Not With Us
From its inception, the Church had a clearly delineated “within” and “without” (1 Cor. 5: 12, 13), and was bound together in one fellowship, the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (see 1 Cor. 1: 9). To be outside that Church, and not part of that fellowship, was to be off Christian ground altogether. Those who were saved identified themselves with the Church, which, though it was represented in many different towns and cities, was one universal company. Those put out from this company, or who abandoned it, could not ‘join another church’ for there was no other to join. The threefold division of mankind “Jews, or Greeks, or the assembly of God” (1 Cor. 10: 32), was clear and unambiguous.
Even in apostolic times, the clarity of the position was being eroded. Jude speaks of certain men who “got in unnoticed” (v4), John writes of one who cast genuine believers “out of the assembly” (3 John 10), whilst Paul instructs his beloved child in the faith to withdraw himself from iniquity that the public body remained identified with (see 2 Tim. 2: 19 - 21) - in effect to withdraw from the public company itself. With the passing away of the apostles, their doctrine was rapidly given up, along with the boundaries to fellowship it laid down (see Acts 2: 42; 1 Cor. 5: 11, 13; Gal. 5: 9; Titus 3: 10, 11). The mind of man gained the ascendancy, and though the yoke of popery preserved unity in the West for a time, with the Reformation the Christian profession fragmented into a thousand pieces, scattering the true children of God along with it. If the beginning of the dispensation was marked by clarity, at the end it is characterised by confusion.
Thus as we travel along our pilgrim pathway here we inevitably come across many who clearly love the Lord, though not identified in fellowship with us. Inevitably, the question then arises as to what kind of attitude we should adopt with regard to these saints. Some seem to take the view that all not formally linked with them should be avoided like the plague. It is almost as if they feel they can appropriate the Lord’s words in Matt. 12: 30 as their own: “He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathers not with me scatters”. As a point of fact, there were several not literally “with” the Lord in His earthly ministry, yet who in no sense could be described as “against” Him. For example, John the Baptist, so far as we know, never accompanied Christ. However, the point of the Lord’s statement is not physical nearness but a spiritual unity of purpose - John, like Christ, was working in the service of God (see John 3: 22 - 36). The context of Matt. 12: 30 is Satanically inspired opposition to Christ (vs 22 - 37) culminating in the sin against the Holy Spirit. Thus you are either with Christ and gather with Christ, or you are with Satan, and gather with Satan - on Christ’s side, or on Satan’s side. When it is a stark choice like that there can be no compromise. Those of whom the Lord was speaking hated Him. Hence the words “He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathers not with me scatters” can never be applied to true saints. Our relationships with other believers will not be right unless we make a clear distinction between those “against” Christ, and those simply “not with us” (Luke 9: 49). To listen to some, it is almost as if it is the sin of all sins not to follow with them!
Of course, there are some professing Christians whose conduct is such that they should not be accorded even the most basic aspects of our society: “… not to mix with [him]; with such a one not even to eat” (1 Cor. 5: 11). It would be reprehensible, however, to make out that all Christians “not with us” are in this category. Yet neither are we in fellowship with them! How then should we look on those “not with us”? Paul speaks of “love … towards all the saints” (Eph. 1: 15) - that is, love without qualification. Love is to extend to all of God’s children, not just those in our immediate circle, and love, if true, will be practically expressed (see 1 John 3: 16, 17). Some may not think as we do, some may be a little different. That is not the point. They are all saints, brethren “for whose sake Christ died” (1 Cor. 8: 11), and “members of his body” (Eph. 5: 30) just as much as you and I. It is all too easy to forget what they are, and to become obsessed with the mere fact that they are not in our circle. “Not with us” - just three words, but how often we hear them. The very fact of their frequency should affect us. Three words that should bring tears to our eyes, three words that should search our hearts to their depths, three words that should cause us to put our faces in the dust like Daniel (comp. Dan. 9). Man has failed to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace” (Eph. 4: 3) - and all of us, without exception, are implicated in the collective failure. Do you feel it? Do I feel it? You can be certain that the Lord feels it. Yet how often is “not with us” uttered with a condescending air: ‘Yes, they have some light, and they’re sincere people, and they’re used in the Gospel, but …’ ‘But what?’ ‘But they’re not with us.’ The implication is that they can only be second-class Christians. How low can we sink in our thoughts!
