Set free from my bondage in a dramatic 1994 encounter with Jesus, and immediately thereafter immersed in religious fundamentalism, I considered myself saved, sanctified, separated and sincere. My Christianity was displayed in those early years through a commitment to remain steadfast to an ever-elongating list of Do’s & Don’t’s. I easily marked other believers with whom I differed as being liberal, fickle, compromising or deceived. Those who influenced me most taught me to measure myself (and others) by the bible translation I swore allegiance to, the clothes I wore, the music I worshiped to, and the frequency of my attendance at the local church house. I and my tribe, and other tribes just like ours, were, I thought, the superior (if not sole) possessors of the Kingdom. Most everyone else, I concluded, were those whom God might tolerate, but they always operated under His disapproving frown. Surely, WE were the ones in whom He delighted.
Without knowing it, I had become a 20th century Pharisee, and was completely blind to this embarrassing reality.
“John said to Jesus, “Master, 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
It is interesting to me that, not long after Jesus called them to walk with Him, the disciples had defaulted to a position of spiritual-sectarianism. A person living with a sectarian spirit will operate with some level of bigotry, discrimination, or hostility against those with whom they feel superior. They tend to split hairs, maximize differences, major on minors and build walls to keep themselves insulated from those with whom they disagree. Sectarians live with fear, but they actually operate with aggression. In the verses above, John testifies to Jesus that, so strong was the sectarian spirit within the disciples, they believed it would be better to leave a man demon-possessed than for that tormented man to be delivered from the demon via the ministry of someone who did not affiliate himself with the twelve disciples. In essence, the unnamed man seeking to help the demonized man was not part of their crew. So they sought to shut him down. They used their influence and presumed authority to stop the deliverance…and then they proudly came back to Jesus to tell Him all about it.
And Jesus told them to never do that again. Jesus declared that, though the man was not closely affiliated with Himself and the twelve, he was doing a good work and should not be resisted by the disciples. Jesus testifies that the man was actually acting in a way that was within the plans that Jesus was working. The man just didn’t have the luxury of wearing a tee-shirt which said “I’m with The Twelve!”
Interesting, to say the least.
I do not have to use much of my imagination to consider how the disciples felt when they realized that Jesus did not approve of their attempt to draw dividing lines between themselves and others ministering in His name. I don’t have to imagine it…because I have lived it myself. I was saved from my sin in August of 1994. I was saved from sectarianism somewhere around 3-4 years later. I have been radically saved twice. An amazing awakening was granted to me in the late 1990’s when I began to see the obvious cracks in the fundamentalism that had been taught to me by people who had it taught to them. I really do not know how I missed the overt unbiblical wrongness of it for those first 3-4 years of my faith journey. James warned us against it (James 2:1-13). Paul clearly forbids this (Romans 14:4). John warns that an ongoing judgmental, spiteful spirit is likely an indication that one has never been saved (1 John 1:9-11). The entire book of Galatians rebukes us on this issue with some of the strongest words Paul ever wrote. Yet I was regularly warned to have no fellowship with those from different denominations, theological persuasions, or practices. How different this kind of thinking is from King David, the man with a heart for God, when He wrote in Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion of all those who fear You and keep Your commandments.” Let’s admit it: that is a fairly liberal statement about those with whom David was committed to associate with. Let’s also remember that David was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he wrote what he wrote.
One of my commitments as a Christian and a church-leader is to intentionally forge Kingdom relationships and partnerships with other believers and ministries. It is so easy on me when I learn that I run parallel with those people in all of our shared beliefs. More often than not, however, there are places of departure that we have to acknowledge and, like big boys and girls, say to one another, “Friend, we simply won’t agree on this point.” Yet, rarely do I feel like walking away from an opportunity to work intentionally around, over or through those differences. As a matter of fact, I am convinced that greater pleasure is brought to the heart of Father when He watches His children work together for His glory, even as we cannot agree on every fine point. Admittedly, it is easy to work alongside someone who is exactly like us. When we agree on all the finer points of the faith, it requires little of us in that arena of dying to self, or esteeming others better than ourselves. When we recognize that there are differences between us and other believers, we have to slow down, listen, share, pray and consider things on a deeper level. Anyone can turn on their heel and walk away. Yet I am reminded that the mandate to love others does not permit me to reroute myself each time I meet somebody with conflicting beliefs in the Body of Christ. We are called to unity (which anticipates there will be differences), not uniformity (which refuses the possibility of there being differences).
I will leave us with these famous verses from 1 Corinthians 13. Let us ask how these are playing out in our relationships with other believers who are from a different generation, a different race, a different nationality and a different denomination. How are we loving them in the context of seeing things differently than they do?
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
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