Read this First Part even though It Is Exegesis
Christ is our life—physical, spiritual, and eternal. At some point in the future, we will appear with Him in heaven. We have the heavenly citizenship now, but then we will appear with Him, so we should live like that, and not like who we once were, children of disobedience, objects of God’s wrath, who lived according to their own desires and ambitions. While we are on earth, we need to die to the things that will not be in heaven.
Before we became in Christ by grace through faith, we lived earthly lives heading toward our natural destination. But now we have put off the old man, the one walking his own direction to his own drumbeat. We’re no longer motivated by idolatry and covetousness nor by anger and wrath. We’ve put off that lifestyle and we’re no longer that person, and we will live like it, so we should live like it.
Our minds have stopped suppressing the truth and believing the lie. They are renewed in the knowledge after the image of God to what we’ve been restored at our conversion. We’re not natural men thinking natural thoughts, but spiritual men with the tendency to think spiritual thoughts. We will and can live like what God created us for.
For everything that we now are, and for the position in which we now live in Christ, we put off those things incompatible with our appearance with Him in glory. V. 5 has a sample list of some of those and v. 8 presents another sampling. We will not and cannot continue in anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy (slander), filthy communication, and lying as a lifestyle.
Now For the Interesting, Controversial Application (Don’t Just Skip to This)
I want to take several moments to focus on one of these: filthy communication. What is “filthy communication?” To apply Scripture to present-day situations, we must know something about present-day situations. Even believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we do not believe that every scriptural answer is explicitly found on the pages of Scripture. To apply Scripture, Scripture assumes we have some extra-scriptural knowledge, that there are truths that we can with certainty discern in the real world. The Bible itself is meaningless unless it is applicable to human questions and needs. Applying the Word of God requires a scriptural perspective on human experience.
Colossians 3:8 assumes we can know what “filthy communication” is. And yet there is no “chapter and verse” for filthy communication. None. So any four letter word is acceptable, correct? And if I make an application, I’m a Pharisee, right? Isn’t it true that I’m just adding to Scripture? So I’m a legalist that is attempting to be overly restrictive, by making the commandments of men to be equal with the Bible, right? If evangelicals and now even fundamentalists are going to be consistent, they’re going to have to say this, aren’t they? We are not told what the bad words are.
Or are we to assume that we can apply Scripture with certainty? Do we believe that we can get guidance from the Holy Spirit on applying what the Bible says? In this case, it is putting off filthy communication. The one Greek word translated into the English “filthy communication” is aischrologia. That Greek word is found only here in the New Testament. Friberg says it is “dirty talk, filthy or obscene language or speech.” BDAG says it is “speech of a kind that is generally considered in poor taste, obscene speech, dirty talk.” Liddell and Scott say, “foul language.” Thayer writes, “foul speaking. . . low and obscene speech.”
OK, can we know what obscene, foul, dirty, tastless speech is? I believe that Scripture assumes that we can. And Paul commands the Colossian church to put off this kind of speech. The saved person’s mouth shouldn’t be saying it. Let’s go one step further. It especially shouldn’t be said during preaching, as a part of an even more sacred kind of speech, a sermon from God’s Word.
The world likes to use filthy talk and this is one way that we Christians are different than the world. But let me speak as a fool for a moment to make a point. A way that professing believers can fit into the world is to use the salty speech that unbelievers use. Some might even say it is “contextual” or “missiological,” if we do. Unbelievers might be able to relate to us Christians better if we talked like they did. We wouldn’t seem perhaps so sanctimonious to them. They wouldn’t have to feel so cramped and that would spur some relationship that could work out in evangelism some down the road. And if we used it in preaching, we could attract unbelievers. They would really be able to identify with us and feel more close and then maybe get saved. In that sense, we are kind of being all things to all men. You get my drift, don’t you?
Of course, all of this violates Colossians 3:5-10. It’s not scriptural. It offends God. It manifests a kind of Christianity that isn’t even Christian, so it couldn’t be Christianity.
This very point is what often separates professing Christianity today. Evangelicals and even some fundamentalists today speak as though as they are on some higher spiritual plane because they don’t expect people to live what Scripture does not say. And it does not say what filthy communication is. Most of them apply this selectively, even as they will not apply this with regards to standards of modesty, designed distinctions in dress, separateness in music and dress, and appropriate entertainment. And then if there’s any question beyond that, they say, “Hey, yer majoring on minors!”
For instance, right now John MacArthur and the guys in his evangelical camp are against the Mark Driscoll people for using filthy communication even in the pulpit. They are very specific about this. Based on their own standard of application of scripture, they are being ascetic, overly restrictive, and Pharisaical themselves. That’s what the Mark Driscoll side thinks. And then the MacArthur group isn’t happy about the Pipers and the Carsons and those evangelicals. They haven’t come out strong enough against Driscoll—they still rub shoulders with him. And to them MacArthur is way too sure of himself. Way too certain. Driscoll is part of the quasi-emergent variety that is more nuanced in these things. He would say, let’s just love Jesus. C’mon guys. Of course, that’s how the John MacArthur guys would treat any of us that would apply this consistently all the way through. And the John MacArthur people call someone like me and others, “fire-breathing fundamentalists.” Hmmmm. Good point.
