Us and Them
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Us and Them

Mark 9:38–41  (ID: 2750)

When Jesus’ disciples opposed a man outside their group who had cast out demons in His name, Jesus declared that the man should not be stopped. Desiring to protect the honor of Christ’s name is understandable, Alistair Begg explains—but restrictive rivalry ends up excluding some whom Jesus calls His own. Even modern disciples frequently erect unnecessary barriers in matters of kingdom business. Such divisions based on nonessential issues must not divert our attention from the Gospel.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Mark, Volume 4

The Christ and His Disciples Mark 8:22–9:50 Series ID: 14104

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our New Testament reading is from the Gospel of Mark and chapter 9, beginning to read at verse 38. It’s page 715 in the church Bibles, if you care to make use of them. Mark 9:38:

“‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’

“‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

“‘And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied [’round] his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. [It’s] better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where

“‘“their worm does not die,

and the fire is not quenched.”

Everyone will be salted with fire.

“‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Our gracious God, we bow humbly before you, looking into your Word, earnestly wanting to hear your voice, praying for clarity of expression, asking you for eyes that are open to your truth, and ears that are unstopped that we might hear you, and then feet that might be ready to walk in the pathway of your appointing. We humbly ask these things in the name of Jesus and for his sake. Amen.

Can I just try an amen with you? Amen. Yeah. That is really the way it’s supposed to be. And it’s kind of like, I don’t know, every few months I say, “What happened to all the amens?” The first service was very good this morning; second service, it’s like there’s nobody here. You say “Amen,” it’s like, “Amen?” It’s good. Don’t be afraid. I need to know that you’re actually listening, and one of the ways you can do that is by saying amen. Now, I don’t want you shouting out in the middle of everything, but it’d be good if we could at least get on the same page on the amens. Amen? Yeah, that’s good.

Alright. Luke 9:38. Those of us who have been studying through Mark… Did I say Luke? Yep. That’s good. Just checking, as well, to see if you’re with me.

Well, by now we ought to be feeling a measure of compassion for these dear disciples, because, really and truly, they are managing to put one step forward and then take two steps back. They are adept at making a little bit of a move forward and then getting it horribly wrong. You remember, after the feeding of the five thousand, when Jesus came to them on the lake, they began to scream like crazy because they thought he was a ghost.[1] It never occurred to one of them that perhaps this was Jesus, now showing his power over the elements as he had done in the feeding of the five thousand. They had hard hearts; that’s what Mark tells us.[2]

Christ is prepared to work with the broken, and the infirm, and the individuals who are not really making much headway.

Peter, of course, he makes a step forward in getting the question right: “Who do men say that I am? Who do you say I am?” “You’re the Christ,” and then immediately two steps back as Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan!”[3] When three of them are taken up on the Mount of Transfiguration, the best they can do is come up with a building project: “Let’s build three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”[4]—and Mark tells us in 9:6 that Peter “did[n’t] know what to say”—never ever stopped him, and some of us can identify with that—he “did[n’t] know what to say” and the reason was “they were so frightened.”

You get later on in chapter 9, and, you remember, the man comes with his son, who is overwhelmed as a result of demonic possession; there is an evil spirit that is oppressing him. He asks the disciples, “Would you please take care of this in the absence of Jesus?” and at the end, there, of 9:18, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

By the time you get to Capernaum in 9:33, they’ve come to Capernaum, the journey along the road has been an occasion of their rivalry, Jesus asks them, “What were you [talking] about [when you were] on the road?” and in verse 34, “They kept quiet,” they didn’t want to answer him, “because on the way they had [been arguing] about who was the greatest.”

So, things are not going particularly well for this group. You can imagine when they’re together having a meal and saying to one another, “You know, one of these days we’re gonna get it right. One of these days we’ll make Jesus, the Master, proud of us, and we’ll manage to actually do something that he’s pleased with, and thrilled with, and we’ll get an attaboy from him; we’ll finally get an A instead of some of these C-minuses that we have been pretty good at getting.” And maybe John said, “Well, I think I’ve got one. If you let me just explain it to Jesus, I think I can probably get us all a very good A here.” And so, here’s John’s solo rendition in verse 38: “‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he[’s] not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said.”

