, and especially when the harmful effects on healthy children are known. 

So who’s out there with the authority to challenge governments on this? Well, it’s those in the same boat as government, who’ve also been given the job by God to know the tactics of evil and conscientiously resist them (2 Corinthians 2:11). So, just as government has the right to nail church denominations for abuse against children, why can’t its most conscientious ally, concerned Christians, call on the government to remember its God-given duty to protect the innocent too? So that both parties are now being motivated by the hope that together the two groups God has representing his will and purpose on this planet can make a serious dent in erasing evil.   

God wants us both, Christians and government, to conscientiously object to evil and harm in whatever form it pops up its ugly head in. And when either party feels powerless against evil, then we turn to God for help, just as Britain’s king in World War 2 called for a National Day of Prayer when the forces of evil were too great for Christians and government to resist. 

Does Scripture support conscientious objectors? Yes, and especially among members of government whose God-given civil duty is to expose and resist “the cunning and trickery of unscrupulous men, and the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything for personal profit.” For the public’s safety.

Is it a Christian’s job to expose evil? 

During the pandemic just about everyone has been accused of being evil – politicians, pharmaceutical companies, the medical profession and care homes, the media and its colluding billionaires, those pressuring children to be vaccinated, employers and educators demanding proof of vaccination or loss of job and schooling, and the list goes on – including the “anti-vaxxers” being branded as assassins of the vulnerable. 

The fallout from all this is a massive loss of trust in any respected institution, the polarization of the public into emotional and irrational tribes, violent protests, increasing coercion and propaganda, families being split by opposing views, crippling mental health woes, serious worries about the damage to fragile economies, the unknown long term effects of experimental drugs, the educational system in desperate “catch up,” the huge backlog of pressing surgical and other untreated health problems, and – well, this list goes on too.

So what do Christians do about it, or feel we should do about it? Should we take sides and become vocal judge and jury on who’s right and who’s wrong? Do we denounce those we believe to be the primary evildoers, or steer clear of any involvement since we have no way of knowing what’s really going on behind the scenes? Could we too get caught up in conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation, or on the other hand, do we bury our heads in the sand and hope it all blows away soon so life can get back to normal?   

Well, as Christians we obviously look to Scripture – and scripturally Jesus had no qualms about exposing evil. Most of Matthew 23 is his blazing rebuke of the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees who sit in Moses’ seat,” verse 2, who gave the impression they deserved their lofty leadership positions, but in truth they were hypocrites, known for not practicing what they expected others to do (verse 3). So Jesus shamed, blamed, and named them in the most derogatory terms, such as “blind fools” (17), “whitewashed tombs” (27), and a “brood of vipers” who deserved no escape from the condemnation of hell (33).   

But why was Jesus openly branding these people as being evil? Because they were “sitting in Moses’ seat.” It was their job to preserve the law of Moses and be great examples of living it. But they weren’t doing what God had assigned them to do, so Jesus nails them for their hypocrisy. So did Peter, but he nails anyone and everyone in a leadership position who “brings the way of truth into disrepute,” 2 Peter 2:2, and they “will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done,” verse 13

So God does not take evil lightly. Which begs the question Jeremiah asked – that maybe we’ve asked a million times too – “Why (then) do the wicked prosper?” Jeremiah 12:1-2. Job asked the same question (Job 21:7), and it really bothered David too “when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” which he describes in vivid detail in Psalm 73 – and details we’d easily recognize in our world right now too.  

But David also came to realize, after going to God about it, Psalm 73:16-17, what the “final destiny” of evil people is: God “places them on slippery ground” and “casts them down to ruin,” and “suddenly they are destroyed and completely swept away,” verses 18-19. And he “will despise them as mere fantasies,” verse 20

So if there really are evil people behind this pandemic, we can rest assured God isn’t going to let any of them get away with it. He is the great avenger (Romans 12:19), making sure that every bit of evil will be dealt with (Luke 8:17, Hebrew 4:13).

