24 November 2007

Am I a Christian if I'm Not a Denomination?

More and more frequently, I'm coming across devoted, faithful, spirit-filled Christians who don't affiliate themselves with a denomination, and go to a standard church only occasionally - if at all. And a number of them have a question - can I be a true Christian without official membership in a church?

"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.

Mark 9:38-41

I find this vignette intriguing. Jesus would have been well within his rights, I think, to request that anyone performing miracles in his name be enrolled as one of his disciples. But, "Don't stop him," said Jesus. The man was healing people using Jesus' power, giving Jesus the credit. That the work was being done seems to have been Jesus' primary concern, not the man's credentials.

Heart Attitude

There's an important point to make here. The man was working in Jesus' name, and doing the work Jesus wanted done. He was not performing miracles to amass money and fame, like Simon:
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw...

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

Acts 8:9-13,18-23

It seems to me that wholehearted service to Jesus is joyfully accepted, while seeking his power or his prestige is not.


I'm fairly sure that God meant for us to receive encouragement, help and correction from our Christian family - the brothers and sisters adopted into his family with us. But in a church full of sinners in a fallen world, life isn't always that simple. Churches can be divided, angry, apathetic, unwelcoming. But then, a 'church' in the times recorded in Acts seems to have been mostly characterised by a group of Christians who met together as often as possible to encourage, help and correct each other. This is the sort of group that it's wise to gather around us, whether it be at home, in a church building on Sunday, or over the internet.


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