Then Jesus said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest."
"Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us."
"Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:48-50, NIV)
Jesus was scolding the other eleven disciples for their immaturity and power grabbing, but John’s thoughts were elsewhere. He impatiently held his tongue waiting for Jesus to finish speaking. He had a secret. A big, fat, juicy I-have-to-tell-this-right-now kind of secret. At the exact moment Jesus finished his statement with the words, “...he is the greatest,” John squealed:
“We saw an imposter today!”
The other disciples snapped their eyes back in his direction. A few of them – those who had been with him earlier - nodded in agreement. Jesus furrowed his brow, staring back at the secret-teller.
“Just a while ago,” John continued. “Over near the Temple. He was driving out demons!”
Jesus raised both eyebrows, projecting a silent, “so what?”
John leaned in and whispered back to protect his master’s reputation, “he was doing it...in your name.”
The other disciples mumbled. In Jesus’ name? Somebody we don’t even know? Somebody other than us is pretending to know Jesus? It was unheard of.
“So what did you do?” asked Jesus.
“We tried to stop him,” confessed John. “I told him straight up that he wasn’t one of us, so he wasn’t allowed to do anything in your name....but he just kept doing it...”
“And it worked,” interrupted one of the others, collaborating.
Jesus scanned their faces. What did he know in that moment? How many times over the next decade would they encounter renegades throwing Jesus’ name about in the strangest of ways? How many future petty debates would tempt them away from their real mission? How many territorial distractions lay dormant in the present waiting to overtake them in the future? Jesus knew that his disciples would have real enemies who would want them silenced, humiliated and killed. Some strange Jesus-follower doing different, but effective, ministry was not the real enemy. Not even close.
“Don’t stop him,” Jesus said. They looked back at him with those ever-present masks of confusion on their faces. “If they are not against you,” Jesus continued, “then they are for you.”
It was this same secret-teller, John, who would record these words of Jesus in his gospel:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35, NLT)
Did you catch the secret plan to prove to the world that we are with Jesus? Those outside the Kingdom will know Jesus by the love that believers have for other believers. No territories. No divisions. No mini-kingdoms. Just radical love for the ones who also love Jesus, even and especially the ones who aren’t exactly “with us.”
About 300 years after John wrote those words, St. Augustine is credited with this statement: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.” That unity mantra has passed through the lips of many Christian reformers over the previous sixteen centuries. But what are these essential things that demand unity? What are the most basic of truths recorded in Scripture that make us, for lack a better way of saying it, Christian?
Early in the history of the Christian movement, church leaders gathered from all over the world over the span of several generations to reach agreement on these essential beliefs. Through the years we have seen dramatic rifts and divisions in the Christian faith on the non-essentials, but through it all the essentials have managed to remain, more or less, the essentials. We battle over some of the words here and there, but it is these truths--these ideals--these realities that unify us. They are recorded in the Bible, written on our hearts, and summarized by our earliest church fathers in the Creed:
We believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried and on the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
The Vineyard will launch a new six-week series on April 18/19 called The Creed. We’ll look at those beliefs that form us--God as Father, Son and Spirit, the church, communion of the saints, forgiveness of sin, resurrection and everlasting life. For those of us new to the journey, this series will set a foundation for all that is to follow in our walk with God. For the rest of us, looking at the Creed will help us continue to reset our faith as we strive toward that which is perfect--true love for God and the people around us.
Like John in the story above, we have a tendency to focus on those around us who love God differently than we do. We focus on our dissimilarities and disagreements at the expense of the essential things. Like John, we focus on the distractions more than Jesus. Perhaps if John had actually heard Jesus say, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all--he is the greatest,” he would have kept his secret to himself.
Join us each weekend after Easter in a spirit of unity, love and humility as we study the essential things of our faith in The Creed.