The Misplaced Siege Mentality of Christianity


“for whoever is not against us is for us”- Mark 9:40

"he who is not with me is against me”- Matthew 12:30

What do you think? What’s Jesus saying here? Do these statements mean essentially the same thing or do they somehow contradict each other?

I know some people who use these kinds of verses to point out how contradictory and illogical the Bible is, easily dismissing it as fiction.

On the other hand, I know Christians who use this apparent incongruity to emphasize how inscrutable the infinite God is (and by association, Jesus) and how he can simultaneously embody conflicting natures.

The Markan line has been used by some Christians to encourage a faith that is more tolerant of different beliefs while others have used the verse from Matthew to stress the sole legitimacy of the Christian religion.  But, as a friend of mine recently asked, is it fair to emphasize one aspect of Jesus’ teachings while ignoring another aspect that we may find less appealing (or more appalling)?

I would like to suggest that both of Jesus’ remarks encourage religious tolerance. Though they may seem contradictory, they are answers to two entirely different questions that are closely related. And in typical Jesus fashion, he addresses both in the same ‘spirit’.

In Mark, Jesus is responding to a complaint that an ‘outside’ healer is performing miracles apart from him. In Matthew, Jesus’ response is to the religious leaders who are accusing  him of using Satanic (or pagan) powers to perform miracles apart from God.  Both of Jesus’ answers are flip sides of the same spiritual coin. 

In each case Jesus seems to be saying that good works are always the work of God. Seen in this light, then Jesus’ cryptic follow-up statement in Matthew – that one can be forgiven for denying Jesus, but not forgiven for denying the "Spirit" – points towards religious tolerance. 

After all, who is closer to embracing and following God’s spirit ? A Christian who is uncharitable, selfish, proud and envious (me) or a "pagan" who is selfless, sacrificial and humble? Who is more closely following the narrow path to salvation?



  1. #1 by Steve on September 25, 2009 - 6:29 pm

    In Mark, Jesus is responding to a complaint that an ‘outside’ healer is performing miracles apart from him. In Matthew, Jesus’ response is to the religious leaders who are accusing him of using Satanic (or pagan) powers to perform miracles apart from God.

    In each case Jesus seems to be saying that good works are always the work of God. Seen in this light…

    I don’t buy it. (Surprised?) In both cases, Christ refers to himself, not to God the Father. In the first case, it’s not an outside healer, because the healing was being done in Jesus’ name. The disciples were miffed because someone was horning in on “their” territory. But the person and nature of Christ is central. The Pharisees obviously missed that and He called them on it.

    To say that Christ implies ‘all good deeds are of God’ is flat wrong. But you’re right: “seen in this light” anything goes.

    At the risk of going fundy on you, I’ll say that lots of well-meaning do-gooders go to hell all the time, because they deny or ignore the centrality of Christ.

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on September 25, 2009 - 9:32 pm

      Good points but…in Mark, if this healer was driving demons out in Jesus’ name why was he not considered to be one of them? Was it because he was not Jewish? Why would someone who is not part of the ‘in’ crowd and not a follower of Jesus invoke his name? Apparently he was in some way, not fitting into the acceptable religious form.

      As for the account in Matthew Jesus says; “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” which would imply that pledging allegiance to God’s spirit takes precedence over pledging allegiance to Jesus himself. And he may not mention God the Father but he does say “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” and what is the Spirit of God but the Spirit of the Father? I’m sure he wasn’t going all trinitarian on these good Jewish folk at the time.

      Now, I don’t believe in Satan (surprised?) but how could any good deed come from him, as the Pharisees accuse? Anything good comes from God, no matter what the motive of those performing the act. It depends upon the perspective of the participants. A terrorist may release his hostages, hoping this will allow him to survive and kill again, but it is still a good thing that they are released.

      When we go fundy and qualify the good deeds of non-Christians by saying that they are in some way lacking because they are not driven by our faith or insist that all of our good deeds be accompanied with proselytizing then we place more importance on form and not function.We play God, judging their motives, claiming to see into their hearts. Besides, well meaning “do-gooders” seem to garner more of Jesus’ respect than the religious who cry ‘Lord’ and yet can’t seem to make the connection between what Jesus is and what he says we should do.

      How can you say that these well meaning do gooders are in hell? According to the parable of the sheep and the goats it might easily be the other way around. (If you believe in hell, of course)

      Anyway, always good to hear from you Steve. You help to keep me balanced (although you might not think you are being too effective. 🙂 )

    • #3 by ambrosia on September 26, 2009 - 11:12 pm

      There you go again, criticizing good, God-fearing people who know that they have not been loaned a ministry, but have received such a gift as an irrevocable GIFT.

      Haven’t you ever heard the saying, Don’t criticize another man’s ministry.