In other words, we can know what fleshly lusts are, what worldly lusts are, what the garment that pertains to the man is, what the attire of a harlot is, what an uncertain sound is, and more. We also can apply filthy communication to filthy television and movies. Evangelicals and now fundamentalists treat that like it’s off base. They have a different standard there now. And I mean now. Because Christians have historically taken a stand in these areas. This truly is a new kind of Christianity that can’t apply the Bible any more to the actual areas of our life, so that we really are different than the world. You can hardly tell the difference between a Christian and an unsaved person. They listen to the same kind of music, use similar speech, dress about the same, and have about the same kind of entertainment. It’s really an interesting deal for Christians. They are forgiven and in Christ and all that, plus just like the world. God isn’t glorified, but it really isn’t about God, is it? Somehow they’ve made what is about us to be about Him, but He isn’t fooled by that at all.
For instance, John Piper is Desiring God. Is he? Maybe John Piper himself does. I’ve read that he doesn’t have a TV. He has said a few things about a certain kind of questioning about whether rock music can represent God. He wants people to know that they can have their greatest pleasure in God. That’s all true, but it still shouldn’t be about our pleasure. It’s about God’s pleasure. And if we do desire God, we desire the God of the Bible and He hates filthy communication, filthy music, filthy dress, all of that. So if you desire that God, you also will hate what He hates. And the Piper people don’t seem like they do hate those things, so I question whether they do Desire God. They make a good point with their Desiring God. David panted after God like a hart after the waterbrooks (Ps 42:1). But it doesn’t do any good at all if the God you are desiring is the god of Hedonism.
Now there’s a kind of club that is self-authenticating that says this is all Christianity. They point at each other and say, “Yer right.” So they must be right. And so many people couldn’t be wrong. And look how it’s all working. It’s being so missiological and so many are being brought into the church. This is producing a great lack of discernment. God’s Word is being disobeyed. God is being dishonored.
I’m saying that this is a new refusal to put off the old man. Is there an acronym there? NRPOOM. Maybe not. It isn’t Christianity. That’s what Paul says in Colossians.
False doctrine and practice have been around since the garden, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the constant, growing, and innovative arguments for justifying worldliness. Satan isn’t taking a vacation from his world system. And men love the world. It is tangible, tasty, and at the tip of the fingers.
A recent and common approach sees men, who propose to hate worldliness themselves, vindicate worldly living by redefining worldliness. They make worldliness impossible to judge by anyone but God. And He will. They say it’s only on the inside. These men challenge definitions of worldliness that recognize worldly externals. No doubt everything that is worldly in someone proceeds from his heart. However, what comes out is also worldly.
The World Is on the Outside
It is called the “world” because it relates to this planet we live on. Worldliness won’t ever have anything to do with Neptune or Venus. Men become enamored with what’s on the planet. They mind earthly things. Many of the things in the world or on the world came from people from here. They made it, invented it, played it, or produced it. And most of those things are the problem for men, the competition with God for their hearts. The stuff that man generates has been affected by the curse of sin. Because of that, it isn’t all innocent and it must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Music, dress, entertainment, recreation, and even the things that we put into our body have all been trouble for mankind since the beginning. And all of it is on the outside.
Being “conformed” to this world (Romans 12:2) is external. Even being “transformed” is external. It might start on the inside, but it will show up on the outside. The word translated “conformed” in Romans 12:2 is translated “fashioning” in 1 Peter 1:14: “not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts.” ‘Lusts” are internal but “fashioning” is external. The primary verses on worldliness in the Bible are dealing with something that is external.
The Attack on External Worldliness
A recent primer for this novel approach to worldliness is Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C. J. Mahaney with a foreword by John Piper. Many of the chapter titles reveal the emphasis: “God, My Heart, and Media,” “God, My Heart, and Music,” “God, My Heart, and Stuff,” and “God, My Heart, and Clothes.” You can tell where the book is heading in the foreword when Piper writes: “The only way most folks know how to draw lines is with rulers. The idea that lines might come into being freely and lovingly (and firmly) as the fruit of the gospel is rare.” We get the heads up that rules are going to be a problem in a stand against worldliness. Then Mahaney adds in the first chapter (p. 29):
Some people try to define worldliness as living outside a specific set of rules or conservative standards. If you listen to music with a certain beat, dress in fashionable clothes, watch movies with a certain rating, or indulge in certain luxuries of modern society, surely you must be worldly. . . . Worldliness does not consist in outward behavior, though our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness within.
When this book came out, you’d think that nothing had been written about worldliness before. Actually many books have been written about worldliness through the centuries since the printing press. If you go to google books and use the advanced search mode and look only for full view books, you’ll find many books in the 19th and early 20th century that are now public domain, which talk about worldliness, many of which were sermons (consider this by J. C. Ryle, and this and this and this by Spurgeon). They weren’t afraid to talk about external issues in the days when to us there didn’t seem like much in the world that could be a problem.
