A. There’s a story told of a man who was out on walk when he saw another man about to throw himself from a bridge into the river.
1. He ran over to the jumper to save him and asked, "Why do you want to kill yourself?" The man answered, "I've nothing to live for."
2. The rescuer asked, "Don't you believe in God?" The jumper answered, "Yes I do."
3. "What a coincidence-so do I! Are you a Jew or a Christian?" "A Christian."
4. "What a coincidence-so am I! Protestant or Catholic?" "Protestant."
5. "What a coincidence-so am I! Anglican or Baptist?" "Baptist."
6. "What a coincidence-so am I! Southern Baptist or Independent Baptist?" "Southern Baptist"
7. "What a coincidence-so am I! Premillenial or amillenial?" "Premillenial."
8. "What a coincidence-so am I! Pre-tribulation rapture or mid-tribulation rapture?" "Mid-tribulation rapture."
9. At that the first man walked away from the suicidal man shouting, "Jump heretic, Jump!"
10. How narrow and nitpicky we can sometimes be!
B. Today, I want to remind us of some very important principles and attitudes about our relationship with God and our relationship with others.
1. This sermon is based on the booklet, “Christians Only,” that was written many years ago.
C. Many people appear to be under the false impression that the power of faith is in the believing subject.
1. In other words, the power of my faith is in me.
2. Therefore, to the degree that I believe more things more strongly, then I will be able to be and do more in my spiritual life.
3. To be sure, there is something to be said for that side of faith.
4. Faith can and does grow within us.
5. Faith is stronger in some persons and weaker in others, and can even be stronger or weaker in any one of us at different times in our lives.
D. Ultimately, however, the real power of faith is not in its subject, but in its object.
1. You or I may believe ever so strongly in the wrong thing, and the fact that our faith is strong, means nothing about the legitimacy of that faith.
2. It may be altogether misplaced and directed toward something false, deceptive or powerless.
3. Surely it is better to have a weak faith in the right person and the right thing, than an abundant and never-failing faith in the wrong person or thing.
E. When there is spiritual failure in the lives of Christians, it is usually because of a failure of faith.
1. Faith has failed when one quits trusting in Jesus and starts trusting himself or herself.
2. It has failed when one turns from Holy Scripture to human tradition, human intellect, or personal feelings.
3. It has failed when one stops believing in divine grace and starts trusting in one’s own self-righteousness.
4. Faith fails when it comes to be focused on the wrong things.
F. One of the main points of the Gospel of Mark is to direct people to the one thing that is worth believing: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
1. We believe in Jesus because of the many impressive proofs of his deity.
2. He was virgin-conceived and born. He was bodily raised.
3. He taught as no one ever taught.
4. He worked miracles that made honest persons, like Nicodemus say, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (Jn. 3:2)
G. The confession of Jesus as the Christ by the apostle Peter is a crescendo in Mark’s Gospel (8:29).
1. Yet that event didn’t solve all the problems of Peter and the other apostles.
2. Their lives continued to demonstrate weakness, frustration and failure.
3. They could not accept Jesus’ announcement of his impending death (8:31-33).
4. They still had selfish ambitions about personal greatness in the kingdom of God (9:33-37).
H. What was the problem with these men?
1. It was their lack of faith. Jesus kept rebuking them for their unbelief.
2. In Mark 9:19, Jesus said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”
3. So often they were faithless and unbelieving, and therefore, they were weak and failure-prone.
4. Strange as it may sound, those whose faith and understanding are weak are the ones most likely to exhibit spiritual pride and arrogance.
I. The episode from our Scripture Reading almost appears to be trivial and misplaced within the Gospel of Mark.
1. The apostle John tells Jesus about a man they had met. “Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (9:38)
2. We have no idea who the man was. He is never named.
3. Perhaps he had been a former disciple of John the Baptist or one of the seventy disciples Jesus sent out to preach early in his ministry.
4. Maybe he had met and come to believe in Jesus in some private encounter where none of the 12 apostles was present.
J. Jesus’ response to John’s report is interesting and indicting.
1. Jesus said, “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (9:39)
2. In other words, Jesus said, “John, you did the wrong thing; the arrogant thing. You had no business opposing the man just because he isn’t a member of this little group of twelve.”
3. I’m sure John and the others meant well. They didn’t want orthodoxy to be compromised.
4. They didn’t want the teaching about the kingdom of God that Jesus was revealing to be mishandled by people who lacked adequate understanding of it.
5. But isn’t it interesting how they had assumed that they were to be the judges and enforcers.
6. And isn’t it interesting that they lacked a complete understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom, and yet they felt like they could tell people that they could not teach in Jesus’ name or perform works in his name!
