38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. – Mark 9
I’m going to be honest about something: I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about how other people worship. And that time was not long ago.
I’ll be honest about something else: it wears. Me. Out.
Can we just break it down for a second? Worship is about you and God. Sure we do it corporately, and in groups, it’s awesome. A room full of people where the Spirit is present is an experience like none other. That experience is always about focusing on God, though. It’s about what God is saying to you and what you’re saying to him. It is not about what you are saying to anyone else, and you certainly shouldn’t be telling anyone else what God says to them. Trust me, he doesn’t need your help.
So let me just talk about bizarro expressions of worship. I grew up in a really conservative church where clapping would have made you look like an imbecile. (To be fair, the music didn’t prompt clapping, so smacking your hands together would have been goofy anyway.) From that point of view, just about anything that made noise in worship would have been nuts. That was my experience. It was dear to me, and it was entwined in the tapestry of my experience with a living and breathing God.
Other people have other experiences. Some speak in tongues, some wave flags. Some sit silently. Some don’t even allow instruments in their worship services. Those are all different from my experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a pathway that people take to hearing from their Savior.
Can we just take a chill pill when it comes to condemning those things? I’ve read the whole argument about speaking in tongues, I’ve read Paul’s explanation and instruction. I don’t do it, but should I be trying to stop someone else from doing it? Because worship is between me and God, who am I to say what is between someone else and God?
So much of this quarrel is just distraction from things that really matter. I’m not calling for the dissolving of all denominations, but maybe we can just take a breath, accept people as our brothers, and let God discern what’s in their heart. My wife and I recently left a church, and we’re currently homeless. This is a weird time for someone who considers a church family as important as the people I share DNA with. We feel like we’re drifting away from the shore, unsure of when we’ll be fully moored again. It’s an uneasy feeling. It also changes your point of view when you consider the churches around you.
It’s so easy to get behind walls of brick, mortal, and vinyl siding and start looking at what others are doing wrong. It’s so tempting for church leadership to try and exhibit some kind of control over their flock and make sure nobody does anything to make anybody uncomfortable. I think it’s comfortable for believers to accept that level of control because it makes us feel like we own something. Let’s not kid ourselves.
The passage from Mark 9 is the end of that chapter. Jesus is rebuking his disciples. It’s really interesting to go back and read the rest of that chapter, though… you can see why he needed to. They needed rebuke because they were idiots despite walking right next to the Son of God.
First part of the verse: Jesus is transfigured. Close Encounters of the Jesus Kind that was every bit as cool as what Spielberg put on film. Jesus even talked to dead patriarchs. He told them to keep it to themselves. I guess they did that, but let’s be honest: if you saw your boss do something like that, it would make you feel like you were really going places.
Then Jesus cast out an evil spirit that the disciples couldn’t handle. He told them that they needed to pray more. Jesus took them all on a retreat, where they apparently heard whatever they wanted to hear. This was evidenced by the fact that they were trying to decide which one of them would be disciple CEO.
Jesus told them that they needed to be more like children. They obviously still didn’t get it, because they went right out and tried to issue executive orders over people who weren’t in their little circle. That’s when Jesus said to them, essentially, “Look, fellas. It’s not just about you.”
This is a page for all of us to read. Because nothing has changed. Even the progression is the same from Mark 9: we see Jesus, and he’s the bomb. We think we’re the bomb because we’re with him. Then instead of doing things that count like praying more and showing love to others, we set up this hierarchical structure to make sure the rules get followed. Why? Because we are scared to death that someone else is going to worship wrong? That they will somehow remove our salvation by doing things differently?
You should certainly be involved in a church that worships in a way that brings you to the Father’s heart. If you’re busy pointing fingers at another church because they do things differently, though… that’s not helping anybody. Remember that Jesus also said, “your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35, NLT) It’s not showing love to call your brothers and sisters kooks or squares because their practice is different than yours. Telling that kind of crap to a nonbeliever could actually keep them from going to a place that could make a difference in their lives. Maybe you think your little chapel is the only place people should be going. Don’t keep them from going anywhere at all just because they disagree on that one point.