We can all be thankful for a volume intending to slay internal or heart worldliness. However, circumventing the externals and painting only a partial picture of worldliness does more damage than good. It offers some leverage to deal with worldliness without depriving the worldly of the worldly things they demand. It vaccinates the adherents with a worldly, softer strain of Christianity that only inoculates them against the real thing. It sends an ambiguous warning signal across the bow while worldliness stays on board. I have to agree with Peter Masters in his recent short review of the Mahaney book, saying that it “hopelessly under-equips young believers for separation from the world.”
Others have obviously been influenced by Mahaney’s book. Blog posts began to appear everywhere that argued that worldliness is a heart matter, so the standards in churches and lines drawn are moralistic and legalistic, argued with fervent dogmatism. Of course, the point of Mahaney’s book was to deal with worldliness, not to encourage it, but the adherents caught one of his major emphases well, that is, people who obsess on externals don’t understand worldliness. “Oh good, I get to keep my music, my entertainment, my worship, etc.” Point taken. The book doesn’t do much to hinder worldliness.
But why would anyone write a book against worldliness but not be against worldliness? Worldliness is often how churches today got where they are. Worldliness is the goose that laid their golden eggs. They’ve produced worldly goslings, but they can’t very well destroy the goose. They use worldly music, encourage worldly dress, offer worldly activities, and allow for worldly amusement. It’s no wonder that they’ve got worldly people who need a book against worldliness. But you can’t slay the goose. So you go after “internal worldliness” with hopes for some kind of restraint.
However, Mahaney provides a perfect cover for the worldly person, excusing his worldly look, taste, and conduct. He says he has a scriptural basis for it and he uses the classic passage, 1 John 2:15-17. In an elaboration on v. 16, he writes:
Notice that in enlarging upon what is “in the world,” John doesn’t say, “this particular mode of dress, this way of speaking, this music, these possessions.”
Mahaney relies on the New International Version to continue with this point:
No, the essence of worldliness is in the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.
Some of what Mahaney says is correct. The internal is important, even as James wrote in his epistle in chapter 4 concerning carnal desires over which we will fight and war.
Mahaney makes at least two errors that debilitate his presentation. First, 1 John 2:15 is far from the proof text on worldliness. What about Romans 12:2? What about worldliness as it relates to the doctrine of holiness, in setting a difference or distinction between the sacred and the profane? Second, he doesn’t hit target in dealing with 1 John 2:15-17. It reads as someone who comes to the text with a lifestyle to protect.
What about Romans 12:2?
Romans 12:1-2 is “gospel centered.” We’ve got eleven chapters of gospel presentation. What does the gospel effect? It effects acceptable, spiritual worship, the saint offering his body to God according to His will. That offering must not conform in its externals to the spirit of this age. Certainly, for that to be accomplished requires a renewing of the mind. You can’t think the same way about the world as you did when you were lost and not be conformed to it. So this isn’t “moralism,” a regular strawman of the new worldly Christianity.
We don’t have a reason to define worldliness only with 1 John 2:15-17. Those who claim to walk in the light, but love the world, are lying. Those who love the world conform to the world. Loving the world isn’t good and neither is conforming to it. You can’t say, however, that you don’t love it when you conform to it. The new approach to worldliness separates loving it from conforming to it. They’ll say they don’t. That’s part of the deniability found in ambiguous communication. They can profess that they weren’t dismissing externals really, but if you read their writing, they leave them by the wayside.
How do you conform to the kosmos, the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist? You do it with the way you talk, dude. You do it with your comfort first, shabby, disrespectful dress. You do it with your groovy music, your deco art, your fashions, your recreation, your amusement, and your entertainment. These externals smack of a philosophy originating from a system operating in opposition against God.
What about Worldliness as it Relates to the Doctrine of Holiness?
Holiness is described by more than just moral purity, but also the transcendent majesty of God. It relates to distinctions that separate us unto God from the common or the profane.
And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be. Exodus 8:23
[T]hat ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. Exodus 11:7
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; Leviticus 10:10
Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Ezekiel 22:26
God wanted a difference put between the holy and the profane. That explains “be not conformed to this world.” It also helps us understand this verse in Zephaniah 1:8.
And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
God will punish those who “are clothed with strange apparel.” “Strange” could be understood as worldly. The clothing itself is “strange” or “worldly,” in fitting with a profane culture. The “strange apparel” meant something—it has a philosophy that accompanied it. We see this same kind of teaching from Paul in 1 Corinthians. Paul says that an “idol is nothing” in 1 Corinthians 8:4, because “there is none other God but one.” And yet, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 19-21 that the idol, even though it is nothing, has a meaning to it that is devilish.
The pagan, anti-God philosophy of this world weaves its way into every part of a culture. For this reason, everything must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that which associates itself with a humanistic or depraved way of thinking must be eschewed (1 Thessalonians 5:22). This applies to piercings, modern art, tattoos, extreme hair styles, rock, rap, and country. In other words, we are not to “[fashion ourselves] according to the former lusts in [our] ignorance: but as he which hath called [us] is holy, so be [we] holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:14-15). Every aspect of our conduct or behavior is to be distinct. In no way should our externals reflect the old unregenerate life.
