But Is He with Us?Luke 9:46-50; Mark 9:38-41Theme: Christian tolerance.This week’s lessons remind us that there is both diversity and unity in the Body of Christ. LessonThe second historical example of separatism harming the gospel occurred in the Roman Church of the Middle Ages. The medieval church was orthodox in many respects. It upheld the doctrines of the Trinity, the divine-human nature of Christ, the atoning work of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and many other teachings. But something happened during those centuries. The Roman church spoke of salvation through the grace of God in Christ, but it came to think of the impartation of this grace as something belonging to the church and to be controlled by it. God displayed his grace in the sacraments, but the church administered the sacraments. So no one could be saved outside the Roman church. If you were to be saved, it had to be through baptism administered by the church, confirmation administered by the church, the Lord’s Supper (the Mass) administered by the church, confession of sin to a minister of the church (followed by absolution), and eventually final unction administered by the church. Salvation was to be found nowhere else. So to be excommunicated by the church was to be severed from grace and so to perish eternally.
Luther was God’s man for this hour, although the truth had already been declared by Savanarola, the Florentine reformer. When he was condemned to torture and death in 1498, the authorities told Savanarola, “We excommunicate you from the church militant on earth and from the church triumphant in heaven.” But Savanarola replied, “You may excommunicate me from the church militant here, but you can never excommunicate me from the church triumphant.”
That was exactly what Luther later discovered and proclaimed so forcefully. He proclaimed that one is saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone and that one does not have to be a member of the Catholic Church or any other visible church to be a Christian.
I suppose that in the entire history of the church there has never been a division, however unnecessary or sordid, that has not been justified by some persons on spiritual grounds. Yet if the truth be told, the great majority occur for base motives.
This is taught in the incident involving the disciples’ rebuke of the man who had been casting out demons. There were two base motives. In each account of this incident – the story is told in Mark 9:38-41 and in Luke 9:49-50 – John’s question is immediately preceded by an account of the disciples’ arguing about who should be greatest and Jesus’ teaching them about the necessity of being a servant, using the example of the little child (Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48). In other words, there is a connection between these two happenings, which teaches – we can hardly miss it–that the disciples’ basic problem was their own pride. They wanted to be important. They were even jockeying for position among themselves. Hence, a demonstration of success by one who was not even of their own number was abhorrent to them.
There is also a second base motive behind the uncharitable judgment passed on the man who was doing exorcisms. To see this we need to go back one more incident in Mark 9 and Luke 9 and remind ourselves that immediately before this, when Jesus had come down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, the company had been met by a man who begged Jesus to cast a demon out of his son. He said, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (Mark 9:18; cf. Luke 9:40). Here is great irony. The disciples had failed to drive out an evil spirit. This should have humbled them and drawn them closer to Jesus to learn more about him and to draw more closely on his power. But it did not. Instead, we find them arguing about who should be greatest and even rebuking another disciple for what they had failed to accomplish.
The disciples were motivated by jealousy, as well as filled with pride. And is it not the case that this is what actually prevents much proper cooperation and interaction among Christian groups today? We criticize another group’s theology. But is it not true that we are often actually jealous of what they are accomplishing? We need to deal with this sin if we are to go forward effectively in Christ’s service.
Describe the error of the Roman church that began in the Middle Ages.
What usually underlies church divisions?
What two underlying causes led the disciples to try to stop the exorcist’s work of casting out demons?
Further StudyUsing a Bible dictionary, encyclopedia, or the Internet, learn about the Florentine reformer Savanarola.