Is he one of “Us”?

“For whosoever is not against us, is for us.” So said Christ (Mark 9:40). So how do we apply that to our lives? Robin considered the issue last Sunday.

Christ’s comment was in response to the disciples complaining about a man who had been driving out demons, who they had told to stop, because they felt he was “not one of us.”

We know 12 disciples were sent to preach the Gospel. Christ then chose 72 more believers, who he also sent out on a preaching mission. We also know the disciples had complained that they had failed to heal a deaf mute child (Mark 9:28). In effect they were asking: “why couldn’t we do it?”

Christ’s response was, in a sense, a mild rebuke, unambiguously saying: “This kind (of sickness) can only be healed by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). Put another way: “you all think it is easy to do miracles, but it requires a special spiritual state of mind.”

It seems likely that Christ knew this man, knew his integrity, knew he was a sincere servant of God, because quite clearly, without a unity with the Spirit, his efforts would have been as fruitless and futile as the disciples, who thought they could walk on water like Christ, but lacked the faith to sustain the miracle.

So how then should we interact with potential fellow-believers around us? Do we pursue what might be called an ultra-conservatism of separation, cutting ourselves off from society? That can risk the bitter intolerance and heart-wrenching disputes of Patricia Beer’s autobiography Mrs Beer’s House? Or do we pursue a radical new understanding of an open and outward reaching Gospel? Or can the two positions be reconciled?

We know, from experience, that our principles of faith, laid out in our Statement of Faith, do separate us from other people who sincerely believe they are Christ’s servants. The latter can insist, for example, upon the pre-existence of Christ, meaning that as part of the Godhead Jesus could not offer himself for our sins. So, admirable, well meaning, and often delightful as many of our ‘good living’ neighbours are, our first duty is to our master. But God, in His infinite mercy, may still choose to call and grant eternal life to all manner of men and women. They may receive, in His mercy, that same grace for which we pray.

What’s more we do well to remember the principle that to those who receive much, much is expected. If we isolate ourselves, how can we fulfil the role of the Samaritan? Christ is our model. He helped people, made them whole, and let the Gospel message shine through his actions. In that sense nothing changes. And who knows, we may even entertain angels, without ever knowing.