So, here they go again. Just when they thought they had it right, they’ve got it wrong. It’s a reminder of something very straightforward but very important, and that is that the best of men are men at best, and the best of women are women at best. For not only is this true of the disciples, but it’s actually true of the core, if we regard the core as being Peter, James, and John. Peter has already made a real hash of things in chapter 8: “Get behind me, Satan!” John here is not doing particularly well. And if you turn over just a page to when James and John do the stereophonic treatment, if you like: “The sons of Zebedee,” they came to Jesus in 10:35; “‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. [And] they [said], ‘Let one of us sit at your right [hand] and the other [one on] your left [hand] in … glory.’” What a group! What a group!

I hope you’re encouraged by this. Because for most of us, our Christian life is one step forward, two steps back, if we’re very honest. And you may have come to this particular first day of the new week feeling that very much indeed. And perhaps the accusations of the Evil One in your head have been, “You know, you’re such a miserable character. You’re so pathetic at this. You make so many mistakes. You ought to just roll over and forget it.” And here you are, you come to this passage of Scripture, and you realize how wonderful and merciful Jesus is, how tender and kind he is, how he is the embodiment of the prophet’s word concerning the one who is to come: “And he will not,” as I alluded to in my prayer, “he will not break the reed that is bruised, and he won’t quench or throw out the wick that is smoldering.”[5] In other words, he is prepared to work with the broken, and the infirm, and the individuals who are not really making much headway.

In fact, in relationship to James and John, he had given to them a nickname. Back in Mark, when he had called the disciples to himself, he “designat[ed] them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach,”[6] and Mark then tells us in chapter 3 who these folks are, and he says, “[and] James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them [Jesus] gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder).”[7] And when you read the Gospels, you discover just why that is. And ironically, since John is the Apostle of Love, as we know him, not least of all because of his three letters, nevertheless it is a Son of Thunder who’s made the Apostle of Love—another reminder of how God works with us and what he’s able to do with us, despite our faults and our failings; how he can transform us for his goodness.

And these particular individuals were adept at this kind of thing. In Luke he records for us that they get up to their tricks again when they find that the people in Samaria were not responding well to things: “[And] when James and John saw this, they [said], ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”[8] That’s nice, isn’t it? “They don’t seem to like your message here in Jerusalem, Jesus. Why don’t we just torch the place?” “That’s my boys. That’s my disciples. There they are.”

And here we’ve got a classic illustration of it. This little section that we read—and we’re not going to look any further than about verse 41 here in Mark chapter 9—it can aptly be summarized in just two sentences: a statement made by the disciples, and a response given by Jesus. The disciples’ statement: “We told him to stop, because he was[n’t] one of us.” The response by Jesus: “Do not stop him … for whoever is not against us is for us.” “We told him to stop, because he’s not in our group.” “Don’t have him stop, because if he’s not against us, he’s for us.” That is the entire section.

Now, in order that we might just lay hold of it, let me give you four words, just to try and trace a line through it.

The Occasion of the Dialogue

First of all, let us consider the occasion which gives rise to this dialogue—the occasion which gives rise to the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. What is it? Well, it is “a man driving out demons.” There is “a man driving out demons.” And he’s doing so in Jesus’ name.

When people have a spirit of rivalry within them, that spirit of rivalry will not be contained within their own little framework but will be represented elsewhere.

This is all that we know about him. We’re not told concerning his identity, although I have a moment of conjecture for you presently that you can dispense with immediately; it’s just a random thought on my part. We don’t know his identify because we’re not told, nor are we told about his motivation—we’re not told why he did what he did—nor are we told whether he was peculiarly effective in doing what he was doing. I think the inference is that he was; otherwise, the disciples would not have been telling him to stop. If he was no good and he wasn’t doing it, they’d just let him go and pass him by. It wouldn’t really matter. I think the inference is that he was actually quite effective.