“And John answering said, Master, we saw some one casting out demons in thy name, and we forbad him, because he follows not with us. And Jesus said to him, Forbid [him] not, for he that is not against you is for you” (Luke 9: 49, 50). This incident follows on immediately from the Lord’s teaching as to receiving a little child in His name to receive such was to “receive me” (v48). Now those “not with us” might indeed be babes in Christ (just as we may be) but if they are working “in thy name”, then that demands our respect and honour. John attached far too much importance to the “us” and not enough to the “name”. Yes, the disciples had the imagined importance of the “us” - but the unknown worker had the power of the name - he was casting out demons. Sometimes there is a lesson for us here (a lesson keenly felt by the disciples because of their recent lack of power - see v40). This is not to say, of course, that it is not possible to be false and to serve in the Lord’s name (see Matt. 7: 22, 23) - but it should not be forgotten that it is equally possible to be ‘one of us’, and yet be false too - witness Judas! The tenor of Christ’s words, however, do not indicate that was the case with the worker here: “he that is not against you is for you” (Luke 9: 50) - in the Lord’s eyes, this man was pulling in the same direction as the disciples, furthering the kingdom of God. We are not told why he was not an associate of the twelve but that is not really the point. The fundamental fact is he was in the Lord’s work. The “us” was unimportant. What is vital is the name that is truly loved, honoured and served.
If we have high opinions of the “us”, it is generally because we have not understood the true state of the Church today. Some, for example, claim to be ‘the true church’ and point to a supposed unbroken line down to the apostles. There is about as much sense in this as the Jews claiming to be the Abraham’s spiritual seed simply because they could point to a genetic descent from Abraham (see Matt. 3: 9; John 8: 33–47). Others have imagined that because their gathering is constituted along the lines of apostolic teaching (at least in their eyes) then that makes it God’s Church. But where does this put those Christians not with them? In a kind of limbo-land, neither Jew, nor Greek nor the Church of God (see 1 Cor. 10: 32)! The fact is, we cannot point anywhere on earth and say ‘There is the Church’. We can point out individual Christians, and we can point out gatherings of saints seeking to walk according to the principles of the Church, but that is all. In the Acts, new converts did not have to ‘choose a church’ for the Church was united and visible as a public body. Any minded to stand apart in those idyllic early days when the Church walked in purity would rightly be condemned as schismatic. We are not the Church, and we cannot demand that people identify themselves with us, nor condemn them when they do not.
Despite all this, the Church is still here just as much as it was in the NT - every true lover of Christ on earth. “[There is] one body” (Eph. 4: 4) is in force now as much as it was then. The public unity of the Church, however, has gone. The effect of this is that fellowship, in a practical sense, has become more limited than that envisaged in the Corinthian epistles. It is not simply a question of dealing with evil. Get a hold of the fact that as a public body the Church is broken in pieces. If a vessel is smashed in the mud, washing the broken fragments will not put it back together (though there can, of course, be no proper adhesion between the parts unless they are cleaned). Certainly some divisions were rightly brought about in order to preserve holiness, and there could be no reconciliation whatsoever without such outstanding issues being fully dealt with - but other partitions amongst Christians have a much less clear basis. Indeed, in some, the cause is purely some quirk of history or geography. Some may never have been “with us”, some we may be completely unaware of. So is it right to consign these, simply because they are not with us, to the camp of Christendom (see Heb. 13: 13), or even to the same boat as the “wicked person” (1 Cor. 5: 13)? Does ‘not with us’ equate directly with ‘not fit’? Such an attitude is simplistic, and sounds very like a collective version of Elijah’s ill-judged protestation “I am left, I alone” (1 Kings 19: 14). Yes, many are, spiritually, in the camp and some are not fit, but it is a repulsive idea to imagine that unless persons are with us they must be defective.
‘So why are they not with us?’ you may ask. Fellowship is based on agreement: “Shall two walk together except they be agreed” (Amos 3: 3). If we are not agreed, we cannot walk together. It does not necessarily mean that either party is fundamentally unsound. I may see solutions to division where others do not. Is their lack of perception a sin? Again, some may be quite content with the status quo, never having grasped the truth of the oneness of the Church. Is their ignorance wickedness? Others may genuinely have a problem with forging links with you and I. Do their tender consciences put them in error in our eyes? How arrogant to assume that we are the “within” and all other Christians are “outside” (1 Cor. 5: 12)!
