Tribalism within Christianity is a growing trend. We identify ourselves by those who hold similar views to us; whether it be Catholics or Anglicans, Evangelicals or liberals. We continue to divide ourselves based on our theology or the way we express and practice our beliefs. These divisions help to define us. Amy Chua has written on the tribal nature of people suggesting:
“Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachments, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family. Almost no one is a hermit. Even monks and friars belong to orders. But the tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It is also an instinct to exclude.” (Amy Chua, Political Tribes)
Up until this point, those who weren’t Jewish, could only come to Christ through enduring Jewish ritual such as circumcision. National identity is important, it helps us define who we are, but it does so through the exclusion of who we are not. In this passage we see a beautiful picture of the all-inclusive nature of the Kingdom of God. As Peter’s declaration shows, inclusion in the Kingdom of God is for those ‘from every nation who fears God and does what is right’ (vs 35) and this is further explained in vs 43 ‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’. Through a series of visions God is demonstrating that Gentiles can directly enter into relationship with him. They don’t cease to have a national identity, however they have a more important identity that unites them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Their reception as believers is confirmed in the same way as was seen at Pentecost in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit comes, the people speak in other languages and God is praised! The message of the openness of the Kingdom of God is confirmed through this profound demonstration of the work of the Spirit in the lives of Gentiles.
For us today, this passage is a reminder that we do not need to become anything else to become disciples of Jesus. We do not need to become well-dressed middle-class people, nor do we need to pray in certain ways, or worship in a particular style. We are united by our common participation in God’s story summarised for us in v36-43. Yes, there are differences in our practices, and sometimes in our theology, but when we ascribe to this story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we are welcomed into God’s family. I wonder, do we offer others the same unconditional welcome into his family? Do we demonstrate that prejudice and favouritism play no roles? Spend some time reflecting and praying on the incredible unity we have as God’s family, no matter our tribe.