create difficulties for (someone or something), resulting in delay or obstruction
Peter’s education as a follower of Jesus didn’t end with Jesus’ ascension. The Book of Acts highlights God’s relentless work on opening Peter up to hard challenges. These surprises for Peter largely focused on the consequences of Jesus’ insistence on unity.
This all comes to a climax in Acts 10 -11. Peter has a vision of the essentials of faith, essentials he considered sacred, being undone and refashioned by the Spirit of the Living God. Finally, Acts tells us:
The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.… If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God? When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” [Acts 11:12, 17-18]
“Who was I that I could hinder God?” That may be Peter’s best – and most relevant – confession of faith. Hinder is a directly relevant word today. At first glance, “hindering” may strike us as something outsized – erecting roadblocks, sabotaging good work, or actively resisting some forward movement. True enough. In church, however, hindering is more in the shadows…
…using the ubiquitous “lots of people” when doubt needs to be sown (e.g. “you know, lots of people aren’t liking this…”) Note: “lots of people” are made up of “they” – a similar non-specific identity of unknown number or origin.
…using the lens of our work life, our political life, some previous experience to change the category of discussion (e.g. “things are getting too political around here” – which almost always means that we think, react, complain, and adjust to things in church using the current political strife and not the love and justice, the hope and peace called for in the gospels.)
…treating faith as a hobby – that the claims of Jesus can easily fit into the rest of our life without any dislocation – and then opposing anyone (like a church board, a wise, loving congregational leader, a pastor) who urges us that the claims of the gospel will change us. All the time. In every way.
…assuming that being right is more important, in Jesus’ world, than growing in faith. Growing in faith means listening to others and sometimes not pressing our righteousness on others for the sake of that growth.
“Lots of people” will hinder the church from being Christ’s light in this vastly changed world.
Putting our politics upstream of our faith will mean the claims of faith are without love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness…and all the rest. (Does anyone in church really, truly want our faith life to feel like the rest of our life?)
Treating faith as a hobby is already turning the church – the Body of Christ – into a club with membership privileges.
Needing to be right, first, before opening ourselves to growth is another definition of hell on earth.
Right now the church is being called on to undertake the hard, growth-producing work of unity. It is being called on to become one of the institutions in our society that is actively helping to re-weave our torn social fabric. This is the most pressing work of our time.
Or we can hinder it.
But, make no mistake, churches are either mending or hindering, because of the active choices each of us is making every day.