Now, when I read this in my study this week, I found that I was immediately prejudiced against this man. I don’t know about you. As you look at it—“We saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us”—you may find yourself saying, “Yeah, there you go! That’s the kind of thing. Of course you should have done that. Who does this character think he is?” But I realized, when I read it, that I was just prejudiced as a result of the reaction of the disciples. This man was doing this in the name of Jesus. Presumably, possibly, he had come to trust in Jesus. Presumably, possibly, he had discovered the life-transforming power of Jesus. And as a result of that, he had then gone out into the community essentially to declare, in the words of the old song from the ’50s or ’60s, “It is no secret what God can do. What He’s done for others, [He can] do for you.”[9] Or, to put it in terms of Jesus, “It’s no secret what Jesus can do. What he’s done for other people, he can do for you as well.”

And this is where my conjecture comes in: Since we’re not told who this man was, we can’t say categorically who he wasn’t—at least not from the text, right? So, there is a possibility that he could have been all kinds of people. Therefore, there is a possibility—I think it’s a remote possibility, but my mind, my somewhat uncontrollable fertile imagination, ran away with me, and I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be absolutely fantastic if this man who was doing this was actually the man from Mark chapter 5?” That’s a cue for you to turn to Mark chapter 5 and say, “Who’s the man in Mark chapter 5?” (I can’t do everything for you, come along.) And when you get to Mark chapter 5, you discover that there was a man there who was living in the tombs—remember?—couldn’t keep his clothes on, and they couldn’t keep him chained. He was absolutely out of control. He was demon possessed. When Jesus asked him his name, he said his name was Legion. That’s the occasion when Jesus casts out the demons and puts them in the pigs, and the pigs run down the hill, and they’re all into the water and they’re drowned.

And at the end of that little scenario, we’re told in 5:18 that as Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. And Jesus didn’t let him. But he said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And then you got this wonderful verse: “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”[10] So I just said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if God then gave him a ministry of exorcism, himself having been exorcised?” And he was a perfect person to say, “I’ll tell you right now that in the name of Jesus there is freedom from this kind of stuff, and if you have any doubt about it, you don’t know my background, because I used to be naked living in the tombs. Children were afraid to pass me coming home from school. And he clothed me and put me in my right mind, and in the name of Jesus I say to you, ‘Demon, get out of him.’” That’s pure conjecture on my part, but I just like the idea.

The occasion is that there was “a man,” whose identity we do not know, who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.

The Reaction of the Disciples

That’s the occasion. Secondly, the reaction. The reaction of the disciples is straightforward: “We told him to stop.” And then they tell us why they told him to stop. They don’t say, “We told him to stop, because he shouldn’t be doing this.” They do not say, “We told him to stop, because what he was doing was wrong.” They say, “We told him to stop, because he wasn’t one of us—because he wasn’t in our group.”

Now, on the positive side, I think we can say that for them to be protective is understandable. But I think we also have to say that for them to be restrictive is unacceptable. Protective? Understandable. After all, “This is Jesus, and we are the followers of Jesus, and we don’t want the thing out of control.” But restrictive? That’s unacceptable.

Now, we might be tempted in reading our Bibles to read this little section in isolation from what both precedes and follows it, and to do so is to immediately go wrong. What we already know about these characters is that they had a problem with rivalry. Back in verse 34, the reason they couldn’t answer Jesus’ question is because they were arguing with each other about who was the greatest. And when people have that spirit of rivalry within them, within their own little framework, that spirit of rivalry will not be contained within there but will be represented elsewhere.

So, they are marked by rivalry. We have also learned of their inability in this very area in 9:18. Here was a man who was possessed of an evil spirit, they had been confronted with a challenge by the father of the man, and they couldn’t do a thing about it.

So, we have their inability to deal with demon possession, we have this inherent rivalry which marks them with one another, and therefore, I don’t think it is very difficult for us to see at least a modicum of jealousy that would be represented in the fact that this character, whoever he is—an outsider from the authorized band of Jesus’ followers—“this fellow is actually doing what we failed to do.”

