For us or against us? Working out who to work with

Scene: A chaplaincy in a modern university. We can tell by the boxes of brightly coloured Christian shirts stacked untidily in one corner, and the wobbly bookshelf with an assortment of Christian books, Bibles, tracts and flyers for the Christian group. There’s also a desk with an old computer. RICHARD is seated on a beat-up office chair, reading at the desk. RICHARD is the chaplain at the university. He has a goatee and glasses, and is dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. There is a knock from off-stage.

Richard: Come in.

STEVE enters. STEVE is a university student who always has a harried look, as if he’s always late for something else. He’s wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and has a battered backpack slung over one shoulder.

Richard: (warmly) Ah, Steve! How are you doing?

Steve: Oh, uh, hi. Richard, hi. Good, good. Yourself?

Richard: Very fine, thank you. You look like there’s something on your mind.

Steve: Uh, er, yeah, no, like, um, kind of. (Pauses to try and collect himself.) Well, I just ran into my mate Cyril, you know? The one who’s all into that student organization and presidency stuff? And he knows I’m a Christian, and he was just saying how he’s trying to help organize a ‘Soul Food Festival’ for a couple of weeks’ time—

Richard: (bemused) ‘Soul Food’?

Steve: I think, from what he was saying, they, like, get the different religions to have tables, and there’s yoga demonstrations and hippie food stalls and that kind of stuff.

Richard: Ah.

Steve: Well, anyway, he was ask­ing me if we, as in the Christian group—if we’d want a stall there. And at first, I was like, “That could be awesome for the gospel”, but then I got confused about whether it might also be sending the wrong message, and, yeah, I thought I’d come down here and see what you thought.

Richard: So the question is essentially, biblically, how should we work out who to work with? Why should you work with someone else?

Steve: Yeah, I guess.

Richard: Well, theoretically speaking, what would be the worst reason for working with others?

Steve: Money?

Richard: Heh—that’s a good reason. It’s never worth diluting your doctrine for the sake of greed.

Steve: …Diluting?

Richard: Hardly anyone is going to agree with 100 per cent of your doctrine. So in that case, you need to work out what is or isn’t important—how far away from your doctrine you can go. Essentially, it’s the lowest common denominator between your statements of belief.

Steve: So, for example, if we were to work with other groups on the campus that claimed to be Christian—

Richard: Then you could end up about as distinctive as dirt in mud.

Steve: What does the Bible say about it?

Richard: Well, I’ve heard it said that it comes back to the difference between Luke 9 and 11.

Steve: …Two?

Richard: Ha ha! No, but it is one of those classic Jesus-looks-like-he’s-contradicting-himself-but-isn’t-really bits. (Richard pulls two Bibles from the bookshelves and hands one to Steve.) In Luke 9, Jesus says, “[T]he one who is not against you is for you”.1 Flip over a few chapters later to Luke 11 and it’s “Whoever is not with me is against me”.2

Steve: So …whoever’s not with the people who are against us are for the people who aren’t with us? Okay, I’m confused. What’s the context?

Richard: That’s the important question, as ever. In Luke 9, a few of the disciples have just seen the Transfiguration, and yet, a few lines later, they’re arguing about which one of them is the greatest disciple. And in among that, John tries to boast, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us”. But Jesus says to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”3

Steve: (Pauses to think) So, they’ve been arguing for all the wrong reasons—about worldly power—grasping at it, even—and it seems like they’re trying to stop this demon caster-outerer for the same reasons, but by forcing others out.

Richard: Right. So if you were to bring that back to our topic, one thing you could say is that it’s always worth examining your motives for wanting to exclude others. Are you doing it to protect Jesus’ name, or to protect your own patch?

Steve: Especially if it seems like the party you’re excluding is doing something good.

Richard: Yeah. And (pun not intended) we want to avoid demonizing others and basing what we know about them on hearsay and rumour. It’s usually better to err on the side of communication than on ill-informed mistrust.

Steve: Well, how is that different to Luke 11?

Richard: This one’s a bit more straight­forward in context. Jesus himself has just played demon caster-outerer, and then the people start accusing him, saying that he’s doing it because he himself is from Satan. Check out his response:

But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.4

Steve: You kind of can’t help thinking that when Jesus comes back, the people who accused him of being Beelzebul’s hench­man are going to look a little sheepish.

Richard: Right, and so maybe another application is that who you’re working with also has to be on Jesus’ team. I mean, there’s a difference between ‘gathering with Jesus’ and ‘theoretically gathering around the idea of Jesus (but maybe Jesus as a teacher, not as God)’.5 The latter is something quite a few so-called Christian people do, unfortunately. But in doing so, they miss the crucial point: the victory of Jesus here is a spiritual and saving victory; it’s (literally) powerful stuff. Who’d want to be against that?

Steve: Well, you’ve given me heaps to think about.

Richard: I want to add one more thing: it’s easy to pretend that all of these decisions are going to be pragmatic and objective, but in reality, there are aspects of relationship and timeliness that will be important.

Steve: Like, who you know and when you know them?

Richard: Yeah. For example, imagine that I went and took part in one of the Catholic services here on campus. I might decide, for my own reasons, that I’m okay with that before God; let’s say I was good mates with the priest and that it was his last service on campus, or something like that. However, that ignores the fact that I could be sending a very different message to all of you guys who (hopefully) look up to me as an example. Whereas, I doubt there’d be too much drama if you were to go along with one of your friends to check out one of the services—especially if you went so that you could invite him to one of ours.

Steve: I guess you’re right. We never do these things in a vacuum, hey?

Richard: No, we don’t. Time-wise, it’s similar: we shouldn’t feel impelled to do something simply because it’s a hot-button political or cultural issue. We have to weigh these things up in the light of Scripture, and in the light of being able to say, “We’re with Jesus”.

Steve: That’s a lot of tricky things to work out.

Richard: That’s the fun part! But it’s worth working these things out. If you’re able to preach the gospel on a bigger platform by working with others, but without compromising your biblical stance, that’s incredibly worthwhile.

Steve: So about this stall at the Soul Food festival…?

Richard: Let’s work that one out together.

  1. Luke 9:50.
  2. Luke 11:23.
  3. Luke 9:49-50.
  4. Luke 11:17-23.
  5. Cf. 1 John 2:22.

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