Knowing that, then, is it a Christian’s job to expose evil? According to Paul in Ephesians 5:11, yes, it is, because he says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Jesus did. Peter did, and so did Paul. People won’t like their evil being exposed, but David’s Psalm 37 answers that for us…. 

A pandemic lament – but can despair be turned into hope?

“My body, my choice,” has been one of the mantras during the pandemic for those opposing vaccines, along with “my rights, my freedom and my privacy” expressed at many a protest march against vaccine passports and lockdowns. And a third mantra, “Over my dead body,” has been the powerfully emotional response by parents on hearing their children can be vaccinated without parental knowledge or consent. 

Each mantra is like a lament, a cry of despair in response to those who accept nothing but vaccination to end the pandemic and won’t accept any other view or treatment. It is so sickening to some that they cannot help wonder if there’s something sinister and maybe even evil going on.  

It was the same in Paul’s day too, because in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 Paul asked his fellow Christians to “pray that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil people.” My King James Bible centre column mentions the word “absurd” for unreasonable, which has strong synonyms like “ludicrous, preposterous, idiotic, illogical.” But Paul was not only up against people who made no sense, they were also “evil,” which in verse 2 was based on the Greek word meaning “actively harmful.” So these people were also out to silence and oppose Paul by whatever sinister and nasty means they could come up with. 

And that made Paul lament too. The absurdities he faced from unreasonable and evil people had made him “despair even of life,” 2 Corinthians 1:8. He was close to being suicidal, or as he put it, “we felt the sentence of death within ourselves,” verse 9. But what was the point in continuing on when the absurdity of people had driven him and his coworkers “beyond our ability to endure,” verse 8

And it was despair that did that to Paul. It nearly killed him. So it’s really worrying to see despair doing the same thing during this pandemic, when highly qualified experts in the medical profession, for example, find themselves being shut down, censored and publicly shamed for simply trying to offer other treatments they’ve seen work on viruses. And now these doctors are lamenting too, because they see people dying who didn’t need to die.   

So how did Paul deal with his despair? Well, first of all, he recognized the source of the madness he was up against, because, following on in 2 Thessalonians 3:3, he writes, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

So Paul wasn’t shy about sinister forces at work. They were real. He also recognized that God allowed such forces to operate, so that, following on in 2 Corinthians 1:9, “we might not rely on ourselves but on God” who “has delivered us from such a deadly peril (of despairing even of life), and he will deliver us.”

On the one hand, then, Paul had been surprised by the depth of evil he encountered, but on the other hand he knew why it needed to exist – to discover there was a power far greater he could depend on to keep him sane that was just as real too. 

So for those today, for instance, who lament government, medical and pharmaceutical officials all pronouncing an experimental drug as “safe” for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, without any data or experience of its long term consequences and effects on babies, Paul is offering an answer: that evil is real, but so is God when we’re feeling sick at heart at the absurdities in our world and we turn to him for help.

For God “raises the dead,” Paul wrote in verse 9. That was how Paul described his experience of God lifting him out of his despair, And it was so real that Paul then wrote in verse 10, “On him we set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” 

In vaccine terms, God would provide Paul with continuing immunity against the evil one drowning him in despair. And Paul’s belief in that being true and factual was backed up by solidly based data and the long term effects in his own life too, because in all his many other travels after 2 Corinthians 1 Paul never talks about being overwhelmed by despair again.   

So, yes, Paul would say, despair can be turned into hope, when it dawns on us, as it dawned on him, that we too live in a world that at times is “beyond our ability to endure,” but we have a God who enables us to keep our heads while all about us are losing theirs (from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If). 

To risk one’s life for others – yes, or no?

The pandemic has raised questions that have really made me think what my answers would be as a Christian. For instance, “Am I required by government – and by Scripture – to put my life at risk to save other people’s lives?” 