Are they really concerned about the unauthorized use of Jesus’ name? Or are they once again revealing that they’re preoccupied with position and with status? That was a problem before, wasn’t it? In the group, who is the greatest? Later on, who’s got the best seat? If that thing infects a community, then it won’t be very difficult to determine that the same thing will express itself beyond the community—so that, interrelated with one another, the rivalry will be there; when they unite, then the rivalry will be represented in the group concerning anyone who is not in the group. They’ve got an approach that’s sort of “us four, no more, shut the door” approach: “This person is not franchised to do this. This is an unauthorized use of Jesus’ name. It couldn’t possibly be that we are miffed because we couldn’t cast out any demons, and now this man is performing exorcisms.” They might be saying, “This is our department. If others start doing this, who knows where it’s going to end?”

There’s no possibility of neutrality when it comes to Jesus.

They’re zealous, but they’re clueless. That’s a bad combination. They’re zealous for the name of Jesus, but they’re clueless as to the nature of the kingdom of Jesus. They have already begun to think that somehow or another they have exclusive prerogative and rights to the activity which is marking the kingdom business of Jesus. But in fact, they knew enough to know that they were not the only disciples. They knew enough to know that there were others in the crowd who had equally come to trust in Christ, who were also followers of Jesus; they were not in this intimate band that traveled with him, but nevertheless, that is not to deny them their place in Christ’s kingdom.

The Instruction that Jesus Gives

So, the occasion is a man who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name; the reaction on the part of the disciples is, “We told him to stop, because he’s not in our group”; then, thirdly, the instruction that Jesus gives in response to this.

It’s very obvious. I don’t think we need to find difficulty in it at all. Jesus says, “Do not stop him, because you may be sure that when someone acts in this way, the attitude of that individual will not be one of opposition. No one can use my name to perform a miracle,” he says, “and then in the very next breath cut me down and oppose me. And you’re gonna have to learn that.” That’s essentially what he’s saying. “This is not a problem in the way you imagine it to be a problem.”

Now, there is an Old Testament precedent for this. You needn’t go to it; I’ll just announce it to you, you can find it later. But in the book of Numbers, Moses has given instruction to the elders to attend to a certain place, to the Tent of Meeting. When they all gather in the Tent of Meeting, there are two individuals who are not present, Eldad and Medad. And they, instead of coming where they were supposed to come, had “remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but [they] did[n’t] go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.” They were not in the tent, they were in the camp. And “a young man ran and told Moses…” There’ll always be some little character, some little … And this little guy comes and says, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

And so, “Joshua son of Nun,” in the spirit of John here, “Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ [assistant] since youth, spoke up and said, ‘Moses, my lord, stop [’em]!’ But Moses replied, ‘Are you jealous for my sake?’”—the inference being, “Or are you just jealous? Are you concerned about my glory, or are you just concerned about yourself?” And Moses goes on to say, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”[11] And Joshua must have just gone back to his tent and said, “Wow, I don’t think I’m gonna try anything like that again!”

And that’s exactly what is happening to these characters. And we’ll immediately go wrong if we think that what Jesus is saying when he says this is somehow turning on its head all that he’s already said concerning discipleship. Remember back in chapter 8, at the end: “If any man would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it. If you lose your life for me and the gospel, you will save it.”[12] Is Jesus now adopting a laissez-faire approach? Is he changing? Is he backtracking? Is he moving on to a whole new strategy with the phrase—verse 40—“for whoever is not against us is for us”? In other words, “It doesn’t really matter, none of these things are of importance”? Clearly not! Not for a moment.

What Jesus says in this incident is complemented by another incidence that is recorded in Matthew chapter 12, and on that occasion Jesus reverses the statement and he says, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”[13] Okay? So, you’ve got it from both sides: “Don’t tell him to stop. Whoever’s not against us is for us,” and then in Matthew 12, “If he’s not with me, he’s against me; if he’s not gathering, he’s scattering.”

