I grew up believing that only Baptists would be in heaven. But not just any Baptists, our kind of Baptists—those who did our do’s and didn’t do our don’ts.
When I went to seminary, my wife and I became members of Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, TX. My mother was concerned because it wasn’t a Baptist church. “What do they believe?” she asked. “Why don’t they have a baptistery?” She relaxed when we pointed out the baptistery was in the floor of the platform in the sanctuary.
In the early 90’s, I became involved in the CoMission, a joint venture of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, the JESUS Film Project, and ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International), and 70 other churches and mission agencies, to reach the former Soviet Union with the gospel.
It took me a long time to discover that the body of Christ is much bigger than my narrow theological convictions and limited experience. Rather than envy or criticize those who weren’t in my camp, I needed to learn to celebrate what God was doing through other believers, churches, denominations, and organizations.
My struggle with exclusivism is not unique. Jesus’ own disciples wrestled with the same difficulty (Mark 9:38-41). On one occasion, the apostle John was bothered that someone outside the twelve disciples was having an effective ministry (38). Considering the disciples were previously unable to cast out a demon (9:14-18), it appears they were jealous of another minister’s success. They weren’t bothered he wasn’t following Jesus, they were upset “he was not following US.”
In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown that plagued Japan in 2011, a coalition of evangelical churches and mission agencies banded together to bring relief to the stricken areas. One church planter was told not to participate in the relief efforts because the other people on his team were not part of his denomination. When I served in Seattle, our church routinely received calls wanting us to condemn Billy Graham and later Rick Warren for partnering with other churches and denominations in evangelistic crusades.
Rather than commend John for his protective attitude, Jesus rebukes him for his sectarian, cliquish approach (39). He tells him not to set up a road block in the way of those doing ministry. Jesus explains that no one can do a great work for God and then speak evil of him in the next breath. Rather than appoint ourselves as judges of people’s hearts and motives, we should step aside and leave the evaluations up to God.
When it comes to Jesus, we think that we can be “Switzerland.” We can be neutral and rest in a middle ground. Jesus does not allow such nonsense. Verse 40 finds a parallel in Mathew 12:30. We are either for Jesus or against him.
We need to keep in mind who the real enemy is, and it is not other churches or denominations outside of “us.” It really doesn’t matter if you are Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies, Fellowship, Bible, or Independent. What matters is whether or not you are for Jesus.
Instead of competing with other groups, we should show kindness to those who are serving Christ (41). Whatever aid we give to those who are serving Christ will not be forgotten. It will be rewarded.
The body of Christ is much bigger than our narrow theological convictions and limited experience. Rather than envy or criticize those who aren’t in our camp, we should celebrate what God is doing.
Guidelines for partnering with other believers or churches
- Determine the task
- Agree on the essentials of doctrine
- Give grace on the nonessentials
- Celebrate the success of others
- Make sure God gets the glory
In 1265-66, the Mongol Empire spanned Asia from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Khubilai Khan asked Marco Polo to persuade the Christian church in Rome to send one hundred men to teach Christianity to his court. The Christians were in such disarray fighting among themselves that it was twenty-eight years before a single man—let alone a hundred—reached the great court. Already retired, the emperor said, “It is too late, I have grown old in my idolatry.”
In the battle against evil, we must recognize that whatever particular group we belong to is not the only group of Christians in the world. We can learn from others who worship the same Christ as Lord and Savior but who use different language and emphasize different parts of Scripture from what we do. Without compromising our convictions, we can band together for fellowship and cooperate in mission. Our unity will be a sign of what God’s power can do to drive out evil and chaos infecting our world.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 19, 2105. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.