Hitting or Missing on 1 John 2:15-17
1 John 2:15-17 (KJV)
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
Mahaney leaves out the first part of 1 John 2:15 in his exegesis. His description of v. 16, which isn’t completely accurately portrayed by the NIV, explains the love for the things “in the world.” But v. 15 starts with “love not the world” before it moves to “neither the things that are in the world.” The world itself is external. Mahaney argues that “the world” is only internal because that’s how it is described in v. 16. But v. 16 is explaining the things in the world, not the world itself.
The word “man” isn’t even found in the original language of v. 16 (or in the KJV). What is translated “sinful man” in the NIV is a single Greek word, the word for “flesh” (sarx). The NIV makes this “sinful man.” The Greek words translated “cravings” and “lust” in the NIV are actually the same word in the Greek New Testament (epithumia), as we can see reflected in the KJV. When you read the NIV, you’d think that there were two different words. Mahaney applies two different meanings, when they are actually both the same word. The NIV uses so much dynamic equivalence that you can’t get the true sense of 1 John 2:16 from its translation—and yet that is the translation that Mahaney chooses to use. It suits his purposes for his treatment of worldliness.
The lust and pride are a problem, but so are things in the world. We are not to “love the world.” “The world” that we’re not to love is a system that includes dress, music, entertainment, art, conduct, politics, and fashion. Satan is the prince of this current system, one that will be overthrown by Jesus Christ in the imminent future. Yes, weaving its way in this false system are the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Those are not of the Father. We are to love only that which is of the Father. Whatever smacks of the world’s philosophy, the spirit of this age, we’re not to love. We’re called upon to show discernment and say “no” to some things. Those things are on the outside.
Quietism versus Pietism
From Mahaney and Piper (and many other evangelicals) we’re to assume something gospel driven that so swings away from human effort. I believe it misrepresents the gospel and God’s grace. God’s grace teaches to deny. Grace fuels human effort. We live by faith. We don’t let go and let God. The new nature possessed by the converted will do good (Romans 7:21).
The truth is that the new definers of worldliness emphasize conduct. It’s just that it is, and ironically, the loose conduct appealing to the lust of the flesh. And they’re judging externals. They will judge your standards (which they do have) to be more strict than theirs, so you must be the legalist and the moralist. Even in writing style they work hard to make it as easy as possible to understand. Even in the dress down style of the sovereign grace ministries, something strategic is going on with their urban chic and soul patches. They are working at attracting or making comfortable a certain demographic. Something is driving all that, but it isn’t the gospel.
Perhaps it might dawn on these “gospel driven” that grace works toward using the ruler to draw the lines. It is grace working though. Old Testament Israel tested God’s grace by getting as close to evil as possible ( 1 Corinthians 10). Thinking their liberty would kick in on their behalf, these Jews in the wilderness fell because they didn’t get further away from the evil. They should have set up some safety boundaries. The real bondage was found in their attraction to worldly things. God’s grace and the gospel would have driven to distance themselves from them.
What we have here is the age-old tug of war between quietism and pietism. Quietism is a view of sanctification in which the Christian exerts the least effort possible to ensure a product from God’s working. On the other hand, there is pietism, which asserts that we must work hard and discipline ourselves to effect the favor from God that will empower the Christian life. Neither of these are true. The phantom enemy of Mahaney and his crowd is a pietism that wishes to bind his adherents in shackles of extra-scriptural regulations. Most false beliefs that would dictate their desired point of view benefit from a boogeyman to inspire irrational fear. Pietism is the boogeyman of only internal worldliness.
The grace of God that works in believers “denies ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12). As God is working in both to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), true Christians are working out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). What is this “fear and trembling”? It is the fear of sinning, the distrust of human strength in the face of powerful temptations, and the terror at the thought of dishonoring God. The fear of God and his judgment seat motivated Paul to labor for Christ’s acceptance (2 Corinthians 5:11-12). When Philippians 2:13 says “to will,” the word speaks of the believer’s intent. God instills in His own the desire to please Him. He so respects God that he puts a distance between himself and the world, making no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14).
Noah and his family were “saved by water” (1 Peter 3:21). What did water save them from? The ark saved them from destruction, but the water saved them from the world. God promises to be a Father to those who come out from the world and “be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:18). Having that promise, a believer will “cleanse himself of all filthiness of the flesh, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Worldliness is more than internal. Believers will visibly and tangibly separate themselves from the world like Noah and his family did on the ark, and like God expected of Israel in the wilderness. Out of honor to God, to please Him, and with fear and trembling, they will work out their salvation. If it’s out, then it isn’t in. God put it in. Christians work it out. What God’s children work out is going to look and sound like something way different than this world system.