In other words, there’s no possibility of neutrality when it comes to Jesus. There’s no place such as was attempted by Austria at the commencement of the Second World War—some detachment from the animosities and the challenges that existed between Britain and Germany in the beginning. You can’t do that with Jesus. Jesus is making that perfectly clear all the time: “You’re either for me or against me.” There’s no neutral zone. When Pontius Pilate attempted the neutral zone by washing his hands of all the implications of what he was doing with Jesus, the gospel writer points out it was a complete crock, it was a waste of time,[14] because neutrality is an impossibility. And what Jesus is pointing out in this is that while neutrality as far as he himself is concerned is not possible, the disciples—his disciples—must not erect unnecessary barriers in the matter of kingdom business.

Now, if you don’t get this, you’ll do all kinds of despite to the text. There is no possibility of neutrality concerning Christ, but John is misguided if he thinks that the real issue is whether this man is one of their group. Jesus says, “The question is not whether he’s one of your group. The question is the question of his allegiance to me.” Because if you think about it, one of the traveling group was a traitor. Judas Iscariot was in the traveling group.

No, Jesus wasn’t concerned about the group in this instance; he was concerned about the fact that his disciples were beginning to show a tendency—a tendency which runs like a virulent disease right through church history, right into Parkside Church: the temptation to regard who we are, and what we are, and how we do what we do as the touchstone by which everyone else’s doings or not-doings are to be gauged.

The Application about Exclusivism

The gospel is what unites us. The central verities and truths of the gospel are the basis of our unity.

And the application, which is my final point… Occasion: a man casting out demons. Reaction: “We told him to stop, he’s not in the group.” Instruction: “Don’t tell him to stop; if he’s not against us, he’s for us.” And the application is clear: the danger that the disciples must avoid is, in a phrase, narrow, self-focused exclusivism—narrow, self-focused exclusivism.

Geoffrey Grogan, who taught at a theological college in Glasgow in the middle of the twentieth century, makes this simple observation. He says, here Jesus rebukes “every form of entrenched denominationalism or sectarianism”[15]—every form of drawing boundaries around our little group, and our group then becoming the key to understanding what Jesus is: “Unless you’re franchised by us, unless you have fulfilled our obligations, and so on, then you can’t possibly be doing what you’re doing.”

Now, if you’ll read church history, if you’ll get Dallimore’s book on Whitefield,[16] you will find this alive and well in in the ministry of Whitefield, first of all in England, and then when he came here to the United States of America. Whitefield was buffeted all the time from the Church of England because he was engaging with people who didn’t come from the right group. He was beginning to speak outdoors, and outdoors was taboo, because you had to be in a proper sanctified building—and a Church of England building, for that matter—if you were going to do it correctly. And the word was getting back that he was doing it in the open air. He was in farmers’ fields preaching, and they found out the farmer was a Baptist, so they sent word: “Get out of that Baptist’s field! You can’t do that in there.” Or worse, he’s a Methodist! “Get out of there! There’re Methodists in there. And you must just simply tell him to stop!” And Whitefield says, “Forget it.” And Dallimore—I think I made a note of it—Dallimore, here on page 438 of his first volume… I won’t go through the whole thing. Well, not 437 pages, anyway. But, “now in America, the same reason had caused him to take his stand … that had largely alienated him from his own communion and yet had brought him into this close fellowship with Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, and Baptists.” And here’s the sentence: “Thus he had come to a position in which not denominational adherence but evangelical soundness was the criterion, and his work had become nondenominational in character.”

Now, that’s not to argue for nondenominationalism. Because any attempt at being nondenominational, if you carry it to an extreme, will become a denomination called “Nondenominational.” So don’t get out on your high horse and say, “Well, Parkside is nondenominational. That’s the thing.” You don’t even know what it means, and neither does anyone else, so beware of that.

