“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us'” (Mark 9:38-40 ESV).
It seems that the disciples were under the impression that they had a monopoly on God’s attention. Sound familiar?
While I would agree that the faith of some is so misguided that they think they are following Jesus, but in fact are not, I also think we can be a little too quick to judge. A charismatic church I belonged to years ago never said it outright, but certainly implied, that most people in denominational churches were not just ignorant of the work of the Holy Spirit, but they were not even Christians. And I drank the Kool Aid.
We all like to believe that we are right; and we’re not afraid to criticize the beliefs of other Christians. So it’s no wonder that when the world looks at the Church they see division instead of the love of God. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).
We search out all of the differences between us, and magnify them out of proportion until we see only the differences. Then there’s that whole log thing (Matthew 7:4)! It would be infinitely easier for us to win the world for Jesus if we focused on what we have in common.
The disciples seem to have felt that their toes were being stepped on. Someone was casting out demons in the name of Jesus, but he went to a different church. Jesus pointed out that “the one who is not against us is for us.”
There are differences which are supremely important, such as the divinity of Christ, and salvation by faith alone. We can’t simply overlook deviations from differences of that type. But we can engage in dialogue, with love, and out of the sight of the world.
Priscilla and Aquila, early church leaders understood this. “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:24-28 ESV emphasis mine).
Perhaps we find it easier to love our neighbor when we think he is an out-of-work drug addict, or she is an unwed mother, than when he has a different belief about the bread and the wine, or she disagrees with our beliefs about infant baptism. As the disciples needed to get over themselves when Jesus set them right, we need to get over ourselves and focus on those things that really matter.
A divided Church will never win the world.