The Hypocrisy of Contemporary “Conservative” Evangelicalism pt. 2: Dovetailing with ‘Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture, pt. 2’
Not too long ago I had written the first part of an essay entitled “Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture.” It was only part one, but we moved on to another topic here. I post-scripted it with: “I will be continuing this next week, Lord-willing. I want to talk about the way that the scriptural understanding of holiness was forsaken for pragmatic purposes. I will get into the point of reclaiming a Christian culture.” That short paragraph fit nicely with what I was writing at the end of the first of this multi-part post.
I began breaking down Romans 15:15-21 as a choice passage to expose the hypocrisy of conservative evangelicalism. I believe that fundamentalists are also hypocritical as it relates to conservative evangelicals. Someone has mentioned that in the comment section here. How so? They complain about segments of fundamentalism that are revivalistic and man-centered, and yet they seem to turn a blind eye toward the conservative evangelicals who participate in revivalism and man-centeredness. In this regard, I like the comment Art Dunham wrote:
I believe the time has come for us to be independent MEN of God and state the truth whatever the consequence to any affiliation, friendship, or Bible College.
Bravo Art. That’s what we need. We don’t need to move from one big, bad example to another big, bad example. It reminds me of the historic Baptist martyr, Balthasar Hubmaier: “Truth is immortal.”
Back to Romans 15
There are many truths to flesh out of this text in Romans 15, but the first we called to your attention was “instrumentality.” I drew your attention especially to the end of v. 17, the teaching here being that Christ is glorified or worshiped only “in those things which pertain to God.” Paul was ministering as an Old Testament priest, who presented to God his sanctified sacrifices, and he wanted these Gentile converts to be acceptable offerings to the Lord. For this to occur, all of His service must be found within the confines of those things which pertain to God. Things which pertain to men won’t fulfill the goal of glorifying Christ. They are not the instrumentality that God will bless with that result.
I think we should be able to understand how that the things that we use to accomplish the noble goals of glorifying Christ and offering up acceptable sacrifices to God must be those things which pertain to God. It is very much akin to the use of carnal weaponry to attain spiritual ends in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Paul didn’t war after the flesh. In the end, that warring wouldn’t even work. As I have read from many different sources through the years, “You will keep them with what you get them.” Carnal weapons can’t succeed in spiritual warfare.
Here’s what happens today. Hard packed, stony, and thorny hearts today don’t want the incorruptible, life-giving seed. The idea is that if we could package that seed in something that those hearts do want or love (zoom to 2:25 on the link), then we could make the seed work. The seed needs a little help. It needs music. It needs entertainment. It needs stage lights or a night club environment. It needs to look like a theater. It needs a trap set. Maybe even some tattoos. It needs syncopation and driving drum beats. It needs the enticement of some hormonally charged boy-girl interaction. It needs the license of personal expression in the hip-hop cap, soul patch, or oversized shirt. It needs stylin’. It needs “dude.” It needs the emotionalism of some rhythm induced hand-waving. It needs the hip, ghetto, graffiti font on the decaying, urban brick background. It needs youtube ads that mimic the twittering hand-held production values of the Blair Witch Project (this defines authenticity). It needs sensuality and things conforming to the world and its fashion (play numbers one and two, you’ll get enough of a sample). These are all things that hard, stony, and thorny ground might be able to relate to or with. Today we might call this missiological or contextualization, you know, just to make it sound like it is spiritual, when it isn’t. The adherents know everything they are doing and the meaning of everything they do, and yet they’ll often say that it is meaningless and can’t be judged. It smacks of the spirit of this age. It pertains to man.
Holiness Pertains to God
To comprehend this more, we should unpack the theological understanding of “those things which pertain to God.” Those things which pertain to God are holy. Holiness is not just moral purity. It is God’s majestic transcendence, His otherness, His non-contingency. Holiness is sacredness, which means it is not common or profane. It is distinct, unique to the attributes and character of God.
The Old Testament term kadesh or the adjective form, qadesh, translated “holy,” is not used just for that which pertains to God. It is used to describe, for instance, the temple prostitutes of pagan religion of strange nations (Deuteronomy 23:17). That means that those prostitutes had qualities that were unique to their gods. The root of the word means “to cut,” that is, “to separate.” Holines is related to consecration. When an item was holy, it was devoted for and only for the worship of the Lord. Items associated with pagan and defiled concepts could not be used in the worship of the Lord. Something that is holy is designated as sacred and was distinct from the profane or common.
The Christian does not look to the world to find worship forms. He looks to scripture. He sees certain qualities of this world system—sensual, carnal, of the spirit of the age, making provision for the flesh. A basic element of Israelite worship was the maintenance of an inviolable distinction between the sacred and the common. They guarded against the sacred being treated as common. While the realm of the holy was conceptually distinct from the world with its imperfections, it could nevertheless operate within the world as long as its integrity was strictly maintained.
Holiness was not and has not been just a separateness from sin. It is a maintaining of distinctions between those things consecrated to God and those that are common. The common may not be sinful, but it is not sacred. God’s name and His worship should not be treated lightly. They should not be brought into association with that characterized by earthliness. Certain aspects of the world are not redeemable as sacred. They were invented by men for men’s passions, to touch his will through the body to influence affections inordinately.
