"HE THAT IS NOT AGAINST ME"
By Philip A. Matthews
And John answered Him, saying, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbade him, because he followeth not us." But Jesus said, "Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that can lightly speak evil of Me. For he that is not against us is on our part." -Mark 9:38-40
The ultimate responsibility of every Christian is to promote Jesus Christ-not themselves, not their church, nor their "brand" of Christianity. The responsibility of every preacher is to preach Christ-not themselves, not their church, nor their "brand" of Christianity. Our job is to preach Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:15-18).
Anything other than preaching Christ alone is preaching denominationalism. The New Testament gospel standard is non-denominationalism. However, the fact is that most preachers are really promoting their churches and their brand of Christianity. They have very little to do with those who do not agree with them, because they are under the impression that unity is based on not disagreeing, i.e., we see "eye to eye" (Isaiah 52:8). The truth is, the church has never been characterized by perfect agreement. Indeed, the New Testament is full of evidence of strong, vehement occasions of disagreement, even among the apostles. Disagreements of all types-spiritual, doctrinal, personality, and otherwise-have always existed in the church and will always exist in the church. The difference between us today and the apostles is that, by fervent love (1 Peter 4:8), by "agreeing to disagree" on secondary matters (Acts 15; Romans 14), and by overcoming personality clashes (Acts 15:39; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11), they found a way to continue working together for the good of their common, unifying cause-the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God.
No Neutrality Involving Jesus
We seem to have forgotten the scripture taken here as our text: "He that is not against us is on our part." This lets us know a very crucial truth: There is no neutrality when it comes to Jesus. Either you are for Him and on His side, or you are against Him and not on His side but on Satan's side. Not one person in the world can avoid being on one of these sides when it comes to Christ. (See also Matthew 12:30.) Either one is saved and on God's side, or unsaved and on the devil's side.
If, as far as we know, a man claims to be saved, if there is no known unrepentant sin in his life, if he is not preaching "damnable heresy," then he must be regarded as a Christian brother who is on our side and who is to be worked with. He must be accepted and respected. His gifts must be accepted and respected. We should work with him in whatever capacity we can work with him to help us further the cause of Christ and the ministry God has given us. We should not avoid him just because we do not agree with him on every secondary point of doctrine, even if we feel like they are important. We should not avoid him just because we do not feel like he is quite as "sanctified" or as spiritually "deep" as we happen to be. If he is truly a Christian at all then we already agree with him on enough primary points of doctrine to justify our acceptance of him and our cooperation with him.
Secondary, non-essential points (i.e., teachings that do not save or unsave a person) should not be allowed to separate us. We are already all on the same side. We already have fellowship, without any other requirements (1 John 1:7). If he is saved, he is certainly not on the devil's side. So why can we not work together, seeing that there are only two sides? We do not avoid him merely because he associates himself with the Baptist church, the Methodist church, the Assemblies of God, "our group," or even another "side" within "our group." We do not avoid him merely because he is friendly with some other Christian or group of Christians which we think are "wrong" or "off." The ultimate question is, Does he preach and promote Christ, not Does he preach and promote our doctrine or our "standard" of secondary teachings? We Christians must work with each other. Jesus Christ gives us no choice to do otherwise.
One of the most common reasons given for not working with a Christian brother or sister or group of believers involves this: "He's got the wrong spirit," "I don't like her spirit," etc. We must be extremely careful of using this idea as a justification for separation or non-cooperation. Why? Because we have far more biblical precedent against this idea than for it. In Philippians 1:15-16 Paul writes about several brothers who are preaching Christ obviously from a "wrong" spirit and motivation: "Some indeed preach Christ...of envy and strife...of contention, supposing to add affliction to my bonds..." But Paul rejoiced that Christ was being preached!
