Summary: Why are there so many divisions (denomitaions) among God’s people. Why can’t we get along? Aseemingly minor event in the life of our Lord will help us to better understand how things got the way they are—and what we can do to fix them.
by Scott Bayles
Following Jesus part 3
Following Jesus Alone
Have you ever stopped to count all the churches in your town? Take a leisurely drive through Any Town, U.S.A. and try counting all the church buildings you see—you’ll probably run out of fingers and toes. Let your fingers walk through the Yellow Pages and you’re liable to find hundreds, maybe even thousands, of churches in you area. Some of these churches are very similar to one another, others are a little different. Have you ever wondered how it got this way? Why are there so many different churches? After all, didn’t Jesus pray that all of his people would be one?
In Frank Mead’s Handbook of Denominations in the United States, he lists and describes over 200 different religious groups—or denominations—in America today. The word denomination comes from a Latin term that means to name. These days when someone talks about a denomination, they are referring to a specific type or branch of Christianity that is distinct from most others—Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, etc.
The old cliché seems appropriate—can’t we all just get along? As Christians, our goal is to follow Jesus alone. But following Jesus only, doesn’t mean following Jesus lonely. It’s important to belong to a good church and to deepen our relationships with other believers so that we can help each other in our walk with Christ. But why, if we are all followers of Jesus, are there so many dividing lines? And what can we do to tear down those borders and boundaries?
Perhaps a seemingly minor event in the life of our Lord will help us to better understand how things got the way they are—and what we can do to fix them. Here’s the story:
John said to him, “Teacher, 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. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” (Mark 9:38-41 ESV)
Not long after Jesus had revealed his glory upon the Mountain, John comes running up to Jesus to tattle on some anonymous believer who was apparently casting out demons without John’s permission. Why do you think would John do such a thing? It seems absurd to stop someone from doing such a good deed in Jesus’ name. Yet, many times Christ-followers do the very same thing today, and often for precisely the same reasons.
I. ROOT OF DIVION:
Apparently, the green eyed monster had gotten a hold of some of the disciples. Just a few versus earlier, some of the Apostles tried casting a demon out of a young boy. Unfortunately, they failed. Jesus, of course, commanded the demon to come out, but not without expressing his disappointment in the disciples (vs. 14-29). I imagine this little episode must have been somewhat embarrassing for the Apostles—after all, they were hand picked by Jesus and given authority to cast out demons, yet they failed miserably and quite publicly.
Then, a little while latter, they see a man who was not one of them doing the very thing that they were unable to do—apparently with some success. Oh, how envious they must have been. We haven’t changed much over the centuries either. Like the Apostles, when we see someone succeeding where we have failed our first response is not to be happy for them, but to be jealous of them—especially in religious circles.
Wayne Brouwer tells the story of three churches struggling to survive. One of the churches hired a new pastor who was extremely gifted. His sermons were relevant and gripping, while his personality combined loving compassion with dynamic charisma. He taught in ways that made people hungry for more, and people were drawn to his ministry week after week.
That’s where the problems began; the other two pastors met together and decided that a ministry so successful must be teaching error—people, after all, were not drawn to their ministries and they were teaching the truth. Obviously, they thought, he must preach a false gospel.
Then they remembered a rumor they heard. Was there some kind of sexual indiscretion? Who knows? The rumor spread. People began to wonder. The pastor’s family was shamed, and in a short while they left town. Envy found its mark, and it turned two preachers of “truth” into liars.
Envy wasn’t the Apostles’ only problem, though. Nor is it ours. Remember that they were given specific authority by Jesus himself to cast out demons. They were the chosen twelve. They had Jesus’ authority. They were the ones who were suppose to cast out demons; not this other Johnny-come-lately. Do you detect a hint of superiority? Maybe a little self-righteousness?