K. Do you think this event is trivial?
1. Is this short paragraph just a space-filler here in the book of Mark?
2. I don’t think so. I think we all agree that all Scripture is God-breathed and that all parts have God-given value.
3. In fact, this event seems to be very important to the flow of events in Mark’s Gospel.
4. It is another incident that reflects the failure of faith among the apostles.
5. It shows one of the particularly distressing results that commonly accompanies an ill-informed faith which is directed toward the wrong things.
L. Sectarianism is an ugly and un-Christian spirit.
1. It was in the first century, and it still is today.
2. It is the fertile soil in which denominationalism grows and thrives.
3. And yet those of us who make a plea for undenominational Christianity have sometimes fallen victim to the same ugly spirit.
4. The display of that kind of arrogant attitude makes a person as sectarian as can be.
5. It also drives people away from the Savior and makes them less receptive to important truths they might otherwise hear and accept.
M. The plea for a restoration of New Testament Christianity is a beautiful one.
1. It is a call to be Christians only.
2. It is a call to go back to Scripture and lay aside human names, human creeds, and philosophies.
3. It is a call to let Christ be our only confession, let Scripture be our only authority, and let the name of the Savior be the only name we wear.
N. Unfortunately, some who have made the plea for people to be “Christians only” have let that plea come out this way: “Come to us and be Christians only, for, after all, we are the only Christians.”
1. But that is arrogant, sectarian, and just wrong.
2. And if that is our message, then we shouldn’t be surprised if it falls on deaf ears!
3. But that isn’t what faithful churches have said throughout time.
4. Our message must be Christ centered rather than self-centered.
5. Our attitude must be humble rather than arrogant.
O. Let’s take a moment to re-articulate the truthful message that we must continue to proclaim.
1. Who is a Christian? Anyone who has been born again of water and the Spirit is a child of God, a member of the spiritual body of Christ, a Christian. (Jn. 3:1-5)
2. In order to be born anew of water and the Spirit, someone doesn’t have to hear me preach.
3. He or she doesn’t have to come into a building that has “Church of Christ” written on its sign.
4. He or she actually doesn’t have to come inside any church building or listen to any human teacher.
5. He or she simply has to have access to the Word of God, learn the will of Jesus from it, and surrender his or her being to God.
6. When any individual accepts the truth concerning their own sinfulness and believes the good news that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ provides atonement for their sins (1 Cor. 15:1-4), repents of the things in their life which they know to be against the will of God (Acts 17:30-31), and then identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in the act of immersion in water (Rom. 6:1-4), then that person is a Christian.
7. That is to say, that when people do the same things in response to Christ in our day that they did in the earliest days of Christianity, then they become the same thing those people became.
8. They are Christians. Christians only.
9. They enter into and become members of the spiritual body of Christ, the church.
P. Think of it this way: Of what church was the apostle Paul a member?
1. Do you identify him with any of the denominational names which are used today? Of course not.
2. We would probably answer: “Well, he was just a Christian. He didn’t live in a context of denominational division such as ours. He was a member of the original church, the church God described in the New Testament.”
3. The goal of the modern Restoration Movement, of which we are a part, is to call people back to that same non-denominational posture.
Q. Surely there are individuals scattered among the various denominations known today who have learned of Jesus, looked to him in sincere faith, turned away from their conscious rebellion, and embraced him as Savior through their immersion in his name.
1. Their denominational entanglement in error on some other point or points in no way alters the fact that they are Christians, have complied with the biblical terms of admission into the church, and are God’s children.
2. To fail to recognize such persons as members of Christ’s church would make it proper to refuse such recognition to anyone who makes mistakes of any sort in spiritual matters.
3. Such a posture would utterly destroy the NT concept of the church and make a mockery of the doctrine of the gospel of divine grace.
4. It would reduce salvation to a matter of human merit in knowing and doing every detail of divine commandments.
5. Such an understanding would make us Old Testament Pharisees rather than New Testament Christians and would likely lead to the conclusion that no one is saved, because likely no one has it perfectly on straight.
R. So, just what does such a position entail?
1. It does not mean that there are no doctrinal norms for the Church or that every person professing any sort of religious faith is a Christian.
2. Persons who have not been born anew of water and the Spirit or who have followed some substitute for that new birth can hardly claim to be members of the one body.
3. Neither does it mean that errors of belief, worship, or lifestyle are of no consequence to one who has been born anew.
4. If one has truly turned to the Lord, he or she will desire to grow in spiritual things and will desire to obey the Word of the Lord.
5. So, this position in no way encourages compromise with error.
S. But what such a position does entail is a repudiation of sectarianism.
1. Sectarianism is an attitude which holds that only I – or my group – can know or learn or teach the truth.
2. It is a position of exclusivism which holds that we are the only ones who could possibly interpret the truth of God correctly.