Opponents to holiness today say that worldliness is only a matter of the heart, only an attitude. They fall far short of what scripture says about worldliness. Romans 12:2 commands, “Be not conformed to this world.” “Conformed” is not internal. It is external. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads:
14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
“Fashioning” is external.” “All manner” includes internal and external. Sure, being a friend of the world is internal (James 4:4), but the external manifestations also anger God. That’s why God said through Zephaniah (1:8):
And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
He would punish those clothed with strange apparel. In other words, they were appearing like the world, associating themselves in their externals with pagan culture. God didn’t want them fitting in with the world. He wanted a sacred Israel. He wanted to keep a difference between the sacred and the profane.
I believe that the redefining and the dumbing down of holiness comes because of professing believers, maybe unconverted, who want to fit in with the world. They know how to do it. Almost everybody does. The philosophies of the world can be seen in dress, music, art, and more. We can know on the outside what message a particular form is communicating. We know when a man is acting effeminate. We know when a woman is acting masculine. We know a foul word. We know a term, an appearance, and a composition that carries ungodly associations. The conservative evangelicals are using these to reach their desired ends. When they succeed, they say that God was responsible. God was also responsible for giving water to Moses when he struck the rock. That end did not justify the means. And men who drank became carcasses in the wilderness.
Hollywood knows what it is doing with styles. It knows how to play something sensual or sexual. It knows how to target certain human emotions (emotionalism) and carnal passions. Conservative evangelicals imitate them. They offer their adherents the same thing as the world with some Christianity mixed in. This is called syncretism—“worshiping” God and using worldly means. It blurs the dinstinction between the sacred and the common, between God and the world, between the Divine and the worldly.
Limitation to Scriptural Parameters
To accomplish the glory of Christ and an acceptable offering to God, Paul limited himself to Scripture—he would only regulate his audience according to a Divine message (vv. 18-19). To make the Gentiles obedient,” in either “word or deed,” he would not “dare to speak” anything but that which was given Him by Christ. Those were all that were authoritative and authenticated by means of “mighty signs and wonders.”
The Bible wasn’t given to us to read between the lines. Certain actions aren’t forbidden in God’s Word. That doesn’t mean they become our means of accomplishment or a strategy for success. God gave His Word as sufficient to regulate any area of our lives. Even if our own ideas aren’t sinful, they aren’t what He said. Only what He said, when obeyed, will give glory to God.
Conservative evangelicals often expose scripture. However, they are just as guilty as revivalist fundamentalists at looking for non-scriptural techniques to influence believers toward what they believe will be salvation and spiritual growth. Even if they “worked,” they wouldn’t give glory to Christ or be acceptable to God. They would not require faith and so they couldn’t please God. Paul kept just preaching the gospel. He limited himself to the activity God endowed to fulfill His work. We must limit our means if we will glorify Christ and send up that acceptable offering to God.
Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture
We’re to be regulated by Scriptural precept and example. We’re to be distinct from the world. We should have a unique Christian culture. Culture itself isn’t amoral. Many ways that a culture expresses itself are filled with meaning. Some of those expressions may honor God and others may not. God laid out some very detailed laws to distinguish Israel from the rest of the nations on earth. He wants us to be different.
If we’re going to reacquire a Christian counterculture that separates from the world’s culture, however it is expressing itself, we must get a grasp on scriptural holiness. We must understand it, let it influence our affections above indifference, and then choose to be holy as God is holy. Our music, dress, and other cultural expressions will change. They will become distinct from the philosophies of the world and from the spirit of this age. The change will not allow us to fit into the world. The world will also know that we’re different–not just in matters of righteousness versus sinfulness, but in those of sacredness versus profanity.
A Bonus (a comment I wrote under a blog post about Peter Master’s recent article about worldliness).
In the Bible, not once is music directed to men. Never is it said to be for evangelism. Preaching is for evangelism—not music. At the most, unbelievers “see” the worship of believers (Ps 40) and fear. They don’t sway and laugh it up because it is the same stuff they’re accustomed to. As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God. And it is more than the words, because of what we see in the psalms again and again, Ps 150 for instance, and then in Col 3:16 (psallo–making melody, which is literally “to pluck on a string”).
Men talk about rich theological content. Let’s just say that we all agree with scriptural content that is befitting of the worship God shows He wants in the psalms. This can’t be an either/or—neither the music or the content justifies the other. The Word of God should regulate the words and the music. When we present it to God using a worldly, fleshly medium, this is the syncretism that Masters is talking about. And the medium truly is the message. The vehicle for conveying the message, the music, must also fit with God’s character.
What we seem to be really talking about here is whether music itself can be worldly, fleshly, make provision for the flesh, relativistic, conform to the world, or be unholy, that is, profane. The world knows what it is doing with music. The world uses certain aspects of the music to communicate all of the above that I listed earlier in this paragraph. The world talks about it in its own descriptions of its music. And we can catch the philosophy behind the music itself in the history of the music.