In Acts 15:2, 7, we see the Jewish and Gentile ministers in such disagreement that we would have said that both sides were of the "wrong" spirit: "...Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them... When there had been much disputing..." But neither side was considered to be unsaved. Later in that same chapter (verse 39), Paul and Barnabas themselves got into an argument where "the contention was so sharp between them that they departed asunder one from the other..." Of course, this was wrong and carnal, but the point is that we would have renounced both of these brothers-two of the church's greatest apostles-for having the "wrong" spirit.
Even our text, where the disciples could not convince the man casting out devils in Jesus' name to follow them, indicates that this maverick disciple seemed to be of a "wrong," somewhat contrary spirit. Yet Jesus said of him, "He that is not against Me is on my side!" The main point is that this concept of the "wrong" spirit involves too much vagueness, subjectivity, inability to be proved or confirmed, and other ambiguities, to be used as an excuse to separate from or not cooperate with each other. Many times the brother being accused of having the "wrong" spirit has absolutely no idea what the others are talking about or how to correct the situation. So the problem continues on indefinitely.
How To Work With Each Other
It was stated above that we should use each other "in whatever capacity we can work with each other." What does this mean and how is this done? For example, if we need someone to pray, we can use our brother for prayer. If we have a certain need for his type of preaching, we should use him for preaching. If he is gifted in worship, we can use him for praising. If he is gifted as a teacher in certain areas, we can utilize his ability in that area. He may not be gifted in all areas-no one is-but we can certainly use him in the area in which he is gifted and qualified by God (not us), without it being necessary to agree with him in every point of doctrine.
Of course, we may not feel comfortable with him working in certain areas, but we can work with him in some capacity. Working with another Christian does not mean that we agree with him in every way or sanction everything that he does or says. It does not mean that we have to love and feel comfortable with his worship style, his spiritual emphasis, or his interpretation of Bible prophecy. It merely means that we can accept him as a Christian and support him to the point our convictions allow us to.
If a saved brother or sister is an evangelist, then we should use their gift for our evangelistic campaigns. It does not make spiritual sense to have a brother whose gift is not evangelism running our outreach efforts simply because another brother who actually does have the gift has been forced aside because he does not agree with us on all points of doctrine or is part of some other group. We cannot afford to have a brother who is truly gifted and has spiritual influence sitting over on the sidelines just because he does not hold to every teaching or tradition of the denomination. If he is preaching proven heresies or promoting sin and evil, that is another matter, and we would be justified to question even his salvation. But we are talking about a person who is a brother and who is Holy Spirit gifted, meaning that God Himself accepts the person and uses the person. How do we look refusing to use someone that God has accepted and gifted? Who are we to know more than God?
Our chief concerns should be Jesus' chief concerns: That people are reached most effectively, that souls are saved from hell, and that God's kingdom is increased. Any attitudes or policies that hinder or prevent such things from taking place are definitely not the will of God and therefore should be forsaken immediately. This does not make doctrine of little or no consequence. It simply makes the salvation of souls all-important-the ultimate, bottom-line responsibility of the church of Jesus Christ and the primary will and desire of God. Look at it all from God's perspective. Which would He rather have happen: (1) A soul gets saved after hearing some preacher who has some of his ideas a little wrong, but who did teach repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, or (2) A soul goes to hell because he never got the chance to hear the gospel because there just were not enough "straight" Christians around to preach it "right" according to us. God's answer would be option one hands down.
Many times we may be guilty of treating each other and other Christians outside of our own movement as if they were not on Jesus' side at all. We have been regarding each other as if some of us were actually on Satan's side. Hopefully we can now see how preposterous this really is, seeing that everybody is claiming to be going to heaven. As far as we can tell, we are all saved, we are not accusing each other of having unrepentant sin in our lives, none of our issues involve "damnable heresies," and so we all will eventually make it to heaven. But we cannot work together here on earth! We are actually talking about going to heaven to worship for eternity with people that we cannot work with or worship with for five minutes here on earth! This is the height of inconsistency.