3. It is an offensive and arrogant spirit which sets oneself against all others.
4. It encourages one to sit in judgment on the spiritual status of others.
T. As I said at the beginning of this lesson, the power of the truth does not depend on the subject of faith (i.e., the interpreter), but on the object of faith (the divine power inherent in the Gospel itself).
1. People in all sorts of circumstances, in all parts of the world have been able to come to the Scripture and learn the truth and be born anew.
2. And as I said, anyone who learns about the atonement, repents of his or her sins, and is born anew of water and the Spirit through baptism in the name of Jesus, is a Christian.
3. He or she may be worshipping in error, may hold to false beliefs, and wear a sectarian name.
4. And to the degree that I understand more of the Word than he or she does on these points, then I am in position to help show them the truth I have learned.
5. But at the same time there may very well be things that I may need to learn from them.
6. Together we can affirm the fundamental doctrinal tenets which are essential to Christianity: Paul wrote about them in Ephesians 4:4, “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”
7. So, what should we do?
8. We should do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names.
9. And we should reject the binding of human opinions on one another and strive for unity in Christ.
U. Certainly there is a point beyond which fellowship cannot be maintained among persons who are born anew.
1. There are doctrinal absolutes concerning the person and work of Christ, the divine plan for redemption, and the nature of moral responsibility on which there can be no compromise.
2. But let us be certain that we are standing for those absolutes and against Satan and evil.
3. Let us not be known for how many persons we have refused fellowship or how many tests of faith we have identified beyond those clearly communicated in Scripture.
4. Let us be known for what we are for – for proclaiming a Wonderful Savior to a lost world!
V. N.B. Hardeman put it this way in a sermon he preached in the old Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN in 1928: “I have never been so egotistical as to say that my brethren with whom I commune on the first day of the week are the only Christians on this earth. I never said that in my life. I do make the claim that we are Christians only. But there is a vast difference between that expression and the one formerly made. But you ask what my objective is…I am trying to get all of God’s people everywhere to stand together as a solid phalanx against the opposing forces now working to destroy the church of our Lord. I know that the cause of Christ needs its full strength. I know that in unity alone strength can exist, and I think it a calamity for those who claim to believe the Bible, o reverence Jehovah, and to wear the name of Christ at all, to stand thus divided, and thereby invite the enemy to a victory over our scattered forces.” [Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 3 (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1928), p. 125]
Z Among those of us who have been born anew of water and Spirit, there may be a great many imperfections of understanding and faith – just as there were imperfections within that original band of Jesus’ followers, his apostles.
1. As children of God, we can love each other, teach and support each other, and be patient with one another as we grow toward the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
2. That is a plea as broad as the great heart of God.
3. It doesn’t require you to let me decide your faith for you, nor does it require me to submit to every opinion or point of view that you hold.
4. We extend fellowship to each other on the basis of our overriding commitment to Jesus.
5. We will never unite on human creeds and human names and human opinions.
6. It can happen only when we accept the single norm of Scripture, wear the one name of Christ, and show great charity in the realm of opinion and personal belief.
A1. Going back to the episode in Mark 9, we notice that Jesus followed his rebuke of John with this statement and warning: “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” (Mk. 9:42)
1. The “little ones” referred to by Jesus were not small children, but persons like the one John had rebuked.
2. Here was a man, a believer, a person who knew Jesus, and John had rebuked and discouraged him.
3. Jesus’ response was to chastise John for his action.
4. Like John, we all have a way to go yet in our understanding and maturity. Right?
5. We are all at different stages of growth and knowledge, faith and performance.
6. Let’s encourage each other more and place fewer stumbling blocks in each other’s paths.
A.2. Surely the right spirit in these kinds of matters was that shown by Priscilla and Aquila when they met Apollos at Ephesus. (Acts 18)
1. Apollos had an imperfect knowledge of baptism.
2. Instead of castigating him for his failures, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and studied with him until he was able to gain a more accurate understanding (Acts 18:24-28).
3. May we have more of their spirit and less of the one shown by John in Mark 9.
A.3. My goal is to be a Christian – nothing more, nothing less.
1. I have no interest in promoting any kind of “Ism” including “Church of Christ-ism.”
2. I seek only to promote love for and allegiance to Jesus Christ and his body, the church.
3. Sadly, the reality is that the world is so very lost.
4. We must close ranks to proclaim the Gospel to that world.
5. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ and him alone!
6. So let us be, and teach others to be, Christians only...Christ’s followers…Jesus’ disciples…Christians only.
Resource: “Christians Only,” by Rubel Shelly