There are a lot of denominations out there today. There are a lot of churches within those denominations. There are sides within those denominations which churches find themselves on and even within each individual church there are multiple sides of every issue. We focus so much on what divides us that we forget about what is supposed to unify us: Christ.
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” – Luke 9:49-50, ESV
There are a couple of key things to understand in these two passages. First, the person John was speaking of was being effective. Second, he was being effective in the name of Christ. When I say effective, I don’t mean in the typical ways we measure success. He didn’t have a large number of disciples. He wasn’t rolling in money. He didn’t have his own time slot at the synagogue. He might have, but that’s not what John referred to. What he cited was the fact that this man was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. In other words, there was something beyond worldly and logical explanation going on with the name of Jesus attached to it. Yet he wasn’t in the group of Jesus’ immediate disciples.
Note what John said, “We tried to stop him.” Why? Simply, because he wasn’t part of the group John was in. Jesus’ rebuke is gentle, but sure, “Do not stop him.” In other words, change course. Don’t get in his way. Why? “The one who is not against you is for you.” The qualifier was that the man was doing things in Jesus’ name that weren’t explainable by normal means. He wasn’t contending with the disciples, meaning he wasn’t the enemy. Rather, he was working for the same purpose: the kingdom of God. Therefore, the disciples needed to let him be. They didn’t need to get in his way. They needed to understand that they and he were on the same team.
From everything we can tell, the man’s doctrine and actions were correct. They matched up with Jesus Christ. As a result, power flowed through him and he was able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name. The only thing that was different was that he didn’t happen to be part of the disciples John was a part of. This gives us a good idea about unity in Christ. Unity in Christ isn’t about putting aside key doctrinal differences. It’s not about supporting someone who is promoting false teaching simply because that person calls himself or herself a Christian. It’s also not about supporting a message that differs from the Gospel because the other religion acknowledges Jesus in some way. Nor is it looking at earthly ways of measuring success and determining, “God must be with this person because of what they are achieving, so they must be all right with God.”
Doctrine (as in, a solid understanding of our faith) still matters. Actions are still critical. Words are still important. They enter into a determination of unity. But if all that is fine and the other person just happens to be in a different grouping, we’re not on different teams. We’re on the same team. And we need to be supporting one another, not fighting against each other. This is an issue that plagues the American Church heavily and we ought to know better. Our nation’s history is filled with examples of teams overcoming and succeeding, of measuring out to be greater than the sum of their parts. Yet when it comes to churches and church life, we can be incredibly divisive, even within a single congregation! This isn’t the way Christ intends it to be. He intends us to all be working together for the good of the Kingdom. This is a calling to all of us. It’s not specific and personal only to a few. If you are part of the Church, then you’re part of that call. Part of that call together.
Do you have an issue with a brother or sister in Christ that you’ve not resolved? If it’s not a doctrinal issue, which must always be resolved through correcting the understanding of doctrine, what else is keeping you separated? What can you do about it? How can you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, correct the situation? What is preventing unity within your local church acquaintances (not just those who are members of your church) if the other points are okay? Will you seek after and desire to correct them today, to be in keeping with Christ’s teaching, to be part of a team moving forward for His Kingdom?