  2. #4 by The Lead Heretic on September 25, 2009 - 9:52 pm

    Christian, you may the first person I have run across who shares my interpretation of the sheep and goats passage. I absolutely believe that if Jesus were making that statement in todays Christian culture he would be referring to those whose Christianity is so centered around their church and ‘Christian’ activities that they have completely missed what it means to be a Christian.

    Of course I have met atheists that are better Christians than most of the Christians I know.

  3. #5 by talialovesyou on September 25, 2009 - 10:03 pm

    brian mclaren has some excellent thoughts on these two verses in (i believe) “the secret message of jesus”..i THINK it’s that one. i would bet money on it. if i had money, and was into placing bets.

    • #6 by Christian Beyer on September 28, 2009 - 7:04 pm

      Much to Steve’s chagrin, it is no secret that Brian McLaren has helped me in forming many of my opinions. The Secret Message of Jesus is a great book – I don’t remember his take on these verses. Perhaps I’ve had it buried in my subconscious all this time.

      Have you read any of his other books? Who else do you like to read? If you like McLaren you’ll probably like Crossan and maybe even Borg.

      • #7 by talia on September 29, 2009 - 12:37 am

        i’ve read many of his books 🙂 i count them pretty high on the list of books that influence(d) me. i’m unfamiliar with both crossan and i’ll remember that, thanks 😉
        i also love jim wallis, rob bell, phyllis tickle, donald miller, tony campolo, shane claiborne..and a great big pile of random books by authors i’ve otherwise read nothing of..

  4. #8 by Steve on September 26, 2009 - 12:21 am

    but…in Mark, if this healer was driving demons out in Jesus’ name why was he not considered to be one of them? Was it because he was not Jewish?

    I don’t think that was it. My personal take is simply that it’s Jesus beating up on his disciples because they didn’t like someone who wasn’t ‘inner circle’ speaking and healing in Jesus name.

    In Acts, Peter is shown pretty graphically that Jewishness has nothing to do with it. He can eat any food (previously thought unclean) and commune with non-Jewish believers. Again, the issue is the person of Jesus – and his resurrection – that is central, not Jewishness, not good deeds or good intentions.

    • #9 by Christian Beyer on September 28, 2009 - 7:07 pm

      Sure, but the account in Acts comes some time later, which only shows that Peter didn’t get Jesus’ ecumenical/non-legalistic message. And at the accounts in Mark and Matthew occur well before his resurrection so that would have little bearing upon his remarks.

      So, do you think his message was inclusive or not?

      • #10 by Steve on September 28, 2009 - 8:17 pm

        Peter didn’t get Jesus’ ecumenical/non-legalistic message.

        Non-legalistic? Absolutely. Ecumenical? Hardly. I think you’re reading way too much into it to come away with that interpretation. And yes, Peter doesn’t get it until much later. Jesus was hardly doing a Beatles “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” riff, except to say that He and the Father are one.

        This is not “all paths lead to the same place,” in fact, quite the opposite.

        Jesus did kick open the doors of traditional religion, but he also drew very clear lines as far as what belief and practice was acceptable and what was not.

  5. #11 by ambrosia on September 26, 2009 - 11:17 pm

    Nah, just kidding.

    You make a point about the most difficult obstacle I had to overcome with all of the folks of other faiths (mainly Jewish) that I encounter in the BCPS.

    How can we condemn such people to heck?

    I used to do this–and have made a JFK Nickname/King James Donkey out of myself “witnessing” to Jewish relatives (like my dad and aunt). Now, I tread a much lighter footprint, and look for common ground, such as ancestory or my dad, and leave the “salvation message” out of the conversation. In fact, I asked an Ultra Orthodox Jew about his view of heaven, rather than assume he was bound for downstairs climates.

    • #12 by Christian Beyer on September 28, 2009 - 7:11 pm

      I think that’s a good way of approaching things. Ask questions rather than make absolute statements.

      I find your reticence (contrived, I’m sure) at uttering the word “jackass” amusing. Last night at youth group I was surprised (and refreshed) by the relative lack of Biblical knowledge the teenagers had. They weren’t very familiar with even the ‘cartoon’ stories of the Bible: Samson, Lot’s Wife, the Tower of Bable etc. You should have seen their faces when I asked them if they had heard of Balaam, the man who’s ass talked to him.

  6. #13 by Christian Beyer on September 28, 2009 - 10:19 pm

    Steve, what ‘very clear’ lines are you referring to? Seriously.

  7. #14 by Darcy Christ on September 30, 2009 - 6:33 am

    Jack, CTU headquarters is under siege and all the agents are being held hostage by terrorists! E.T. Darcy Christ

    • #15 by Christian Beyer on September 30, 2009 - 11:56 am

      I figure this is some kind of spam, but I let it in because it’s so….goofy. And it somehow fits.

  1. The Christian Siege Mentality on Display « SHARP IRON

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