Theme: The Problem Explored
This week’s lessons remind us of the need to show unity in the gospel with other believers, including those who are different from us.
Scripture: Mark 9:33-40
In the incident we are studying, the exorcist not only did what he did in Christ’s name and therefore in open allegiance to Christ. He was also effective in what he did, for he was actually casting out demons. This indicates that his allegiance to Jesus was not in word only but by saving faith, for it is only as one is joined to Jesus by faith that power is seen in him. In other words, the man was a true believer in Jesus. His action was a proof of his profession.
What was the disciples’ problem, then? The problem, as John stated it, was that the man was not “one of us.” That is, he did not belong to the disciples’ party. No matter that he professed faith in Christ! No matter that he was doing good works in Christ’s name! He was not of the disciples; therefore they did what they could to stop his ministry.
This is a devilish thing, for in extreme forms it has actually destroyed the gospel. I give two historical instances. First, it was the error of Judaism at the time of the early expansion of the gospel. The church in Jerusalem had no problem with the Gentiles becoming Christians so long as they also became Jews; that is, so long as they became like those who had believed before them. When the gospel expanded to Gentile communities and the new converts began to practice their own forms of Christianity, without reference to the laws and customs of Israel, a party developed that had as its goal the conforming of the Gentiles to Jewish practices. These people went to Galatia, among other places, and there taught that it was not enough to be a follower of Jesus; a person must be a follower of Moses too. It was not enough to have faith; a person must also be saved by works. There was no salvation outside Judaism.
The apostle Paul stepped into this area, aghast that anything should be added to faith as a condition of salvation. Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, Paul argued. Indeed, that is true even for Judaism. For all his advantages, even the Jew will be lost if he adds anything to the work of Christ for salvation. Paul declared that one does not have to belong to the Jewish camp to be a Christian.
The second historical example is 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.
What does the result of the man’s activities in Mark 9:38-40 tell us about him?
What was the disciples’ problem with this man?
What is one strong evidence to look for concerning someone’s profession?
Reflection: How should we regard others who claim to be disciples too, but who are different from us? Can you think of any examples where such division has harmed the gospel?