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Friday, February 10, 2012

Jesus forbids sectarianism!

By Aaron D. Taylor

The term evangelical Christian and I share a love/hate relationship.

On the one hand, I believe in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and desire to share the implications of this news with others. The problem is that for most people in America, the term evangelical Christian is loaded with political undertones, so unless I’m in a situation where calling myself an evangelical Christian gives me greater influence to work towards peace and justice in the political sphere, I usually drop the evangelical part, except when I’m in Muslim countries where the word Christian means “people that drink, party, and fornicate.”

I’ve also tried calling myself a “follower of Jesus”, but most of the time I’m not very good at following Jesus, so now I’m thinking I should just say, “My name is Aaron Taylor….And I’m a guy trying to follow Jesus.”

How’s that for a business card?

As a guy trying to follow Jesus, the four gospels are like earth, wind, fire, and water. My spiritual life would be non-existent without them.

I’d have a hard time choosing a favorite between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but if I absolutely had to choose; I’d choose Luke. Had it not been for Luke, terms like the “good Samaritan” and the “prodigal son” would have never made it into popular culture.

In Luke are also found the two- to- three verse stories that often get over looked. Stories such as this one:

“Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)

It would be easy to look at this story and condemn John for his narrow-mindedness, but let’s look at things from John’s perspective. Jesus had already handpicked his 12 disciples at this point, and this guy wasn’t one of them.

Who does this guy think he is, casting out demons in Jesus name without bothering to get his permission first? I mean, didn’t Jesus make it clear that his organization had a chain of command that people had to go through to get to him?

In John’s mind, the power structure that Jesus had ordained looked something like this:


The 12 Apostles

Everyone else

Excuse me Mr. Demon-caster-outer, but if you want to be in Jesus’ in crowd, you have to go through us. We’re the true followers of Jesus. So either move aside, or join our group. Those are your two options. You’re either with us or against us….Because Jesus is one of us.

Except that Jesus isn’t.

Fast-forward a couple thousand years and my how things have not changed! We still have thousands of groups claiming that they’re the true followers of Jesus.

Growing up charismatic, I knew that the Baptists weren’t as spiritual as we were because they didn’t speak in tongues, just like the Baptists knew that most Catholics probably aren’t saved because they’ve never prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”

Some groups believe that a Christian can serve in the military; others believe that Jesus categorically rejects violence in every circumstance. Some Christians are gay-affirming; others are … well, obviously not.

With all the different groups out there claiming to follow Jesus, how do we know which ones Jesus would claim as his own?

Is it possible that Jesus would claim both liturgical Christians and free-wheeling holy roller Christians?

What about liberal Christians and conservative Christians? Is the tent that Jesus pitches big enough to include people like Dorothy Day and Jerry Falwell?

I’m 33 years old, and I’ve been following Jesus — or should I say trying to follow Jesus — for as long as I can remember. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned after all these years, it’s that as soon as I think that my friends and I have a corner on Jesus, Jesus reminds me that He’s bigger than any organization, doctrine, or philosophical system that I can wrap my brain around.

The more that I follow Jesus, the bigger my world should get.

I think that’s what Jesus was trying to tell John. Jesus is fine with his followers gathering together into groups of like-minded believers helping each other along in their spiritual journeys. That’s necessary and good. The problem is when groups of people claim Jesus as their exclusive possession, as if any one group has a monopoly on Jesus. That’s called sectarianism, and Jesus explicitly forbids it.

If I can’t see Jesus at work in the lives of people that don’t look, talk, or think the way that I do, then I’m the one with the problem, not Jesus. I don’t own Jesus.

The question is: Does Jesus own me?


Rory Sullivan said...

(I posted this comment on the Open Salon copy of this interesting article - thought I'd post it here, too)

How about the possibility that Jesus was never seeking followers in the first place?

Most of what is written about Jesus was written several decades after the events by people who were already highly charged and attached to a branch of Judaism which had Messianic hopes dating back centuries - perhaps even millenia. When you point out that nothing has changed it is because Christianity is based on a blueprint laid down by what went before. Their spiritual heritage was Israelite, and didn't change much (at all?) in form from what went before.

I think it takes discernment and a little bit of imagination to see below the Messianic varnish that the gospels put on this man. He had identified a fundamental truth - "Your sins have been forgiven". Our relationship with God (and each other) would be improved dramatically, if we could appreciate this truth. He said, "The kingdom of God is within you," (from your favourite gospel) and he said, "Seek first the kingdom". In other words, "Seek first what is within you." It is only by getting back to our true selves and leaving behind what we have become in order to survive this world, that we can meet the spiritual need that we have. This is the lesson taken from the parable of the prodigal son.

Jesus wasn't seeking followers - he was getting people to look within themselves. He had done it (was doing it) and he could say, "I and the father are one".

The people weren't ready for it. They wanted a Christ, and they were going to have their Christ, come hell or high water.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Interesting thoughts Rory. Thank you for sharing!