Scripturally, we have Jesus saying, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you,” John 15:12, which he then expands in verse 13 to “Greater love has no one but this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” And John repeats that point in 1 John 3:16 when he writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us,” so “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 

So Jesus was all for laying one’s life down for others, and many Christians have interpreted that to include risking life and limb going to war, or entering an area ravaged by a deadly disease to care for the sick, or being a missionary in a dangerous land. 

Other Christians, however, see these verses through a different lens, that in context Jesus was talking specifically to his disciples to dedicate their lives to him by living the same life of love he lived. It was more about a lifetime of loving and serving others, rather than putting one’s physical life at risk to save people from dying physically. 

And when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:33, “For I’m not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved,” he wasn’t talking about saving people from physical harm and death either. Jesus had given him the job of rescuing people from “the power of Satan” and turning them to God, Acts 26:17-18, and Paul gave his life to doing that.  

Does that mean we shouldn’t put our physical lives at risk if someone is trapped in a burning car, or we shouldn’t choose a risky profession like firefighting or being a pandemic frontline nurse? But it’s also deeply embedded in us naturally to risk life and limb on behalf of others and do amazing acts of bravery. It looks like Jesus created that in us too, then. But is he asking us to risk life and limb for others when we also have family back home who depend on us being alive?    

It’s a dilemma, just like it must be when a nation declares war on other nations, and the call goes out to join up. Your government is now asking (or telling) you to put your life at risk for the safety of your nation. And the pressure applied is huge to do your part and be willing to die for others. 

What would God have us do in such a situation, then? Well, Christians can end up with widely different views, and very strong ones too when based on conscience and what we personally believe is right or wrong in God’s eyes (Romans 14). So we can’t judge each other, but we can learn from each other, and hopefully be able to reason together to come up with informed answers for what we do and why, rather than just emotional ones.  

And isn’t that especially important when facing life and death decisions like a virus that kills vulnerable people, and so do the prescribed vaccines? The risk of death in both cases may be small, but when someone dear to you dies from the virus or a vaccine, and huge pressure is also being applied by peers and government “to do our part as responsible citizens,” the risk involved becomes very real.    

And how many of us have had to face this kind of risk in our lifetimes? It’s probably treading new ground for most of us, which has probably made scriptures like casting all our cares on God, and seeking his wisdom, and knowing his promises, come alive. But isn’t that what this pandemic crisis, with all its conflicting information and evolving dangers, is teaching us? Surely it’s showing us that we have no foolproof solutions, no set of experts who know exactly what to do, and no one we can totally trust with an answer that fits our personal circumstances. In short we are faced with issues way beyond our control. 

But according to Paul, that’s good, because it teaches us to “not rely on ourselves but on God,” 2 Corinthians 1:9. And what God comes up with for us always fits in with his great wish to “present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy,” Jude 24. He will see to it, therefore, that no matter what we decide to do in a risky situation or how faulty our reasoning may be, it will never take away from that promise. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” 

“Loving our neighbour” in a pandemic 

In the early stages of the pandemic the most loving thing to do was “flatten the curve,” meaning obey all the government virus regulations so the hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed. 

Then came the catchphrase, “superspreader” events, where the most unloving thing to do was gather in a large crowd without masks and social distancing. When vaccines then became available the priority changed to being vaccinated as the best protection for the vulnerable and for the safety of the community in general.  

So there’s been an underlying desire and push to love one’s neighbour when deciding what actions to take personally. 

But then the rather disturbing news surfaced that even a double dose of vaccine did not stop a person being infected or being infectious.   

In love to one’s neighbour, therefore, it begged the question, “Is there anything else we can do, then?” If medical science has reached its limit at present in how to fully protect ourselves and others in times of highly contagious diseases, where else do we turn for help? 

Well, the nation that immediately took the lead in heading off and dealing with the Covid virus was Israel. Which isn’t surprising, because for many centuries Israel took what God had to say about contagious diseases seriously.  