Of course, being realistic, it is easier to work with people who have theological backgrounds and beliefs that are closer to ours, who have personalities more compatible with ours, who have ministry goals and purposes common to ours, and who have other natural, social, geographic, and spiritual connections to us. But we deprive ourselves greatly if we limit our dealings to those Christians alone.
Bible Differences Between Saints
The New Testament fairly obviously makes a difference between a saint and a sinner. Without discussing each passage in depth, here are a few scriptures that make such a difference: (1) 1 John 3:6-15 ("He that commits sin is of the devil...No murderer has eternal life abiding in him"); (2) 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT ("Don't you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers-none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God. There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away..."); (3) Ephesians 5:3-11 ("no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ..."); (4) Revelations 21:8 ("But...murderers...and all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire..."); (5) Galatians 5:19-21 ("they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God..."); (6) 1 Peter 4:3-4 NLT ("You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy-their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols..."); and others. Obviously, a saint and a sinner are two very different creatures.
Thus, as stated above, the New Testament makes a distinct difference between saints and sinners. But it does not make differences between saints. We Christians are the ones who have perfected the art of separating saints. We are the ones, not God, who build walls between believers in Christ. We are the ones, not God, who put saints into categories, levels and degrees of "light," pecking orders and hierarchies, exclusive associations, and fellowships that refuse to fellowship any other fellowships (but each supposedly believing in the "unity of God's people"). Some of us ought to quit talking about unity; we don't really know the first thing about it! After all of our separations here over things supposedly absolutely critical, how ironic it is that the Father is going to take all of His children to the same heavenly home. Perhaps we will finally get along together there!
Below are a few of the scriptures that do allow for saints to separate from each other, shun each other, etc. Notice the root causes in each of these scriptural examples: (1) "...another gospel..." (Galatians 1:8); (2) "damnable heresies" (2 Peter 2:1); (3) "...walking disorderly" (2 Thessalonians 3:6); (4) "...fornicators, covetous, idolater, railer..." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13); and (5) "refuses to hear you or the church" (Matthew 18:17).
In each of these cases, obvious, definite, concrete sin is involved. A definite wrong doing is involved. A definite biblical process of restoration and reconciliation has been exhausted. Or, a definite false doctrine that will send a soul to hell (i.e., a "damnable heresy") is being taught. In no case is the separation or shunning allowed because of a disagreement over church customs, denominational beliefs or practices, personality conflicts, differences in gifts or methods ("administrations, operations" 1 Corinthians 12:4-6), differences in knowledge or understanding, differences in levels of spiritual maturity and development, differences in worship styles, or the like. None of the cases involve vague, unverifiable, subjective concepts such as "He's got the wrong spirit."
Such issues are not justification for any Christian or group of Christians to separate from or refuse to fellowship or work with any other Christians. Such things are not just cause for us to regard any other Christian as our spiritual "step brother or sister." If definite, unrepentant sin is not involved, then it is wrong to refuse to accept each other as "whole brothers" in Christ. (See Romans 14:1-we are to "receive" or accept one another, "without passing judgment on disputable matters" (NIV). Also, in Romans 15:7, we are commanded to "receive ye one another, as Christ also received us...").
What Then Is Division?
What, then, is division in the church? Here is how it is used in the Pauline letters: (1) The Greek word, schisma, literally meaning a "cleft" or "rent", is used in 1 Corinthians 1:10 ("Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you...there are contentions among you..."), and 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 ("I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you..."). (2) The Greek word, dichostasia, meaning a "standing apart," is used in Romans 16:17 ("Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them...") and 1 Corinthians 3:3 ("For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"). In these texts we find that division is accompanied by the following sinful manifestations: contentions, heresies, offenses contrary to the doctrine, carnality, envying, strife, and refusal to accept each other as true Christians.
