For and against

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He who is not against us is for us.
He who is not with me is against me.
He who does not gather with me scatters.

(Luke 9:50b; Mark 9:40; Luke 11:23; Matthew 12:30)

Prof. Dr Klaas Schilder 1890 – 1952

Dr Klaas Schilder, a faithful minister of the Word, prolific writer and, according to Henry van Til, “the greatest cultural theologian since the days of Kuyper” [i] was deposed from office and from being professor by a corrupt synod exactly 80 years ago today (Saturday 23/3/2024). It was part of the events that triggered the Church Liberation of 1944. Exactly eight years later, to the day (23/3/1952), the Lord took him up to heaven. That’s just an interesting historical fact; this article is not about Schilder but about something he wrote.

Someone living in Austria once wrote to Schilder about the text, “He who is not against us is for us.”

The letter writer said to Schilder:

‘On one of my trips here, I received a collection of meditations by a minister. In one of those meditations, I was struck by what the writer says about Luke 9:50b: “he who is not against us is for us”. What that minister said about this text boils down to this: God is merciful, and whoever is not against Him, well, then he must be for Him.

The letter writer went on to say how much he appreciated reading this explanation because he met a lot of people who did not seem to be against God. So he reasoned: They are not against Him, so they must be for Him.

And then, reasoning further, he concluded: if they are for Him, then they will not be damned.

The letter writer found this very handy because, as he said, ’tis surely very cruel to think that all those people who “are not against Him”, will be lost.

However, the letter writer was aware of other texts that seemed to contradict this, such as Luke 11:23 (and Mat. 12.30), “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters”. So he asked Prof. K. Schilder to write an article in The Reformation church magazine explaining Luke 9:50b and, if possible, in connection with the two other texts from Luke 11 and Mat. 12.

Schilder responds by saying that the above reasoning of the letter writer is incorrect. He illustrates this by explaining the context of these verses. [ii] Schilder points to what is happening when Jesus, having come to earth as one of us (though without sin), begins His ministry:

Apart from a very small church consisting of a few faithful believers in Christ the Saviour—Annas, Zacharias, Simeon, Elisabeth, Mary—most people are under the sway of the evil one. The devil is sitting pretty. And now Jesus comes, with His small army of disciples, and preaches the gospel of the kingdom of God. He is here to conquer Satan and his kingdom. Through Jesus’ ministry he has established, as it were, a bridgehead and, through his death, resurrection, ascension and pouring out of the Holy Spirit, thousands will leave the kingdom of Satan and follow Christ. Hence this is a critical moment for the people living at that time. Here is Jesus establishing his kingdom, telling the people about it, calling them to believe and follow Him. He’s casting out Satan’s devils, healing people of the results of sin. And now Jesus says: Whoever does not participate in my kingdom work, gathering together the scattered sheep, works against it, hindering the work. Everyone must choose: for or against Jesus and His kingdom; everyone must show his colours.

We therefore emphasise this last element of the text, says Schilder. Both Luke 11:23 and Matthew 12:30 show that this is the point, and that the meaning of the words is also determined by this. Both texts are immediately preceded by the image of a castle lord who is forced into a duel and is defeated. This should not be forgotten: Jesus’ words should not be taken out of context; they are always dated, and no one has the right to scratch the dates off the messages. So too here; Jesus’ words apply very specifically to the time in which the crisis is sharpened by His public action.

There are times, Jesus says, when everything remains as it was: when the strong lord of the castle, well-armed, ‘keeps’ his castle, with what is in it. Satan, rather Beelzebul (lord of the house, castle lord), is meant here. So there are times, explains Schilder, when no offensive is launched on Satan’s realm; … then the compulsion to take sides is not there, and then a word like our text is not spoken; after all, this word is not a general command, but establishes a fact; and that is quite something else; it does not touch the ‘world of the heart’, that mysterious meditation thing, but refers to dead-sober public action. One should just read calmly, especially calmly (!) Luke 11:21. Beelzebul sits in his castle, there is no enemy around, no man comes to fight him, to ‘bind him’ (Mt 12:30). And, as it goes in such times, the peasants, who live around that castle of that robber knight, may growl, or sleep, or crawl, or act indifferently, there is no crisis, everything goes its way, sharp delineation is not there…

But then, says Schilder, on a certain day suddenly an armed man appears on the scene. That is Christ. He comes with an army (the disciples) towards that castle of that robber knight, Beelzebul; the battle will begin. Now is the critical point when all the peasants in the neighbourhood must take sides. Those who do not grab a pitchfork, or make a son available, or provide the army with provisions and billeting, those who do not ‘join’ the attack on ‘Beelzebul’s stronghold’, are in effect working against Christ. Such a person hinders and will soon be forced by the other party to show his colours. By not joining in on the attack against Beelzebul, he works to the “disadvantage” of the “offensive” (that’s what it comes down to) of the Hero who wants to exterminate the robber’s nest. By not taking sides, such a person helps the monster, this robber knight, in his mistreatment of the brethren of the population around the castle who are unlawfully imprisoned up there (the sheep that the good warrior, because he is the Good Shepherd, wants to liberate and gather into His sheepfold by fighting). So those who do not participate in the heat of the battle, work against it: when there is a crisis, everyone ‘does’ something; just like we do at the ballot box.

