In the World, not of the World ?

Michael Patton on Reclaiming the Mind just posted another great topic with regards to Christian Music. This prompted me to publish this post that I had been sitting on for a while. You can read Michael’s post here.

 As a young evangelical Christian I have heard this comment quite regularly and I have frankly had my share of struggles with it. Far too often this comment has been used to pronounce judgment on watching “R” rated movies, listen to secular music or to condemn those that consume alcohol or smoke tobacco. I have witnessed the damaging effects this statement made to a young man wearing tattoos. Not that I approve of all these different activities, but I do believe there are different ways to lovingly discuss and approach these matters. Throwing out the person with the statement that they are of this world and therefore not a “true Christian”, as if anyone but God could make that decision anyways, is not necessarily what I would call being “not of this world”. The world judges, condemns and loves to pigeon hole people. Nothing is more entertaining than create social networking clubs in which the member can decide whether one fits the “membership standards” or not. If we engage in the same, are we any different ? Are we differentiating ourselves as Christians from the world and culture surrounding us ? I would say that the abuse of “Be in the world, not of the world” has exactly been the example I have come to witness that we’re not really all that different.

 So what should we really understand with “not being of the world” ?

I would argue that we are being called to be different from the world and culture surrounding us. I understand that we are called to be “Set Apart” (Consecrated) for the Lord. This immediately begs the question on how does one practically sets him/her self apart ?

 We can find examples of consecration dating all the way back to the Old Testament. We can see how Samuel and Samson are being “set apart for the Lord”. We all know how John the Baptist set himself apart for the Lord by living in the desert and wearing a coat made of camel hair. So does that mean we are called to never shave our heads like Samson ? Or abstain from regular food and only eat locusts and honey like John the Baptist ? I don’t believe that is what these passages call us to do. These men were great Godly examples, yet the exception more so than the rule. Most of the time God works with “normal” people just like you and I. Abraham was a nomadic herdsman. David was the youngest son in a large family and a shepherd. Peter and Andrew were fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector ! Ordinary men. Who became extra-ordinary because of their heart ! They gave their heart, their will, their personal aspirations over to the Lord. Ultimately they said “Not my will, but Your will be done”. And at a certain point in their life, they all failed. Abraham decided  not to wait for his son and take matters in his own hand. David lied, coveted and murdered. Peter denounced Christ three times. Yet God used them mightily.

 If we look at more recent times, it is said Charles Spurgeon enjoyed a good cigar once in a while, we all have seen the pictures of C.S.Lewis with the inevitable pipe and it is even rumored that Chuck Colson is in the proud possession of one of Lewis’ pipes.

What I am trying to point out is that all these great men were human. Their service to the Lord and God’s use of them in spreading the gospel had more to do with their heart than with their habits. Focusing on actions more so than the heart leads to an inevitable path of legalism where as long as one can check of the necessary boxes on the membership form, you’re in the right group.

In addition, I think there is a second consequence. By isolating and completely disassociating ourselves from the culture that surrounds us, we become detached and have no means of relating to the challenges the people around us face on a daily basis. Admittedly one does not have to get drunk each night to be able to relate to someone struggling with alcoholism. Or surf the web to be able to comfort someone with an addiction to pornography. Yet it does mean that in order for us to be able to engage with those around us, we need to keep an open mind that not everyone is as sheltered from the culture as we may be. 

When someone strikes up a conversation discussing a TV show, which I quite often have not seen since I’m just not someone who watches TV a whole lot, I simply ask to explain to me what it’s about. If nothing else, it helps me understand the person in front of me. I also found it helps build a relationship. I may ask why they like that particular show. Or what’s interesting about it. I may wait until a later time to clarify that the contents of the show doesn’t jive with my personal beliefs. 

I believe the same applied to music. It opens up doors and the possibilities of relationships when we are able to point people to good music or good reading that they still can relate to, yet has a better message to it. 

So what do you think or do ? What’s on your iPod or DVR at home ? 

How do you engage the culture around you ?

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