Are there some clues, then, in the history of Israel in the Old Testament, in what to do when a contagious disease hits and the community is at risk? Yes, there are, provided for us by Moses, the very first public health official we know of whose medical education was taught to him by God himself.  

With that kind of credential to his name it gives Doctor Moses considerable credibility in the world of medical science. So, when he tells us it’s crucial with a communicable disease to quarantine, as he does in Leviticus 13:46, we’ve got a solid starting point. And as one Jewish website states, “we’re old hands at dealing with quarantines,” which sounds plausible, because the Jews have probably practiced quarantining longer than any other nation on earth. 

Quarantine is a place of isolation for an infected person until he or she is no longer contagious. And as a youngster in English boarding schools this was the practice I grew up with when a virus ripped through the school. A separate building on campus was set aside for quarantine and caring for the sick, while life went on as normal in the rest of the school; no locking down the entire school, and no masks or social distancing. 

Nor were they required in ancient Israel either. The sick were quarantined in care outside the camp, but life for the rest of Israel went on as usual. A mask was only worn by the contagious as an indication to others to steer clear of them (Leviticus 13:45). Those who weren’t contagious did not wear masks.    

So, when thinking about our governments wanting to keep everyone safe and focusing on caring for our neighbours, we have a solid starting point for doing that from Scripture as well. Because Scripture too is talking about taking our personal responsibility seriously, in going to a place of quarantine if we have any of the typical symptoms of a contagious disease. Ideally that would mean going to a separate building provided by our local community for quarantining the sick and caring for us until we’re better, or if that isn’t possible then willingly isolating ourselves until the symptoms have cleared.     

But that’s just the starting point. Should we also, in love for our neighbours, be willing to risk our lives for their safety too?….

Do governments have a right to “mandate”?

During the pandemic governments have mandated lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, vaccinations and vaccine passports, and imposed penalties on  those who did not comply. So governments wield that kind of power over us. But should they have that kind of power, and do they have such a right to mandate?

Scripturally, the answer is “Yes” to governments having the power and right to mandate. And it’s God who gives them that right too, as Paul points out in Romans 13:1 – “The authorities that exist have been established by God….For (verse 4) he is God’s servant to do you good” and be “an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

As God’s servant, then, it’s a government’s job to keep its good citizens safe, and to mandate whatever it takes to do that. Our job as citizens – and as servants of God too – is to cooperate with and submit to what our governments mandate for our protection, and in doing so our conscience is free before God too (verse 5). 

And it would be nice if that’s all that needed to be said – that government does whatever is best for us and we go along with it. But what if our government mandates things that clash with other scriptures? The governing authorities in Acts 5:28, for instance, “gave strict orders (to the apostles) not to teach in Jesus’ name.” A strict order is the same as saying “mandated.” 

So, if Romans 13 is the last and only word on obeying mandates by governing authorities the apostles should have submitted, right? But in Acts 5:29, “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” 

So here’s an exception, where a government authority gave a mandate but no way were the apostles going to obey it. And why weren’t they? Because those in authority – who were supposed to be servants of God – didn’t care a hoot about God’s will. Instead of acknowledging God’s authority they directly opposed it and even wanted to kill those preaching it (verse 33).

Their only interest was “you do what we say, or else,” as we see in Acts 4:18, “But,” verse 19, “Peter and John replied: ‘Whether it is right in the eyes of God for us to listen to what you say rather than to what he says, you must decide.’” 

Well, as God’s appointed servants it was obvious what the authorities  should decide, and the apostles weren’t afraid to remind them of it too, just like Jesus reminded Pontius Pilate in John 19:11 that “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” Just remember, Pilate, whose authority you’re under too. 

And when a government today forgets that, or doesn’t acknowledge God in any way, and they go ahead and make mandates without even considering God’s will, they need reminding too, that they are servants of his will, not their own. 