The whole story becomes even clearer, adds Schilder, when one understands that (especially in Matt. 12) it is about the question of exorcism, the casting out of devils. The Pharisees also participated in this (Mt 12:27); so they also seem to be fighting the robber knight. But now Jesus comes with a different way of fighting, and with a different purpose; His fight (unlike that of the Pharisees) is not only against sickness, but first against sin; He is not concerned about a few sick (possessed) individuals, but about the faithful existence of the flock of Israel; He does seek His own ‘profit’ but gives Himself as Messiah. That’s why those Pharisees will have to take sides; for if they continue their ‘business’ of devil-exorcism while deliberately rejecting Christ’s method and purpose of war, they will still effectively help to scatter the poor sheep; after all, a fight against evil which is merely seen as a disease leaves sin in existence; and sin, unbelief, non-messianic Israeliteism, that’s what scatters the flock. The ‘end’ of ‘this generation’ will therefore, under Pharisaic leadership, be seven times worse than the beginning: if one does not honour Christ in Jesus, does not cooperate with Him, then the devil-predator comes back with sevenfold reinforcement (Matt. 12:45).

It is only in this close connection that one can understand the content and general idea of Jesus’ words spoken on a certain date and in certain circumstances. [iii]

And this is how the other texts also become understandable: whoever, after getting acquainted with the situation, is not like the Pharisees ‘against’ ‘us’ (plural twice, and only in this text plural), is ‘to our advantage’. Just as the previous texts only dealt with committed action so it is in this second text, which shows the other side of the coin. Also in Luke 9:50 and Mk 9:40 it is about that advancing army of Jesus.

Now there happened to be a man who also engaged in casting out demons, a practical exorcist (Lk 9:49). That man had apparently heard of Jesus because he publicly used Jesus’ name. But he did not (yet) join the circle that went with Jesus from town to town. Now John wants Jesus to force the man to join, or else forbid him to mention the name of Jesus. The Saviour refuses. Let us remember that this man, in any case, in practice supports the great offensive. He makes Jesus’ name known, thus indirectly calling on everyone to consider Jesus, to take sides; and even this is to the ‘advantage’ of the cause Jesus stands for.

One actually has to shake one’s head at the frequent misuse of these words. Recently, says Schilder, I read of a Christian Reformed minister (who refuses to join with us in the church, i.e. in that area where it ‘matters most’, where the pressure is strongest, the tension most intense). In other respects, however, this minister had some aspirations for ‘cooperation’ in ‘other areas’ (some people are so good at cutting the world up into pieces and are so amazingly good at keeping areas apart that in reality are always related); and now this minister said very ‘humbly’: don’t be so intolerant, because Jesus said: don’t forbid that exorcist from casting out demons. Application: long live inter-church cooperation!

Should one now cooperate positively with such people? But Jesus lets go of this very idea of cooperation. John urged it, but Jesus says: leave him alone.

And don’t let people say at meetings, etc.: all churches are therefore ‘equally good’, and ‘it doesn’t matter where you go to church, as long as you … etc.’, and ‘they won’t be asked about it in heaven’; because Christ gave absolutely no approval to this exorcist-on-his-own; He left him alone. By the way, the man didn’t make a ‘church’, and the Saviour only spoke about it in a negative sense. If cooperation, based on such a wrong interpretation of this text, is to be the ‘honour’ of a ‘church’ or ‘action’, things are sad indeed. Hasn’t Christ said more about such things? Didn’t He speak the Sermon on the Mount, obliging everyone to absolute obedience for himself and in his situation, and that there is no neutrality?

Schilder concluded by saying: I hope this explanation satisfactorily answers my letter writer.

 

[i] Henry van Til, “Schilder: Christ, the Key to Culture” in The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, Pres. And Ref. Pub. Co., Philadephia, 1972, P. 137.
[ii] Dr K. Schilder, “Voor en Tegen” republished in Om Woord en Kerk Deel 1, Oosterbaan en LeCointre, Goes, 1948, p. 259ff. Segments by Schilder translated by Jelte Numan.
[iii] One should also note the accusations brought against Jesus by the Pharisees, who practically already helped the robber knight by holding up, inhibiting, thwarting Jesus in his advance against the robber’s nest with their accusations (Luke 11:15, 18).