Thus, division in the church must involve some kind of carnality and sin. It cannot be applied to Christians who agree to work or worship separately for some specific reason. The Apostle Paul was given the right hand of fellowship by the apostles in Jerusalem, although it was very obvious to them and the saints that Paul's revelation and message of Christ was very different from theirs. Paul's message would never have fit in very well in Jerusalem. Yet all of them were Christians and fully recognized each other. It was not division for Paul and Barnabas to work and worship separately from Jerusalem and for them to deliberately keep their Gentile converts from having much contact and interaction with the Christians in Jerusalem. It was not division for Paul and Barnabas later to go their separate ways and form their separate ministries because of the disagreement over John Mark. They agreed to go their separate ways because they could not agree on the method to work together.
This shows that since the beginning of the church, Christians have always had different gifts, different God-given revelations, different God-ordained emphases and burdens, different methods ("operations" in 1 Corinthians 12:6), different spheres of influence, different target audiences, different ways and abilities of reaching and relating to people, different personalities that do not always blend well together, different convictions and consciences, different religious backgrounds and upbringings, different cultural practices (that often influence and produce different worship styles), and multitudes of other differences. For Christians to understand these natural differences and agree to work separately is not division. Division occurs when they refuse to fully accept each other because of carnal and selfish reasons on one or both sides. Division is when they cannotcooperate with each other at all even for the upbuilding of the common cause of Christ.
More should be said about the relationship between the church in Antioch and the church in Jerusalem because in many Christian circles we find similarities. Jerusalem was the origin and center of Christianity among the Jews. However, as the Gospel spread throughout the world, Antioch became the center of Christianity in the Greek or Gentile world. Jerusalem was characterized by an emphasis on religious traditions, doctrines, Jewish historical influences, and Moses' law, even though the church was Christian. Antioch was established only on a belief in Jesus Christ because it had no such religious history to fall back on. But both churches were integral parts of the Body of Christ, although they tried to disown each other for a while.
Today, Jerusalem is a symbol of churches that are more traditional, status quo oriented, somewhat closed, mostly targeted to and loved by religious people, etc. Antioch is open to all, especially to "Gentiles," i.e., unchurched people. Antioch is not traditional, more open to new paradigms, more relevant and meaningful to non-religious people, etc. Both types of ministries are necessary, because both have very different spheres of influences and target audiences. Neither should disown or disfellowship the other. Nor should either treat the other as if it is a sub-par, semi-Christian step-brother. Both are full-fledged Christians. God needs them both because they reach different people. Both Jerusalem and Antioch should both be aware of this and act like it, i.e., treat each other like they know God's true design.
And what is God's true design? His design is that all men come to a life-changing experience and knowledge of Jesus Christ. If one church or ministry cannot reach certain people, then He will create another ministry to reach them. And He will allow the original ministry to continue reaching the people they are already reaching without labeling that ministry as being defective. This is a perfectly normal, God-ordained procedure that has operated in the church since its official beginning, and even before, as evidenced by our text. This is not division. This is not outside of God's will.
Indeed, this is the only way the world will ever be reached. It will take many different groups of Christians having different spheres of influence using different means and methods of outreach to win different groups of unbelievers to the same Christ. Let's recognize this as God's plan and quit pressuring each other to fit into the same religious mold, then disowning each other when we don't. Division is refusing to recognize and accept other Christians as our true brothers and sisters in Christ. Unity is recognizing our many differences and fully and lovingly accepting each other in spite of them.
The Motivation of Christ Alone Unifies
This requires us to make a few comments about Christian motivation. The church of God in the earth is the Body of Christ, consisting of all the blood-washed souls in the world. At the head of that Body is Jesus Christ Himself. Just as in a natural body the head controls everything that happens in that body, so also in the Body of Christ the Head controls everything. Every member in that Body, no matter how small and insignificant, must have a direct connection to the Head. Otherwise, that member ceases to be a viable part of the Body. If the nerve connection is broken, or some other malady interferes with the connection, that member is paralyzed and unable to receive communication from the Head. Eventually that member is cut off and dies (John 15:1-6). But the point is that the power, energy, and motivation from the Head radiates through the Body into every single member of the Body and out into the world. Thus, every member is an expression or reflection of the Head.