Governments don’t own us either, a point that Paul also made clear when he wrote: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body,” taking into account that our bodies are also “a temple of the Holy Spirit,” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. It’s God’s clear will, then, that we treat our bodies as belonging to him. 

So when a government wants to mandate something that could potentially harm our bodies, and there’s evidence to show it’s harmful too, can we justifiably reply like the apostles replied in Acts 4:19 – “Whether it’s right in the eyes of God for us to listen to what you say rather than to what God says, you must decide”?

Because someone needs to remind our governing authorities, as Jesus did and so did the apostles, that in whatever they decide to do in the use of their authority they answer to God for it, because their God-given job, as described in Romans 13, is to protect us from harm, not put us in harm’s way. Those who put us in harm’s way join those who “bring judgment on themselves,” Romans  13:2 and need “to be afraid for God does not bear the sword for nothing,” verse 4. So governments can also become recipients of that judgment and become “wrongdoers” whom God punishes (verse 4).  

So, when it comes to government resorting to coercion tactics to get us all vaccinated with experimental drugs with unknown long term adverse effects on our bodies, are we still obligated to obey? And when governments ignore, reject and even censor all other options, alternative treatments and preventive health measures, is it God’s will that we as Christians simply go along with their short-sighted pressure tactics and propaganda, or do we include what God says about our bodies and refuse to risk unknown and unnecessary harm to them? More on that next time….  

What Christianity is, and isn’t, in Acts 15

The controversy causing “much discussion” in Acts 15 was an objection raised by “some of the believers” in the Jerusalem church that to be saved “Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses,” verse 5

But why shouldn’t the Gentiles be circumcised and obey the laws of Moses when God had required those things of the Jews, and it was in their scriptures too?  

But in Acts 10 Peter had experienced Cornelius and his household receiving the Holy Spirit for simply believing “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is lord of all,” verse 36. Peter also realized in verse 43 that “All the prophets” had also made it clear that “every man who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” So that was in their scriptures as well. 

That’s why Peter was so adamant in Acts 15:11 that it was purely “through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved,” and especially since he’d seen what happened to Cornelius and his household when he’d taught that to them. It was also what Paul and Barnabas had experienced in Antioch, backed up by “miraculous signs and wonders” too, in verse 12.

It’s not surprising in verse 10, then, that Peter asked those pushing for obedience to the law of Moses, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” In other words, why demand something you can’t even do yourselves, and nor could those before us either? 

It was “testing God” to make such demands, and especially after he’d made it abundantly clear through Peter, Paul and Barnabas – and scripture – that “he accepted the Gentiles by giving the Holy Spirit to them,” verse 8, with NO strings or requirements of any kind attached.  

Well, that brought the whole room to silence – and the readiness to listen too – as Paul and Barnabas told the story of what “God had done among the Gentiles through them,” verse 12.

Imagine being there as a diehard Jew, though, and having your entire belief system and cultural identity as God’s chosen people, and the anchor you’d depended on to secure your relationship with God, ripped out from under you. But it’s not that hard to imagine when a pandemic has done the same thing to us. It’s brought the entire system of Christian tradition and ritual to a grinding halt. 

But tradition and ritual have nothing to do with salvation anyway, just like Jewish tradition and ritual had nothing to do with the salvation of the Gentiles. Christian rituals like baptism and communion may serve as illustrations of the salvation that only Jesus can give us, but they are never “must do’s” or requirements, because Jesus saves us by his gift of grace alone (Acts 15:11).

And perhaps we discovered during the pandemic how much of a burden and a yoke we’ve put on ourselves in the past trying to keep up with all our rituals and traditions too. Could any of us have foreseen not being able to meet in a church building or take part in any other church tradition we’ve held dear? But it happened. And for some, perhaps many, it was a great relief.   

It came as a huge relief to those in Acts 15 too, when they too realized the unbearably burdensome system – that had consumed their lives, and set standards that even the great names in their history could not meet – was no longer necessary. And didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me, all you who are wearied and burdened….For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)?

