Here we find Peter returning to Jerusalem and recounting the events that had transpired with Cornelius. It states that “those of the circumcision contended with him.” These were the Jewish Christians who insisted that not merely circumcision, but rather the entirety of the law itself must be maintained to receive salvation. Thus, Peter recalls the revelation that he had received from the Lord.
In so doing, he revisits a very interesting point which is very frequently overlooked, overshadowed by the revelation itself. “Call for Simon, whose surname is Peter, who will tell you the words by which you will be saved.” Bearing in mind that Cornelius was a devout man who gave alms and prayed regularly. Now, bearing that in mind, bearing in mind that his faith was so strong that he had received a direct revelation from God, the Lord still commands him to send for Peter, who will tell him what he must do to be saved.
See, I think it’s important that we understand this, because so often in our generation, the cry is that all ones needs do to be “saved” is believe. I’ve heard arguments that even baptism and repentance aren’t necessary unto salvation, because that’s how this “one theologian interprets the Scriptures.” I’ve heard statements like, “God is everywhere, I don’t need to go to Church to find Him.” And He is everywhere, He is omniscient, omnipotent, onmipresent. But, consider this, there is water everywhere on our planet. There are lakes, creeks, rivers, streams, oceans; our very atmosphere is made of water. But, if one is thirsty, they still go to the store to buy water, or go to the water fountain, etc. Peter warns that no matter of prophecy is left to personal interpretation. Here we see a very devout man, who is capable of communing with the Lord Himself, and what does the Lord tell him? Send for Simon Peter so that he can tell you what you must do to be saved, you and all of your household.
The need to be received into the Church, to accept it’s teachings, is imperative to a Christian. Surrounded by all of those lakes and streams, oceans and clouds, one still goes to the water fountain to drink. Why? Because we know that the water is safe to drink. The stream might be safe, the river might be safe; or each of them may contain bacteria that could be harmful to us. We don’t know definitely if it is safe or not, thus, we go to the source that we know is safe. Spiritually, it’s the same way. When we seek the living water that will lead us to eternal life, why would we risk our eternity drawing from random streams and lakes, when we can draw from the very fountain through which the source of all Truth flows. I can stumble my way through reading the Scripture and I might be right by mistake once or twice, or I could be horribly wrong. And the danger is that I would have no way to know that I am horribly wrong outside of the teaching of the Church. It’s ever too easy to allow our own personal bias and desire, our own pride and sinfulness, into our interpretations outside of the teaching of the Church. St Paul calls the Church the “pillar and foundation of all truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15). It is in the Church that the unity and fullness of Christ are fully experienced, and through it’s teachings that the words of salvation are presented, without alteration, through 2000 years of Holy Tradition. How arrogant would we be to think that in our generation, we have more wisdom than 2000 years of holy anointed men of God who were willing to face death rather than to allow the integrity of those traditions to become corrupted.
May we all grow to learn this fact. May we learn from Cornelius and Peter; from the Ethopian and Philip; from St Peter’s warning. Our faith is necessary unto salvation; but it is never faith alone. In the apostolic counsel, we see the apostles determining which laws must be kept by the Gentiles to receive salvation. If we reject the teachings of the Church, or the necessity of the Church, and rely solely on our own interpretation or the interpretations of one or two others, our faith will be left to the ebb and tide of our culture and our times; and ultimately, as St Paul warns, will “make a shipwreck of our faith.” If you can ask four people about a passage of Scripture and get four different answers, then there is a very strong possibility that the doctrine isn’t based on the foundation of God, who never changes, or of the Church about which He spoke when He said, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” but rather are based on the opinion of the people asked.
St Paul, to the Church in Corinth, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10). This will never happen as long as we disregard the authoritative teaching of the Church and regard all of our faith as a matter of personal interpretation. It is through the traditions themselves that we will ever attain this unity and oneness that St Paul pleads with us to have.
Christ is in our midst.