This concept of the Head radiating and expressing Himself through every member is a very significant concept. Every member reflects what is going on in the Head. The desires and wishes of the Head, the burden of the Head, the love and grace of the Head, the power and motivation of the Head, Jesus Christ-these influences should be what radiates down through every member. When every member has the spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ, the burden of Christ, the love of Christ for souls, and the desire of Christ, then unity is possible. But when the motivation of Christ is not radiating through every Christian, then Christians find themselves unable to practice unity.
This is what has happened to the Body of Christ in the world today. Too many Christians are not reflecting the mind and burden of Christ. The pure, single desire for God alone that Christ possessed is not their chief desire. The drive that motivated Christ is not what motivates them. They are driven by some other selfish motivation. For example, one leader is driven by the burden of Christ, but his co-worker is driven by a desire to save his preaching career. One brother is motivated by the desire to present Christ alone to the world, but another is motivated to present his brand of Christianity. One is trying to save souls, but another is trying to save the church or the denomination. One is trying to obey the Great Commission by bringing unchurched people in, while the other is trying to keep the church clean and driving them out. Another is trying to maintain his political clout within the movement. Another is driven by the need to maintain approval from a religious group and to keep from offending anybody. Still another is making all of his moves obsessed with fear of what other Christians might think of him. Some have a zeal for Christ, and some have a zeal for the success of their churches. Some have a zeal for themselves. Some want Christ to be preached, but, like the carnally-motivated disciples in our original text, only if "they follow us."
Listen: There is absolutely no way for Christians, within any specific movement or among movements, to work together in unity if they are not ALL reflecting the true Spirit, burden, drive, and desires of Jesus Christ-and nothing else. The sobering question is, Who is going to preach Christ alone, without fear and without selfish desires, from an absolutely pure motivation? How many Kingdom workers are in this thing only because of a love for Christ and not because of what they are getting out of it-power, money, prestige, recognition, ambition, personal kingdom-building, feelings of self-worth and accomplishment, sentimentality, spiritual conscience soothing, maintaining of social connections and identity, a need to feel busy, emotional security, or some other selfish reward?
God's Unifying Process in the Church
In Ephesians 4:1-16, the Apostle Paul describes the way true unity is achieved in the church. First, he establishes the fact that we Christians are all of one body, one Spirit, and one hope, meaning that we are all trying to make it to the same heaven. Then he reminds us that we all have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God or heavenly Father. So sharing all of these critical attributes, we are required to keep the "unity of the Spirit," which is another way of saying we are required to have and practice love for each other under all conditions. "Be patient with each other's faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace" (verses 2-3 NLT). The "unity of the Spirit" or love is not based on human or cultural alikeness, identical knowledge and experiences, or compatibility of personality. It is based only on the previously stated facts: that we have the same Father, Lord, faith, spiritual family, and destiny.
Paul then allows for the introduction of differences: "Yet grace...was given to each of us individually-not indiscriminately, but in different ways-in proportion to the measure of Christ's [rich and bounteous] gift" (verse 7 Amp). However, because of love-the unity of the Spirit-we do not allow these differences to separate us. Instead, the five ministries of the Word-apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers-are allowed to work among God's people and bring about two additional unities: "...Till we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God" (verse 13). The "unity of the faith" is a oneness of beliefs, i.e., a oneness of teachings and tenets of religion. "Until finally we all believe alike about our salvation..." (TLB). The "unity of the knowledge of the Son of God" is a oneness of full spiritual experience of Christ, i.e., experiential knowledge and understanding of Christ, not mere intellectual knowledge. "Until we all attain oneness... in the comprehension of the full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God..." (verse 13 Amp).