Jonathan Edwards described genuine Christianity as involving religious affections and not men’s passions. He distinguished the real from the counterfeit by differentiating between affections and passions. Affections differ than passions in that they start with the mind and then feed the will. Passions, on the other hand, begin with the body. Not only are passions not genuine affection but they also harm discernment. What is thought to be something spiritual is actually a feeling that has been choreographed in the flesh.
This is a second premise scriptural argument. It is akin to applying Eph 4:29, which commands believers not to have corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth. Based on some of the comments I’ve read here, certain foul language could not be wrong, because the English words aren’t found in the Bible. This, I believe, is part of the attack on truth part of postmodernism. We can ascertain truth in the real world. We can judge corrupt words. We too can judge when music conforms to the world, fashions itself after our former lusts. We can know when it is that passions are being manipulated by music, that it isn’t joy, but a fleshly feeling that impersonates happiness. It is actually fleshly self gratification.
Much, much more could be said about the relationship of externals and internals in the matter of worldliness. The four books by David Wells could be referred to for those who would want to understand. Evangelicals seem not to recognize the danger of accepting the means pagan culture expresses itself. We blaspheme a holy God, profaning His name, by associating it with these worldly, fleshly forms.
Have you looked at and compared the crowds that gather for a blue-state candidate or a red-state candidate? I’m not talking about race and ethnicity. Remove that from your thoughts and this discussion. I’m only referring to how they appear in dress and decorum. To make it more simple—notice the difference in the look of a Hillary crowd versus a Huckabee crowd (this is not an endorsement for either of these candidates or world views). By observation it is obvious that these two groups have different standards. Culture shock if they attended the other’s rally. Does this matter? Do the differences mean anything?
We can go further with this comparison. Look at this earlier female golfing attire (and here), early female tennis player (and here), early female cyclists, and then early female swimmers. Have the standards of dress changed? Are we better now? These men were watching a baseball game. Why have things become more casual all around? Is there an underlying philosophical reason? Are we better off with the new standard?
Standard fare today on standards is that they are nasty ole additions to Scripture. I ask myself, “Why didn’t the godly people, who loved the Word of God, not recognize that the standards they implemented weren’t actually biblical?” Corollary: “Were they that much spiritual dunces?” Also, “How could there have been such a widespread conspiracy to get especially young people to do things, i.e. keep standards, that were so detrimental to their lives?” I contend that the standard bearers’ spiritual and biblical elevators did go all the way to the top. They did have a clue.
We have a regular attack on standards today not just in evangelicalism (typical), but also in professing fundamentalism (here, here, here, and here). Are they trying to help us? Have we really been duped by modern day Pharisees? Is the world a more godly place with their new found influence? Or are they actually contemporary Mr. Worldly-Wises who can’t say “no” to their worldly lusts?
“Standard” isn’t an English word found in the English translation of Scripture, so to argue a proposition that standards are good and necessary and that obliterating them decays a Christian culture, we should define the term. The free dictionary online says that a standard is: “a. A degree or level of requirement, excellence, or attainment. b. A requirement of moral conduct. Often used in the plural.”
When we talk about standards, we are talking about institutional application of biblical principles and commands. The two Scriptural institutions are the family and the church, but today there are schools you can add to that. Families have standards—“call if you’ll be late,” “put back what you got out,” “elbows off the table,” “answer when spoken to,” and “you’ll wear a tie on Sunday.” Churches have standards—“no faithful attendance; no choir,” “no tie; no usher,” “no evangelism; no teaching,” “alcohol; no membership,” “divorce; no deacon,” “no haircut; no leadership,” and “movie theater; no leadership.”
Defenders of Christian culture or personal holiness have taken these standards from direct statements or applications from principles. For instance, you might recognize that “divorce; no deacon” comes from 1 Timothy 3. Many evangelicals will argue against that. “No haircut, no leadership” comes from 1 Corinthians 11. No one with whom I fellowship uses standards as a means of justification or sanctification (Romans 3:20; Galatians 5:1-4). We have many explanations for standards that are found in 1 Corinthians 6-10 in Paul’s discussion on the proper use of liberties. We are to flee idolatry and flee fornication. Do we apply these with track shoes? We aren’t to get close to sin, thinking that we will stand and not fall. Romans 13 and 14 give more principles. This is how these verses have been applied or obeyed for centuries.
The Attack on Standards
Evangelicals and fundamentalists combat these standards by many different means. Sometimes they use Scripture. Jeroboam used Scripture to support erecting his idols at Dan and Bethel. Who did he quote? He cited Aaron when Aaron defended his building of the golden calf. Normally, they will attack personally and speculate motives. They say that you are trying to sanctify by works. They claim that you want to impress people out of pride. They say that you are working at conforming everybody into something that you’re comfortable with. They say that it is legalism and not grace. Most often today, they say that you are just making these standards up without biblical support.
