Mars Hill and the Larger In-Group

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man who was driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group.” “Do not try to stop him,” Jesus told them, “because no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say evil things about me. For whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40 GNB)

Today I was looking for something to feed my spiritual appetite. I’ve been feeling pretty down recently, and I’ve not had a lot of opportunity to have myself spoken to from the Scriptures. So, in my searching for some sermons to download and listen to in the car, I decided to check out Mars Hill Bible Church’s site and download some of Rob Bell’s stuff. I remembered that he has some stuff from before Christmas about non-violence (a three part series actually) and so I thought that might be interesting to listen to.

I got to the page and what I saw broke my heart.

There on the front page was a picture of an American girl playing with some obviously undernourished African children. When I hovered the mouse over the picture, it said that 10,000 people die of HIV/AIDS in one day. And if you click the picture, it takes you to a page of resources for how individuals can get involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Well, back on the front page, I had to look VERY hard to find the stuff about Mars Hill. They had reduced it to three small links on the bottom left of the page, hidden by the things regarding AIDS.Then I remembered how some people get some major jollies out of condemning Bell and others for some (often non-existent) connection with the Emerging Church. And then it hit me what was going on.

It was actually something that Jesus had to correct with His disciples (Maybe Jesus needs to correct His disciples again, as they seem to have forgotten His lesson).

The disciples have been out doing exorcisms and the like and they had just botched one up. On the way back, they saw a man doing what they had been trying to do, only succeeding. What did they do? Did they go over and join him in his work for the Messiah? Nope. They tried to stop him because, as they said it, “he doesn’t belong to our group.”

What was Jesus’ response? Did He run back to the guy and slap him in the face and condemn him? Again, nope. Jesus rebuked His disciples. He told them,

Do not try to stop him…because no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say evil things about me. For whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:39-40 GNB)


Guess what Jesus just did. He made the in-group just a little bit bigger. Jesus was saying, in essence, “You don’t have to look just like us or be a part of our little clique to be a follower.”


I remember reading Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis. In the book, he has many positive things to say about the churches of generations past. He is not against them at all. He’s not against a liturgy. He’s not against a rigid, set in stone interpretation of the creation story. He says that there are people who need that. And he exhorts them not to change.

Uh oh…he’s not against “us.” Guess what. In Jesus’ mind, that means he’s…dun dun duuuuunnnnn…for us!

To be honest, I have a really hard time with people who are so arrogant as to assume that they know all the answers and have the perfect critique of a fellow Christian’s methods. When a church minimizes itself to put a greater emphasis on the suffering of others, that sounds like something Jesus would do, not an apostate.

If Rob Bell is apostate, then what do you call people who bitch and fight and complain and stab each other in the back because they’re not sure whether to have red or blue carpet in the bathroom?

I don’t know about you, but I would rather help AIDS victims than sit on my thumb and pretend Jesus is gonna come back to get me so I don’t have to worry about the bad things going on in the world.

My Faith in Action study Bible has some good words on this passage of Scripture. Putting it into a modern context, the study note states,

The disciples wanted exclusive rights to Jesus’ name, as if they owned the copyright. This same attitude crops up today when we regard our own church as the true one, seeking to confine God’s work to our personal endeavors. If we can’t do it, we don’t want anyone else to, either. Genuine humility understands that God can use anyone and applauds others who are successful for him.

We can learn a lot from Jesus if we actually read what He says.

If you don’t have the means to help AIDS victims in Africa, then get out of the way of those who do. If you don’t care about the environment, get out of the way of those who do. And if you think you can do it better than they can, then do it. But don’t stop them. “For whoever is not against us is for us.”

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