So God's unifying process in the church works this way: By maintaining the unity of the Spirit through unconditional love and loyalty to each other, we then give the gifts of the Word a chance to teach us, retrain us, equip us, and spiritually mold us together, until we all share common beliefs (unity of the faith) and common experiences (unity of the [experiential] knowledge of the Son of God). It is absolutely critical that we love and hold onto each other so that the workings of the Spirit throughout the entire Body can enlighten us all together. We need to hold onto to each other so that we can "rub off" onto each other, somewhat like a married couple that grows more similar to each other over time. "Under His direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love" (verse 16 NLT).
If we do not maintain the unity of the Spirit, i.e., we refuse or neglect to love, accept, communicate with, or listen to each other, we cut off the opportunity for spiritual interaction and for sharing the gifts, knowledge, and workings of the Spirit that each member or group of members has to offer. This prevents a Christian or a group of Christians from sharing with the rest of the body what God has given them, and they miss receiving what God is doing in the rest of the Body. Thus, by failing to keep the unity of the Spirit, we fail to arrive at the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. This is the deplorable condition of Christianity today.
May God help us to practice true Christian unity the way He had in mind.
(1) Unity and non-denominationalism is the New Testament standard for Christian relationships. We Christians must work together. We must accept each other. We have no choice to do otherwise. John 15:8-17; Romans 14:1; 15:7.
(2) If we are saved, then we are already on the same side. There are only two sides-God's and Satan's-and everybody is on one side or the other. There is no neutrality or in-betweenness. Mark 9:40; Matthew 12:30.
(3) Unless sin is involved, we have no reason to avoid accepting and working with another saved person. Only unrepentant sin is allowed to separate Christians-not personality clashes, disagreements over secondary doctrines, different backgrounds, etc. Galatians 1:8; 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; Matthew 18:17.
(4) This being true, we must find a way to accept each other and to work together for our common cause and divine commission. We have got to quit treating each other as if some of us are on Satan's side instead of God's side. Philippians 1:27. We need each other's active support and positive affirmation. We need each other's spiritual energy to produce spiritual synergy.
(5) These are the actions we must take to accomplish this: (a) We must "love fervently" (1 Peter 4:8), i.e., hold on to each other, keep fellowshipping each other, and keep claiming each other until difficulties are worked out or even dropped ("love covers or throws a veil over or forgives or disregards countless sins" Amp and TCNT); (b) We must each make sure that our own motivations and spiritual drives are purely for Christ alone as the Head of the church. If we all rally around Christ alone, instead of rallying around our own little selfish drives and religious ambitions, we then possess that single unifying factor in the church; (c) We must "agree to disagree" on secondary matters until they can be resolved (Acts 15 and Romans 14) or simply dropped; and (d) We must overcome and work out personality clashes with humility on all sides (Acts 15:39; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).
(6) We are then required to work with each other, i.e., to utilize each other's gifts, abilities, knowledge, influence, etc., in whatever way we can for the good of all. We may not always be comfortable with using a brother in every capacity, but we can find an opportunity and place to use him somewhere. We cannot just discard and disregard him. We use him wherever his gifts, influence, divine qualifications and experience, etc., make him a wise choice. For example, we can use him to teach on certain subjects if that is his gift, to preach in certain capacities if that is his gift, to operate in certain capacities if that is his gift, etc. If nothing else, we can still use him to pray, to praise, or the like. Regardless, we must accept him as our "whole" brother in Christ as long as unrepentant sin is not in his life. The same principles apply to groups of Christians. If they have a wonderful method of ministering, use it. If they produce beautiful songs, sing them. If God has given them lots of edifying materials and literature, utilize it. Everything is for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God, of which we are all part.
"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God" (Romans 15:5-7 NIV)
"By this shall all men know you are My disciples, if you have love one to another" (John 13:35)
- © 2001 Philip A Matthews