Does Mark 9:38-41 Justify Open Fellowship With All Who Call Jesus Lord?

By H.A. (Buster) Dobbs

Some are confused over whether Mark 9:38-41 instructs the disciple of Jesus to accept as saved those who teach things contrary to sound doctrine, especially concerning the plan of redemption. The passage reads:

John said unto him, “Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not us.” But Jesus said, “Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because ye are Christ’s, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (ASV).

A popular writer commented:

Remember when the apostles wanted Jesus to condemn another minister who didn’t belong to their group? It’s the story of Mark 9. John and the other disciples had seen another fellow doing some incredible things  casting out demons, changing lives. And what’s more, the man was giving credit to God. He was doing it in the name of Christ. He just wasn’t a part of the apostles’ team.

Everything about him was so right: Right results, right head. But wrong group. John wants to know if he did the right thing in telling the man to stop. John’s not cocky, he’s confused. So are many of our people today.

The writer then boasted about how much he had learned from a Presbyterian, a Catholic, a Nazarene, a Pentecostal, and a Baptist. He described people in these denominational groups as sincere in heart and giving God the glory. He concluded that anyone who is doing good works, in the name of Jesus, is acceptable to God while remaining in his sectarian affiliation. The test of fellowship suggested is, “First, look at the fruit. Is it good? Is it healthy? If the person is bearing fruit, be grateful! A good tree can-not produce bad fruit, so be thankful that God is at work in groups other than yours.” He announced that “a much more tempered John would reduce it to this: `Whosoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God has God living in him’ (1 John 4:15).

The unavoidable conclusion from this line of reasoning is that the only condition of eternal salvation is to confess Jesus as the Son of God. If that is true, then every professing Christian religious group is secure and there is no need for churches of Christ to exist. The charitable thing is to sell our property, give the money to the poor, and join the nearest denomination.

If the conclusion is false and the souls of those who do not precisely obey the commands of God are in jeopardy, then we have an obligation, before God, to expound unto them the way of God more accurately. The concern is not to prove “us” to be right and all others to be wrong, but for the safety of priceless souls. It is not done for boasting and seeking dominion over others. It is a matter of keeping our trust as good stewards and caring enough for the alien sinner to help him understand what he needs to do to have the everlasting benediction of God. It springs from a sincere desire to have all men to obey him who is the “author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him.” A love for truth and lost souls compels us to warn that when Jesus comes in judgment he will take vengeance on them that obey not the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:7-8).

We must keep in mind that there is one faith (Eph. 4:5). Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Paul told Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). Paul warned:

If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain (1 Tim. 6:3-5, ASV).

The New Testament is emphatic in telling us to stick hard by the exact teaching of Jesus and the apostles. The first church in Jerusalem “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.” We, too, must hold firmly to the teaching of the New Testament that we may be in fellowship with all who “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). Saints are to “speak the same thing . . . perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

The inferred suggestion is that the one casting out demons was teaching a different doctrine from Jesus and the apostles. When this is presented in a way that suggests it is parallel to Catholics, Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, and churches of Christ not being in the same group and not agreeing in their teaching, it affirms that the person John saw was teaching a different doctrine from Jesus and the apostles. Otherwise, the two situations are not similar.

If two groups, each teaching the truth of revelation, condemn each other out of jealousy, that might be parallel and it would be wrong. If one group is teaching truth and a different group is teaching error, the situation is not analogous to Mark 9:38-41.

The one John saw was acting, according to the text, in the name of Jesus.

This means he was doing miracles with the authority and by the approval of Jesus. It is inconceivable that he was teaching something that contradicted what Jesus taught. His teaching had Jesus’ endorsement. The teaching of denominational bodies is different from the teaching of the New Testament and does not have divine approval.

Miracles of the first century were to confirm what God spoke through his Son (Heb. 2:1-4). If the one who was casting out demons was teaching something other than what Jesus taught, we have God confirming contradictory ideas. This is unacceptably confusing and therefore impugns the nature of God. Jesus said, “There is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me” (Mark 9:39, ASV).

There were others, besides the apostles, whom the Lord sent to urge the Jews to repent. The seventy, for instance, were among that number (Luke 10:1). Jesus doubtless empowered the seventy to cast out demons. Jesus gave the apostles power over demons when he sent them out on a similar mission (Matt.10:5-8). The seventy preached the same message as the twelve  not a different plan or purpose. This man could have been one of the seventy.

Jesus declared, “He that is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). If this means that everyone who is not actively op-posing Jesus has communion with him, there is a new basis for fellowship. The people who ignore Jesus are not necessarily against him, but are they in fellowship with him? Clearly, Jesus is saying this man is not against us because he does miracles in my name and is teaching the truth. On another occasion Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth (Matt. 12:30, ASV). The two verses do not gainsay each other and therefore this explanation must be correct.

The question remains whether God is a stickler for the details of his law. A quick reminder of Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, Ananias, Sapphira, Peter at Galatia, and the man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath is enough to prove that God will allow no tampering with his statutes, no matter how slight the thing may seem to us.

God’s Word is immutable simply because it is God’s Word. No one of sound mind would be content to go to the final judgment having ignored a jot or tittle of the commandments of the Lord. The only safe course is to do precisely and exactly what God tells us to do in exactly and precisely the way God tells us to do it. Anything else is folly.

Reprinted with permission from the Knight Arnold News, 4400 Knight Arnold Rd., Memphis, Tennessee 38118-2948.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 18 p. 
September 18, 1997