In part two of my series at the Catholic Weekly, we take a look at the danger, to which even the apostles sometimes succumbed, of turning the Church into a club:
Last time, we discussed my old Evangelical church’s attempt to create a Statement of Faith and my inadvertent discovery that we were a club, not a church. We didn’t have a coherent belief. We had clubbableness.
The temptation to make Christianity a club is nothing new. Indeed, it is the natural behaviour of any group of friends and Jesus’ group of friends was no exception. But Jesus himself would have none of it:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. (Mk 9:38–40).
In John’s view, the exorcist “was not following us” – he was not in the Inner Ring, not part of The Club. He was, like countless people at that time, somebody who had heard of Jesus and perhaps had seen him preach or teach or work a sign, but who was not associated with the circle of followers, disciples, and apostles in Jesus’ company. This exorcist appears to have picked up on Jesus’ works of demonic deliverance and gotten wind of his promises that demons could be cast out in his Name. And he appears to have successfully acted on that promise. But even though he had worked deliverance by the power of Jesus’ Name, his status as a supposed Outsider meant to John only that he was violating copyright, treading on apostolic turf, threatening the monopoly of access John thought he had. So instead of welcoming him, John tried to shut him down and (just as importantly) shut him out.
Jesus would have none of it. The exorcist was somebody trying to follow Jesus in sincerity, albeit imperfectly. Yeah, he didn’t seem to have heard that stuff about Jesus giving the apostles twelve thrones or the whole, “He who listens to you listens to me” business (cf. Luke 10:16). He was outside the institutional chain of command. But he meant well and was doing his best to follow Jesus according to the light he had. So why shut him out? Welcome him!