Acts 15 then backs up what Jesus said too, because in showing what Christianity is, it’s all good. And all good in three clearly explained ways too. That all it needs to get started is a good heart (verse 8). God then gets the good news message to that good heart (verse 7), which includes the Holy Spirit purifying that good heart (verse 9), so that we can say “good riddance” – the third “good” – to anything else that people try to burden us with beyond that. 

In Acts 15, then, we’re given a simple and clear definition of what Christianity is, and isn’t, and the Gentiles loved it (verse 31). No wonder they were responding so favourably (Acts 13:48).  

Is Acts 2:38 a “must do” for all Christians?

This was a hard blog to write because for years and years I thought Acts 2:38 was the benchmark scripture that defined Christianity and what people must go through to become Christians. Verse 38 was Peter’s response to the Jews asking what on earth they were supposed to do on realizing they’d killed the very person God had sent to save them (verses 36-37). And “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” 

For more than forty years I took that to mean the process all Christians must go through to be formally classified as Christians – first repentance, then water baptism, then forgiveness, then the giving of the Holy Spirit. To be forgiven, therefore, we must go through repentance and a water baptism first. And only after a water baptism would we receive the gift of the Spirit making us into card carrying Christians.

And what confirmed that in my mind was Acts 10:47, in Peter’s response to the Gentile Cornelius and his household suddenly receiving the gift of the Spirit in verse 44. Because Peter’s immediate reaction in verse 47 was: “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” So there it was again, the necessity of water baptism, even after the Holy Spirit had been given. The order of events may have changed – baptism after the gift of the Spirit, rather than before – but the required steps for becoming a Christian remained.

It looked like nothing had changed, therefore, between Acts 2 and Acts 10. To become a Christian it was the same process: what made Jews into Christians in Acts 2:38 was the same process for Gentiles becoming Christians too.    

But then came Acts 11:16, when Peter “remembered what the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, BUT you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” This was the moment it dawned on Peter that the baptism required for people to become Christians wasn’t in water any more, it was baptism with the Spirit. 

And all it had needed for the Gentiles to be baptized with the Holy Spirit was “believing in the Lord Jesus Christ” too, verse 17. There was no repentance on their part required, no water baptism, and no need for forgiveness before receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. It then dawned on the whole group listening to Peter that “God has even granted the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Repentance wasn’t something the Gentiles had to do, because that too had been given to them by God. 

The process for becoming Christians, then, isn’t Acts 2:38. But in context verse 38 was only meant for the Jews at that moment anyway, in response to them killing Jesus. The “repentance” being talked about in that verse was the awful sin of killing Jesus that the Jews needed to repent of and be baptized in water for. And only then, after being symbolically washed clean of that sin, would they be forgiven for the death of Jesus they’d caused, and only after that would they receive the promised Holy Spirit too.    

But none of this was required of any Gentiles, because none of them had been responsible for Jesus’ death. Only the Jews had been, who not only didn’t recognize the obvious signs from their own scriptures that Jesus was the promised Messiah, they had descended into a mad mob to have him killed too. 

The process in Acts 2:38 refers only to Jews at that point in time, therefore. It isn’t what we all must do – today or any day – to become Christians. 

Acts 15:8 then confirms that when Peter explains to all the apostles and elders in Jerusalem how God had made it abundantly clear to him that he, God, had “accepted the Gentiles by giving the Holy Spirit to them” for nothing more than hearing the gospel message about Jesus and believing it (verse 7). There’s no mention of the process the Jews had to go through in Acts 2:38.  

It’s how the Gentiles were converted to Christianity, therefore, that defines Christianity and how people in all ages since then become Christians. And like me, Peter had to come to that understanding gradually. For him that understanding came from his actual experience with the Gentile centurion Cornelius. For me it came from reading about his experience and the surprise Peter got when he too realized it’s entirely “through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved,” verse 11, and not by anything that we, Jew or Gentile, do.