I had a humorous illustration of it—and I’m going to stop in just a moment with a quote from Lloyd-Jones to which I’ll come again this evening. But as I was preparing this week, I went right back in my mind—it was perhaps that I was on a holiday with my family—but I was taken right back in time to a holiday in England, when I was a relatively young fellow, with my sisters and my father and my mother. And we’d always, when we went away on vacation, we went to church on the two Sundays that we were gone. I don’t ever recall a situation when I was on vacation and did not go to church. My father saw to that. And as a result, we were exposed to all kinds of places in which we went to worship. Most of them were unfamiliar to us.

On this particular occasion, we were attending a gathering of people who were representative of similar gatherings throughout Great Britain, and these individuals referred to themselves as the “Lord’s People.” Okay? The Lord’s People. I didn’t understand this when it unfolded, but I’ve never forgotten it since I finally wrapped my mind around it, but I remember at lunchtime that my mother was somewhat agitated by an encounter that had taken place at the end of the service. A lady had turned from the seats in front behind and had welcomed her very kindly, and also her husband and her children—namely, myself and my sisters. But this is what she said to her, she said to my Mom: she said, “Are you one of the Lord’s People, or are you just a Christian?” Okay? “Are you one of the Lord’s People, or are you just a Christian?” In other words, “Are you in our group?”

In the last little while, I’ve preached in all kinds of places: Presbyterian churches in Orlando, Calvary Chapel churches in Washington, Episcopal churches in the South of England. I don’t agree with these people about everything. But the gospel is what unites us. The central verities and truths of the gospel are the basis of our unity. And the things which are peripheral and nonessential cannot be used as a mechanism for raising a barrier to either disenfranchise people or call in question who they are, or what they are, or what they’re doing. Essentially, the matter here is, “Listen, let me tell you,” says Jesus, “if you’ve got a problem with somebody casting out demons, I want to tell you that even if somebody is offering cups of cold water to you because you belong to Christ, that kind of activity will not even go unnoticed by my heavenly Father.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a book that we first read as a group of leaders in the church quite a number of years ago, now, and we read it purposefully, and the reason we read it was in order that we might be at least beginning to settle this matter in our own minds—it’s a little book that’s probably in the bookstore called What Is an Evangelical?[17] It was a series of addresses that were delivered to university students in Swanwick in England in, I think, about the 1950s. And what Lloyd-Jones was tackling in the time was the question of “What does it really mean to be evangelical in our convictions and biblical in our understanding?” And he is about to address the issues of ecumenism—of a sort of theological vagueness, an accommodating Christianity that sacrifices truth for the well-being of partnership—and he’s going to deal with that very severely. But he doesn’t begin there. He begins with what he says is the greater problem for those of us who have gospel convictions, the greater problem for those of us who are concerned about doctrine and about truth, the greater concern for people such as are represented by myself, my colleagues, and Parkside Church. And what is the great danger? The danger of wrong divisions. The danger of wrong divisions.

And he begins, “The first danger is to be too narrow, too rigid … too detailed in definition.”[18] And he goes on to describe people “who [are] agreed about the centralities of … faith dividing and separating from one another over matters that were not essential to salvation, not absolutely vital. This,” he says, “is always one of the dangers afflicting us as evangelicals. We can be too rigid. There is this kind of fissile tendency which has manifested itself frequently in the long history of the Christian church.”[19] And then he goes on to say, “I can give some illustrations of this that are somewhat laughable. And I don’t want to offend the national susceptibilities of people by saying what I’m about to say.” He’s a Welshman, and he says, “I don’t want to offend the national susceptibilities of people. But,” he says, “I have one country in mind that illustrates this particular point more clearly, perhaps, than any other, and it is Scotland.”[20] Scotland! “There have been more divisions in the church in Scotland than in any other. They all tend to be Presbyterian, yet [they’re] divided up into groups and denominations, and if you read their history, and particularly that of the eighteenth century, you will find differing groups which were known as the New Lights [or] the Old Lights, the Burghers and the Anti-burghers.”[21]

Now, this is not burgers, just as in b-u-r-g-e-r-s. This is burghers, as in b-u-r-g-h-e-r-s, which actually is pronounced “buruh” in terms of “Edin-buruh,” as opposed to “Edin-berg.” You know, that’s just free for you so you can sound intelligent going forward—more intelligent than you’ve been lately. And, so it is “Edin-buruh.” And so, the “buruh” here—the “Burghers,” the “Burgher” thing—is people who lived in a certain burgh who were then either taking an oath of allegiance to the burgh as the civil jurisdiction, or who, because they were Christian, were resenting and rejecting any oath of allegiance to a civil body. So, equally committed Christians came to totally different and diverse views over this question of civil obedience and civil oathtaking.

