Mark 9:38-41: Parochialism.
“38 ‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ 39 ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” NIV UK
We all too easily fall prey to the sin of parochialism. We are deeply interested in our own cause: our own church, our own denomination, and our own ministry. We can be too easily dismissive of other people who are doing good work for Jesus, but doing it differently. This is surely more serious than we realise, and it must grieve the Holy Spirit. If He is actively working in and through another Christ-follower, and and another church, and I’m just disinterested, or critical, or wrongly negative, this wounds the body of Christ. The reference in (42) may be to a fellow-believer. Perhaps the disciples, by their attitude, had caused the man mentioned in (38) to stumble, to ‘’sin’’. So let us walk carefully.
Tom Hale points out that the disciples were making a mistake Christians have continued to make ever since Jesus’ time. They thought that only their group were the true followers of Jesus. But if someone is serving in Jesus’ Name we must not oppose him (or her). We may find ourselves opposing Jesus Himself. To work in Jesus’ Name is to work for His sake; to serve in a way which brings Him honour, and to do it sincerely, from the heart. Not even the smallest act of service performed in Jesus’ Name will be forgotten (41).
Of course, we must be discerning. Not everyone who claims to be acting in Jesus’ Name is doing so. There are false teachers; ‘wolves’ who come in among the flock in order to destroy. It’s not a danger to take lightly. However, I would urge you not to become a member of ‘sniffer dog ministries international’! Some of our brothers and sisters are so obsessed with false teaching, they perpetually go around with their noses to the ground, trying to sniff out heresy. It becomes an unhealthy preoccupation for them, and they can end up labelling the genuine as false. They find the heretical where it is not – so desperate are they to locate it.This surely offends God, and is off-putting to any onlookers. It leads to tiny little clusters of those who consider themselves to be ‘the faithful’, while most others are regarded with suspicion.
When we write others off, it exposes our own hearts. Often we do it out of insecurity, pride, jealousy and other unworthy attitudes. When we feel critical of other ministers and ministries, perhaps we should examine our own hearts. Why are we feeling like this? In Charles Bridges excellent book on ‘The Christian Ministry’ he has a section dealing with causes of ministerial ineffectiveness connected with personal character defects. Under this general heading he has a chapter discussing the problem of pride. In it he writes these penetrating and exposing words: ‘Selfishness is indeed the peculiar character of this sin. It is, as if we could take no comparative interest in the conversion of sinners through other instrumentality than our own…We wish for eminence rather than usefulness. We want to stand alone. Instead of rejoicing in the spiritual acquirements of others, we are reluctant to admire superior talents, even when they are consecrated to the cause of their great Great Master. We cannot bear anything that shines too near us, and will probably eclipse our own brightness, either in the higher excellence of gifts, or in their more diligent improvement of them’ (pp.153, 154).
If only we could change our attitude, and recognise how much we have to learn from every other genuine servant of Christ, and then seek to learn. If only we could learn to pray sincerely for other churches, and ministries, and preachers. May God deliver us from this ugly and suffocating sin of parochialism. May HIS Kingdom come!