I doubt fundamentalists would agree with me but I think a case can be made for a much more inclusive faith.
This is an incomplete argument for a more inclusive approach to faith as well as a weak argument for a more relaxed attitude to other faiths. It rests on the axiom of the value of all scripture. (For more on axioms).
In Mark 9:38-41 is found a report of Jesus saying this:
whoever is not against us is for us
This inclusive attitude is in stark contrast to the more common exclusive attitude so frequently encounter.
That word “against” is kata (SG2596) the same word used in Matthew 12:25 when Jesus talks about a house divided against itself.
This says to me that Jesus’ attitude was to take it as given that everyone not opposing him was on his side. This fits well with 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says that love hopes all things and, given that God is Love and Jesus was his son, it follows that Jesus would display maximal love.
This inclusiveness fits well with 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says that love hopes all things and, given that God is Love and Jesus was his son, it follows that Jesus would display maximal love.
However, any exploration of Mark 9:40 without also looking at Matthew 12:30 would be remiss. This passage seems to say the exact opposite of the inclusive passage. However (and this is something I hope to establish as an axiom), context is everything.
A comparison within context
The best and most comprehensive explanation of the meaning in context is found on the website of Ken Collins, or to be precise: The Rev. Kenneth W. Collins, B.A., M.Div. In short, I am pretty sure he knows what he is talking about.
Rev. Collins points us to Theophylact, who was born on the Greek island of Euboia in about 1055. This Theophylact spoke the language of the new testament as a native. He was also a student of scripture.
Theophylact observes that when you consider Mark 9:40 and Matthew 12:30 in context they are talking about entirely different things. Once I saw that, it was hard to imagine how I missed it.
The Mark passage in context
In Mark 9:40 the disciples tried to stop a man who was acting in Jesus name and yet was not part of the in-crowd. The disciples had no idea who this guy was and yet Jesus says not to stop him. Others are not “wrong” just because they are not part of what you consider the “us”. In other words, just because they follow a different doctrine or have ideas that differ from your own, or come from a faith background you consider separate from your own, they are still “for us”.
In other words, just because they follow a different doctrine or have ideas that differ from your own, or come from a faith background you consider separate from your own, they are still “for us”.
Rev. Collins says two things about this passage that are striking the second I will come to in a while but the first is this:
This passage also teaches us that Jesus is biased in favor of people. Yes, God hates sin, but He loves people even more, so He sent His Son to get rid of the sin and save the people.
You can, should you be so inclined, read how each of the church traditions interprets this passage in terms of the ministry of the laity. Liaty being those who have not been ordained.
The point that Theophylact makes is that this is a passage about people.
The Matthew passage in context
First let us go wider – say, Matthew 12:26-30. Now we have some context for the quote. In English, it is all too easy to see that Jesus could have been talking about people here too. However, Theophylact (for whom this Greek was his first language) observed that Jesus was talking exclusively in spiritual terms (about demons).
To quote the Rev. Collins on this too:
If Theophylact is right, Jesus is giving us an important and simple tool for spiritual discernment—not to discern people, but to discern ideas and spirits. All we have to do is ask if the spirit or idea glorifies Jesus. If it does, it is good. If it does not, it is in rebellion against God and thus evil.
I would suggest that by comparison to the Mark passage we can go further. Here where you see spirit think not only spiritual thing but also any attitude, philosophy, or idea too. The Greek for spirit (pneuma SG4151 is a wide and encompassing word).
- Any spirit that supports or agrees with the work of Jesus is good.
- Any spirit that is not against us is probably for us.
- Any spirit that opposes the work of Jesus opposes Him.
Conclusions and questions
Taking the implications of the above verses, consider the other Abrahamic religions.
The Jewish faith
First the Jews. Their faith focuses on righteousness and teaching righteousness to the Gentiles. The church’s terrible behaviour towards this people group aside for a moment, the church’s mission to bring the righteousness of Christ to the world is something that the Jewish faith could get behind. The fact that historically this has not happened, owes a lot more to the aggressive behaviour of Christ’s disciples than anything else.
The fact that the early church saw itself as an extension of the Jewish faith rather than a rival to it only adds weight to the idea that the Christian church should seriously consider embracing their Jewish brothers and sisters on an equal footing.
The Islamic Faith
Now the Islamic faith. This is where I am almost certain to lose some of you but try to stay with me here. The Quran speaks, in a number of passages, about the People of the Book (′Ahl al-Kitāb). The Quran uses the term People of the Book in reference to Jews, Christians, and Sabians. The Quran emphasizes the community of faith between possessors of monotheistic scriptures, and occasionally pays tribute to the religious and moral virtues of communities that have received earlier revelations, calling on Muhammad to ask them for information.
Moreover, People of the Book have frequently enjoyed a great deal of protection under Islamic law. Dhimmi, for example, is a historical term referring to the status accorded to People of the Book living in an Islamic state. Dhimmi literally means “protected person.” Dhimmis were excluded from specific duties assigned to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.
On a people level (Mark), this is a faith that is expressly not against us and thus, in Jesus words, must be seen as for us. On a spiritual level, that is much more complicated and might not fully be understood, at least by me, in this life.
This much is clear, however, that all aggression towards Muslims in unbiblical and runs counter to the teachings of Jesus Christ. However you conclude in this area, the only attitude we can have and remain true to our faith is one of love.
I do not possess sufficient knowledge or insight to examine any other faiths at this time. However, having established a set of principles from scripture, I hope that I have laid out a pattern by which we might modify our attitude accordingly.
Perhaps you might like to explore this area in the comments.
This passage raises other possibilities too. What about the width of salvation, for example?
Traditional evangelical teaching ascribes a narrow view of salvation (mostly due to verses such as Matthew 7:13). Fundamentalism takes things further and can, at times, ascribe salvation only to those who completely agree with a set of doctrines.
On the other hand, verses like I Timothy. 2:4 throw things wide open. Could Mark 9:40-41 indicate that salvation will ultimately be found not only by Christ’s disciples and followers but by all who support, bless, or are “for” them?
Rev. Collins’ other striking statement (I have not forgotten) about Mark 9:40 was this:
Quite often people preach the gospel as if everyone were going to hell unless they made a conscious decision for Christ. That doesn’t strike me as good news, exactly, but this passage has me wondering. Could it be (and I say this as a thought exercise for you) that because of Jesus’ love and His work on the cross, everyone is going to heaven unless they deliberately choose otherwise? I’d like to point out that it would solve the problems of infant deaths and people who never hear the gospel.
Apparently, I’m not the only person to wonder about it. I’ll leave you with this thought, could the role of Christians be to provide the forgiveness of sins to the rest of the world? After all, John 20:23, seems to be saying Jesus granted his people the power to forgive sins.
Your feedback is invited
As I said at the start, this is an incomplete argument for a more inclusive approach to faith in general. It seems that Jesus preached a fairly inclusive faith. Perhaps inclusive enough for his followers to develop a far more relaxed attitude to other faiths too.