The One Who is Not Against You is For You

The pastor of my church is teaching through the gospel of Luke. And Rhapsody in Blue is an awfully long song. That has nothing to do with this, but it is playing, and just as I thought it was about to end, I see it has 12 minutes remaining. Sorry. I should start completely over.

The pastor of my church is teaching through the gospel of Luke. A couple weeks ago, he was in chapter 9 and passed through verses 49 and 50. They say, “John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.'” Pastor Brian Tallman made the excellent point that we in the church have a tendency to create groups within the body of Christ that will only work with and support very like-minded groups. The Reformed community (I attend a Reformed church), he went on to say, is of a certain quality that is especially guilty of this kind of exclusivism. It comes from our penchant, or passion, for doctrinal accuracy and a kind of intellectualism found more in Reformed circles than elsewhere. These are good things, but they can be used as an excuse to ostracize brothers and sisters in Christ, and when that happens, it is sin. You can see the elitist thoughts of the disciples in Luke 9:49, and remember, Jesus had just given them power and authority at the opening of the chapter. So maybe they were getting a little high off it. But Jesus’s reply in verse 50 to their statement brought them back down to earth. There are only two sides, and all children of God are equally called to work for God’s kingdom. This principle, in fact, goes a little further, I admit, than I am comfortable with. In Philippians, Paul is so bold as to say:

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (1:15-18)

If Paul was okay with the true gospel being preached with bad motives, how much more open ought we to be to the true gospel being preached with good motives!

My former pastor, Gene Cook, Jr., used to do work in Africa (I forget which country. I have the Western problem of lumping all Africa together.) It was work at an orphanage, I believe. It was a ministry, in fact, that he started. Now, you must know, Gene is a Reformed Baptist with very clear Calvinistic beliefs. But what I appreciated was the fact that he worked in Africa with Pentecostals, arm in arm for the same cause of the bringing Jesus to light and meeting physical needs in His name. It made no difference, as long as his companions were also children of God. Here many Christians would say something about the evil of denominational divisions. I’m a little different. I believe 1) denominations are inevitable, 2) that denominational labels are immensely helpful, and 3) that they are, quite frankly, much more honest than so-called “non-denominational” churches. (I don’t believe in non-denominational churches, but that is another subject). On the other hand, I have to be careful to draw a vast distinction between those within the Body who believe differently than I do, and those outside the Body. They are nothing alike, and our differences are of a completely different nature. The truth that unites me to my Pentecostal or Nazarene brethren is orders of magnitude greater than any differences we may have.

Now, there are definite dividing lines to be drawn. In texts outside Philippians,the Apostle Paul expends a lot of energy countering false teaching and false teachers. He insists in Galatians that if anyone preaches a different gospel, that person should be damned. But we must remember where the dividing lines are and draw them neither too broadly nor too narrowly. This takes prudence and wisdom, truth and love. Based on personality and even the church one belongs to, one of these errors may be more of a temptation than the other. I go constantly back to the famous maxim by seventeeth-century Lutheran, Rupertus Meldenius: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

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