"Whoever Isn't with Me is Against Me" (Or is it the Other Way Around?)
Craig L. Blomberg
"‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’" (Luke 9:49-50).
"‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters’" (Luke 11:23).
Is Jesus schizophrenic, in the popular sense of that word? Is Luke? Is either man unaware that these two teachings seem to contradict each other quite flatly? I find it hard to imagine, even just as a historian bracketing my Christian faith for a moment, that the answer to any of these questions could be "yes". So what’s going on here?
As always in such situations, the first thing Bible readers must do is examine the larger contexts of each passage. In Luke 11:14-26, Jesus is combating those who think that he casts out demons by the prince of demons, the devil himself. Quite the contrary, he insists, it is by "the finger of God" (v. 20). What Jesus is doing to the world of demons is like a raider plundering someone’s home (vv. 21-22). (Too bad they didn’t have any broncos on guard
J.) But it’s not enough to drive out the old demons, they must be replaced by God’s power or even more could come back and make matters worse than they were before (vv. 24-26).
With all this context, it’s pretty obvious that those who are not with Jesus in verse 23 are with the devil, and anybody who is on the devil’s side is against Christ. Or, to put it more prosaically, because Jesus’ human opposition scarcely supported Satan consciously, anyone who is not a follower of Jesus is, however subtly or blatantly, sooner or later, working against Jesus’ agenda.
In Luke 9:44-50, however, Jesus has been predicting his coming death, which the twelve disciples cannot grasp. The context is one of teaching about servant leadership, about praising the powerless over against the power-brokers of Jewish society. Then John brings up his observation of someone exorcising in Jesus’ name who is not part of their little group.
This is not the same kind of situation as in Acts 19:13-16 where non-Christian priests try to invoke Jesus’ name to exorcise only to have the demons beat them up instead! In Luke 9, the text says that this unknown individual was actually casting demons out in Jesus’ name, that is, by his power and authority. The only way that could have happened was if he had been a true Christ-follower. But he obviously wasn’t one of the Twelve. He may not even have been a part of the larger crowds that regularly swarmed around Jesus when he taught publicly or worked miracles. The point in this context is that any true follower of Jesus may receive the same gift or power as any other. Paul will later explain that it is up to the Spirit to distribute such gifts and such empowerments as he determines (1 Cor. 12:7-11). It is not for Christians to demand that everyone receive a certain gift or to declare that God cannot gift whomever he chooses however he chooses.
In my opinion, Brian McLaren’s best book to date has been A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). Of course, he should never have written the first chapter of it, because it basically says, "You’re not going to like this book, but try it on for size anyway." Good speakers and writers avoid unnecessarily alienating their audiences up front. But, in fact, I did like the book (all the more reason chapter 1 was a silly way to start), because McLaren basically says there is something biblical and important about every major Christian tradition. No wonder the subtitle to his book resembles in length eighteenth-century sermon titles: "Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/Protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian"!
And so we all should be. Anyone who trusts in the Jesus of the Bible as their Resurrected Lord and Savior in any Christian denomination (or none) is part of the invisible worldwide true and living church, a part of the company of redeemed from all times and places (Rom. 10:9-10). There may be no denomination anywhere in which every member has been a true Christian, and there have been some at certain times that may have had very few true Christians in them. But it is not membership in a denomination, subscription to a creed or adherence to a lifestyle that saves a person but a relationship with Jesus Christ made possible by his atoning death for the forgiveness of sins and appropriated by his grace through our faith.
In some respects, the twenty-first century church in many parts of the world is recognizing this truth better than Christians have for centuries. Denominational traditions prove not nearly as divisive as they once did. Most who call themselves evangelical see the bigger divide existing between those who do and don’t know Jesus within a given church than between genuine believers in their church and those in a congregation of a different Christian tradition. Certainly that observation well illustrates Jesus’ other teaching about those not with him being against him.
But it is amazing how one set of spirits can be exorcised only to have others, sometimes more deadly return—particularly in the blogworld where anonymity and therefore lack of accountability run rampant, and gracious Christian conversation is often in too short supply. I recently pointed out the simple fact to a blogger vociferously defending the King James Only movement that there is no "Textus Receptus." That is to say, there is no single identifiable Greek or Hebrew manuscript, even of just one book of the Bible, which was exclusively used by the translators of the KJV (or any other major translation). His reply was that if there was no Textus Receptus, then God’s word did not exist, and if I was saying God’s word did not exist, then I was of the devil!
Maybe that’s an extreme example. But surf the web a little and it won’t take you long to discover the vitriol that’s out there against Wesleyan-Arminians by the "thoroughly Reformed," against charismatics by cessationists, against emergents by non-emergents (with writers too seldom disclosing what they even mean by those terms), against egalitarians by complementarians, against proponents of dynamically equivalent Bible translations by supporters of formally equivalent ones, and so on. And yes, the harsh rhetoric can go in the reverse direction, too, with each of the above examples, though in my experience not nearly as frequently.
I remember reading all 200-some posts on the blog of Frank Beckwith, during the year he was President of the Evangelical Theological Society and re-converted to Catholicism while insisting he was not abandoning his core evangelical beliefs and commitments to Jesus. About two-thirds were from people who disapproved of Frank’s choice and only a few of them expressed their concern with any Christian charity. Who do these people, who blast fellow believers (or non-believers for that matter), think they are winning over? All it does is alienate the recipients of their tirades further, which is surely not a Christian objective.
Yes, there is some harsh invective in Scripture but it is almost always in-house and addressed to the overly conservative, narrow, legalistic religious leaders who should have known better! Ironically, the contemporary equivalents who on occasion do deserve such strong rebukes are usually those who are meting them out to others!
"Whoever is not with me is against me" must be reserved for those who are unequivocally anti-Christian. "Whoever is not against you is for you" applies to all fellow believers, however misguided they might be at a given time. Let’s behave accordingly.
Craig L. Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is the author, co-author or co-editor of fifteen books and more than eighty articles in journals or multi-author works. A recurring topic of interest in his writings is the historical reliability of the Scriptures. Craig and his wife Fran have two daughters and reside in Centennial, Colorado.
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