I am currently in Israel visiting family, and decided this morning to go on a walking tour of Jaffa. On the tour, the tour guide spoke of the events that led Cornelius the centurion to Peter and culminated in the opening of the Gospel to the gentiles.
In light of the debate over whether current policy changes are inspired and truly the will of the Lord, I reflected on this most monumental shift in policy ever occurred in the history of the Church. Before Peter’s vision, only those who were Jewish by descent or laborious conversion could be baptized into the nascent Christian Church. After his vision, the scope and power of the Church of Christ dramatically changed as the message spread to all mankind.
There were two key revelations regarding the Church’s policy towards the gentiles, and I believed that looking at these two different policies helps to reveal how God guides his Church today.
The First revelation came to Peter in the vision regarding eating unclean animals. After this vision, Peter knew God’s will decisively and he knew that the Gospel could go to the gentiles. This was a direct revelation of a very specific nature , and Peter immediately shared this vision with the whole Church so that it would know that the instruction came from God.
But after this vision, there still remained the difficult work of figuring out how to implement the newly revealed policy of preaching to the gentiles. In Act 15, we read about the great counsel where the Apostles and Elders came together under the direction of the First Presidency to consider what limitations should be placed on newly converted Gentiles. Peter and James lead this meeting and seek the guidance of the Lord. And from this meeting comes a divinely inspired policy that “seemed good to the Holy Ghost.” This policy revelation involved no clear “thus saith the Lord” moment. Peter didn’t receive a vision, James didn’t speak in the name of the Lord. Yet, there is no question that Peter and James received binding revelation which was accepted by the whole Church as inspired policy.
These two models of revelation still exist in the present Church. Sometimes, policy is revealed through a dramatic vision or through “thus saith the lord” revelation. Other times, it is instead revealed through inspired and prayerful contemplation and under the guidance of the First Presidency. Both are inspired and both are revelatory. If we demand the former type and reject anything revealed through the latter model as uninspired, we will be doing a grave disservice and sowing the seeds of doubt and dissension.