Says Lloyd-Jones,

There was a [pastor] in a certain church in Scotland, and he and his wife were very godly and very able …. But when the question of burgher subscription came in, the husband and the wife took different sides and held different views. It is said that when this good man and his wife left [their home] on the first Sunday morning after their difference they walked together as usual until they came to the [church] building where the [pastor] ministered; but this morning, as the minister turned to the right to go into the church, instead of his wife turning with him, she continued on [up] the road. And as she continued walking, she called to him and said, ‘You may still be my husband but you’re no longer my [pastor].’ So she proceeded to go and worship with the Anti-burghers! Such is one of the dangers by which we are confronted. We can become so rigid, so over-strict, and so narrow that we become guilty of schism.[22]
When churches start to raise unnecessary barriers and make them credos of faith, it is only a matter of time before the gospel loses its hold in their hearts and in their community.

Now, we don’t have time now, but we’ll pick it up this evening, and we’ll address simply and succinctly six areas—that, actually, Lloyd-Jones gives us in this book—that ought not to become the basis for the erecting of unnecessary barriers between people who share gospel convictions. And it’s going to be very important to hear this, because unless I’m mistaken, some of the things that we will describe tonight as being nonessential are starting to be promoted in Parkside as if they are essential, thereby presenting to the community the tendency that is represented in these disciples to an overzealous exclusivism that raises that which is peripheral and makes it central, and creates the possibility that in a coming generation, that which we had held as central will actually become peripheral.

And you’re sensible people. You can think this out. But if you’ve lived long enough, you know churches. And when those churches start to raise these unnecessary barriers and make them credos of faith, and make them, if you like, badges and ties of authority and status and position and significance, it is only a matter of time before the gospel loses its hold in their hearts and in their community. And, loved ones, under God we must never, ever let that happen.

Let us pray together:

God our Father, thank you that the Bible shines out on our pathway and makes us say, “Whoa! We almost tripped and fell into another pothole there.” We just caught ourselves before we find ourselves doing exactly what the disciples are doing. We found somebody who’s not doing it the way we thought it should be done, and we told them to stop. And now we hear Jesus saying, “Don’t tell them to stop. If they’re not against us, they’re for us.” Help us, then, Lord, to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.”[23] Save us from theological vagueness, but save us, Lord, from this kind of potential animosity.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with all whom he loves and has called to himself, now and forevermore.[24] Amen.

[1] See Mark 6:49.

[2] See Mark 6:52.

[3] Mark 8:27–33 (paraphrased).

[4] Mark 9:5 (paraphrased).

[5] Isaiah 42:3 (paraphrased).

[6] Mark 3:14 (NIV 1984).

[7] Mark 3:17 (NIV 1984).

[8] Luke 9:54 (NIV 1984).

[9] Stuart Hamblen, “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do).”

[10] Mark 5:20 (NIV 1984).

[11] Numbers 11:26–29 (NIV 1984).

[12] Mark 8:34–35 (paraphrased).

[13] Matthew 12:30 (NIV 1984).

[14] See Matthew 27:24.

[15] Geoffrey Grogan, Mark (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1995), 131.

[16] Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1970).

[17] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical? (1992; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

[18] Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical?, 13.

[19] Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical?, 15.

[20] Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical?, 16. Paraphrased.

[21] Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical?, 16.

[22] Lloyd-Jones, What Is an Evangelical?, 16–17.

[23] Philippians 2:12 (KJV).

[24] 2 Corinthians 13:14 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.