In the Body of Christ, there is no “us and them” – there is only “us”.
Mark 9:38-50 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
In the church, in the Body of Christ, there is no us and them – there is only us.
This message is so important. If you had to boil down the Epistles, the letters of St. Paul and St. James and St. John to all the churches scattered throughout the holy land and Asia, it boils down to that message: in the church there is no us and them, there is only us.
There is one simple step to enter the communion of the saints: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom. 10:9)
This one simple confession is what binds us together with every believer: Catholic, Protestant. Baptist, Pentecostal. Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventist. Progressive, Conservative. American, Australian. African, Asian. We’re all one in Christ. We might have different rules, but we share the same basic confession.
We Baptists have a real loosey-goosey set of rules when it comes to standing, and we like to believe it’s strictly Biblical: if you believe, you’re in, and that’s that. But even Catholics, who are far from loosey-goosey, and have several complicated and strict rules to be in good standing, nevertheless acknowledge that all of us denominations are bound together by our common confession of Christ, even though we abide by different rules.
It’s not your obedience to rules that puts you inside or outside the body of Christ – it’s your confession of faith. If you are living for the name of Jesus, then you are a member of his body, a living stone in his temple.
The harsh truth is, if you don’t confess Jesus Christ, you’re not. If you don’t confess Jesus Christ, you’re not a part of his immortal body. The body you are a part of, instead, is the body of Adam. A mortal body purely built on obedience to rules. And you may fall on any one of several sides of those many rules – and so that world outside of Christ is an us and them world.
That’s America right now – some say we’re more divided than we’ve ever been. That’s because flesh and blood loves to fight over rules and regulations. The elementary principles, building blocks, of our communal cosmos – what should the patterns of the world be, who should set them up, and who should enforce conformity to the patterns of the world?
In America, and in other parts of the world, the way of the world is coalescing around a familiar, ancient pattern: rules of engagement are being written that are based on ethnic, national, religious, class, gender, and sexual identity. They say some do or some should enjoy more rights and privileges than others, for one reason or another having to do with identity. Not everyone agrees on the pattern. They make up their own. Ironically, the folks innovating the most patterns nowadays are the same ones who say they want to overcome these type of patterns.
Many folks have forgotten that these patterns were overcome in the person, in the identity, of Christ and in his church. The rule in the church is, “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world.”
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile – [ethnic, national, or religious identity] –, neither slave nor free [class identity], nor is there male and female [gender or sexual identity], for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28
Now – how can I say that we are all one in Christ, and tout the virtues of this unity and inclusiveness, when I have already said so explicitly that without faith in Christ, people are excluded from this inclusive society?
Because the reality we preach is that everyone is one in Christ. But not everyone believes our preaching.
Some people may say, of course everyone is one, “We are the world” – but they have their own reasons for believing this, and their own ideas about how to live it out. It is the eternal teaching of the church that those reasons and those ideas, at their brightest and most good, have no foundations, no proof, no rock, except in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without that, it’s pure speculation and “empty philosophy”.
This is why John said, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (1 Jn 4:2-3). In his time there were folks who heard the preaching of the church, and basically said, “We can’t believe this ‘Jesus, born of a virgin, crucified, died, and was raised again’, nonsense, but we believe his teaching philosophy is universal.” They taught that Christ was a universal spirit that can be found in all people – not just Jesus. They attributed no significance to Jesus, they rejected that the prophets foretold his coming and they thought the scriptures were hogwash.
They didn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God, in other words – they were more interested in Christ come in the Spirit.
These were the people who Paul calls heretics, sectarians. Paul says in no uncertain terms that heretics, factious Christians, “will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
But I do not believe that Paul’s judgment has the last word here. Rather, Jesus’s love does. In Mark 9, the disciples tell Jesus, “We saw someone who’s not with us casting out demons in your name.” Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
A simple faith suffices. Years ago, for quite some time, I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t fully know why. I wasn’t sure if he was the Son of God, or if he was the Messiah of Israel. I didn’t know if he was born of a virgin, and I wasn’t sure what I believed about his Resurrection. All I know is, somewhere along the line, I went from admiring Jesus, to believing in him, and actively praying in his name. The learning came later.
I reckon, for some time, I was maybe what Paul would call a heretic! But the life I lived, I lived in Jesus’ name, so help me God. And I believe that he accepted me.
At the end of the day, that is the belief, the faith, that we all share, that brings us together. That God accepts us because of the blood of Jesus Christ. God isn’t a disembodied consciousness, suffusing the universe but not interfering with it – God is an active member of the community so to speak, with a very special plan and place for those who want to live for him in this world. That plan and that place is in Christ – He is the plan and the place — “All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.”
That’s what the church is all about – the reconciliation of all things. Of all people. Paul didn’t say, “The church was created through him and for him,” — but “all things”. We must not miss the power of what he’s saying, then, when he says that God reconciled all things to Himself through Christ, making peace through the blood of the Christ.
That means, there is no us and them. There is only “us” in Christ. All humankind is covered by the blood of Christ – all things live and move and have their being in him – but not all believe. Not everyone believes that there is no us and them, only us. But the Christian’s mission is just like Neo’s in the movie the Matrix – he awakens from the false reality of the Matrix to the truth. But instead of just enjoying life outside the Matrix – he dives back into the Matrix, trying to awaken others from their false reality.
“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Paul sang this to the Ephesians. And that’s what we sing to the world around us. Because through worldly eyes, we live in an “us-and-them” world – but we preach the light of Christ, that raises sleepers from the death of ignorance. From the death of “us-and-them” and to the resurrection life of “only us” in Christ.
We all want reconciliation, we all want peace, but what reason do we have? In a world of grievances and grudges, of us-and-them, what reason, what precedent, do we have for forgiveness and mercy, for “only us”?
“…Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
This is the light that dawns on sleepers, and awakens to the truth. It is this truth that sets us free, sets us free from “us-and-them” and sets us free to be “us”. This light is the light of the resurrection, by which God himself declared, Jesus is LORD, which is the confession of faith that saves us, and reconciles us all to God and to one another.