I read this story in Todd Billings’ award winning book, Union with Christ, and thought there might be a devotional in it. I know I should post more than my latest drafts for Our Daily Journey, but it’s either this or give all my students incompletes for the semester.
In 1857 a few white members of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa asked permission to celebrate the Lord’s Supper separately from their black brothers and sisters. The General Assembly believed their request was wrong, but it acquiesced “due to the weakness of some.” This concession soon became the norm, as white Christians increasingly chose to observe the Lord’s Supper without their black siblings. Their racism prompted the unwanted black Christians to leave and start their own churches. And so the South African church, divided by race, eventually became a vocal supporter of apartheid. In 1924 the DRC argued that the races must remain separate, for “competition between black and white on economic levels…leads to poverty, friction, misunderstanding, suspicion, and bitterness.”
How might the history of South Africa be different if the church had not conceded to the sinful request of a few “weaker brothers”? We are thankful for leaders such as Nelson Mandela who gave their lives to end apartheid. But it’s a shame on the church that their sacrifice was even needed.
Peter gave in to the “weaker brothers” in Antioch. He knew they were wrong to insist that Gentiles live like Jews, but afraid of what they might say, he refused to eat with Gentiles when these Judaizers came to town. Paul recognized this was a big deal, for the reason these Jews split from the Gentiles put the gospel at risk. How would the history of Christianity be different if Paul had not stood up to Peter’s shameful concession?
It’s never right to do wrong because others think it’s right. We must not violate our conscience on the flimsy ground that “They wouldn’t understand,” “It’s what they expect,” or “Just this once, what will it hurt?” It may seem easier to give in, but our concession will make life harder down the road.