It is far more in keeping with the Master’s spirit to walk humbly and claim nothing. What does the Scripture say? “But, in lowliness of mind, each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves” (Phil. 2: 3). The fact is, no company has a monopoly on spiritual growth, gift or intelligence, and those that think they do (even in an unconscious way), are generally the worst. Corinth came “short in no gift” (1 Cor. 1: 7), but Paul could only speak to them “as to babes in Christ” (3: 1). A good deal of what counts today for ‘spiritual growth’ is superficial, and is pitifully exposed when put to the test. Of course there may be saints who have not got what we have (just as we may very likely meet those in advance of ourselves) - but meeting their need requires spiritual power. Witness the skill with which Aquila and Priscilla “unfolded” to Apollos “the way of God more exactly” (Acts 18: 26) - a man who was by no means a simpleton or ungifted: “an eloquent man…mighty in the scriptures … fervent in his spirit” (vs 24, 25). Have you the power to convey, in a humble way, what you have to your fellow-Christian, who in many another way may be your superior? Again, have you the grace and humility to accept from another, perhaps ‘not with you’, some fresh light on God’s precious Word? In these dark and confusing days, it is the very least we can do for one another. “Then they that feared Jehovah spoke often one to another; and Jehovah observed [it], and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared Jehovah, and that thought upon his name” (Mal. 3: 16).
The man of God will do all he can to share the things of Christ with his fellow-believer. He cannot, righteously, however overlook the fact that this is not proper fellowship - for fellowship means partnership. There are hindrances, and while he will go as far as he can, he will not pretend that the relationship does not have limits. If, instead of recognising division, we ignore it, we can only add to the confusion. Some saints are quite free to share pulpits with preachers and teachers from other, separate gatherings of Christians. Now one can rejoice that “Christ is announced” (Phil. 1: 18), but this kind of behaviour rather begs the question as to why I can serve as a partner with such in the Gospel, but not express that fellowship in the breaking of bread. Does the trumpet not, thereby “give an uncertain sound” (1 Cor. 14: 8)? Fellowship (or communion - it is the same word in Greek), if it exists at all, is expressed at the Lord’s Supper. Thus: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not [the] communion of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not [the] communion of the body of the Christ?” (1 Cor. 10: 16). Now if I am a partner when preaching, how can I not be when giving thanks at the Lord’s remembrance? What kind of message does it convey to an unconverted world if we stand united on Saturday night, and sit apart on Sunday morning? It is utter confusion. Could either party in such a “double-minded” (James 1: 8) association be described as a “true yokefellow” (Phil. 4: 3)? No! Ecumenical alliances such as these have nothing in common with “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4: 3) we are to use diligence to keep!
I grant you that it is tempting to throw caution to the wind, and to take up every opportunity that presents itself. It seems churlish to turn down invitations from outside our circle to serve God’s people or to speak to the lost. Yet if we are to act at all, we are to act according to God’s Word. I repeat, “Shall two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3: 3). That is the divine principle. To speak, as some do, of agreeing to differ, is to make a mockery of the plain sense of Scripture. How can that be a righteous basis for walk before God? By all means take up every opportunity to serve, but first address the differences - don’t sweep them under the carpet. Unity is a prize worth having, but not at the expense of justice and holiness. This also applies to attempts to bring saints together in formal unity - commendable as the ambition is in principle. Some have found to their cost that ecclesiastical amalgamation is not necessarily the same as true spiritual unity.
Fellowship today is limited. It is not ‘pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with every Christian’. No, for that would involve identification with all kinds of evil. Sadly, many a sincere believer, though personally upright, is shut off from me by his associations, for “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5: 9). The word is: “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2: 22). Those are the moral qualifications for fellowship. Sometimes this is misquoted as ‘pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with all those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart’, but there is no “all” in the text. For many a reason, “all” may not be available to me, nor I to them. That should not, however, cause me to doubt the character of their walk, any more than it should cause them to doubt mine. Walk with all you can, but do not have “high thoughts” (Rom. 12: 3) above what you should think about your circle. May we be kept from making any unjust assumptions from the fact that persons are “not with us”!