Recently, over at a bastion of post-standard fundamentalism, SharperIron, Stephen Davis, an associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale, PA (home of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the National Leadership Conferences) wrote:
Yet in my opinion and observation, Fundamentalism’s commitment to the authority of Scripture often attaches itself to interpretations and positions on issues to which scriptural authority cannot be legitimately attached. . . . [O]ne finds great diversity due in part to the level of certainty that is accorded to the application of Scripture to issues that are far removed from the fundamentals of the faith. These applications on a host of issues from standards to music to Bible versions to eschatological distinctives have helped create a fractured Fundamentalism.
That is the common criticism for personal and cultural separation based on standards. A lot of what Davis wrote, I agree with, and especially this:
I will not allow a movement to define me and to choose my battles. The Word stands above every movement and every culture in every time and in all places. To that sacred and timeless Word and to its Author we must yield and give our allegiance.
This is why I don’t consider myself to be a fundamentalist. However, I will defend fundamentalism when it is attacked for upholding standards of personal holiness. Places like Calvary in Lansdale still practice mixed swimming, which includes men and women stripping down to something sometimes less modest than underwear. In my experience with the Lansdale type cross-section of professing Christianity, I have found that they consider a standard against mixed swimming to be one of these “illegitimate applications of Scripture.” One of the detriments of being a fundamentalist is the initial concept that certain teachings of Scripture are already relegated to something less than a fundamental. In this case, mixed nudity doesn’t count as a violation of a fundamental, so it should be ignored as a matter of separation. And most of the traditional brand of fundamentalists (the Bob Jones, Detroit, Maranatha, Northland, Central axis) do ignore this. That’s why I like Davis’ last quote (read it again to see if you like it). We’ll do just what Scripture says and not worry about whether traditional fundamentalists will agree with us (they won’t).
I’m sure many of these men don’t like that I am saying that they are supporting nudity or maybe better ‘Christian nudist retreats.’ If they don’t support it, then why don’t they separate over it? Are they really uncertain as to whether it is wrong? Maybe not. I do believe it is interesting that these fundamentalists will regularly coddle up to men like C. J. Mahaney of Together for the Gospel, when his church this year is putting on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Last year they put on Godspell. The latter is of the same type of show as the blasphemous Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, which had opened on broadway a year earlier. Perhaps they could rename their fellowship, Together for the Godspell.
When fundamentalist Dave Doran got together with them last year, he reported:
In many respects, it was one of the most spiritually beneficial conferences I’ve attended the message by John Piper alone was worth the time and cost of the conference.
John Piper doesn’t have trouble with the standards of the pastor of Mars Hill church in the Seattle, WA area, Mark Driscoll. This mixture could make things confusing couldn’t it? Isn’t this the reason why we separate ecclesiastically (churches separate) over issues of personal holiness? The evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t have these standards of personal holiness over which they will separate, and so they have an incredible lack of discernment. This causes many to stumble.
The most common text I hear quoted as a Scriptural refutation of standards is Mark 7:7:
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Believers have not historically relied on this verse in contradiction to standards of personal holiness. God expects us to apply Scripture to our life and standards are the way. As a means of seeing how that believers have applied Scripture to life, and not considered legalistic, take a look at William Gouge’s Of Domestical Duties (1622). Gouge has a several page section in which he shows that a biblical practice would be a mother nursing her infant children. Most evangelicals and many fundamentalists would call this legalism.
As a result of these kinds of attacks on standards, churches lose their Christian culture, looking, acting, and sounding like the world. The churches of today look more and more like the blue crowd compared to the red crowd they once did. Some may say that this either doesn’t matter or it’s actually good. What do they do with Zephaniah 1:8?
And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
Dressing in “strange apparel” was to dress like the world. God would punish those of His people who wore worldly clothes. He expected them to be distinct. Distinctiveness was holiness. This verse alone is a proof text for standards. This is also the historic position on this verse (and here). God expects believers to have personal standards of holiness. Zephaniah 1:8 doesn’t explain what “strange apparel” was. They were to know. They obviously did know. They were going to be punished for something that they knew and were supposed to practice. God hasn’t changed on this, even if we have.
The Relationship to 2 Timothy 3:2
I’ve been relating the cultural decay to the last days. One last expression of the times of apostacy is that men shall be “lovers of pleasure.” Men want their way. They want their creature comforts. On the other hand, Jesus said that His way was self-denial. The rich young man in Matthew 19 said he wanted eternal life, but he couldn’t give up his things. Jesus described His way in Luke 9:58:
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Those following Christ shouldn’t expect to have anywhere to lay their heads. That’s not what people want to hear today. And because people want what they want, churches market themselves to pleasure-loving people. It’s no wonder that they don’t like standards and scramble to find verses to avoid them. They even present a kind of Christian hedonism (these articles are against it). The evangelical, John Piper, has popularized a form of Christian hedonism, and he states the first point in his book, Desiring God (p. 23):
1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience; it is good, not sinful. 2. We should never try to resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
He starts with man’s longing to be happy. What verse teaches this? Um. (Crickets.) Mark 7:7 anyone? This idea in particular satisfies man’s fleshly desire to gratify himself. As a result of these kinds of philosophies, evangelicalism is full of worldliness.
Low standards or high standards can result from legalism. Grace doesn’t contradict man’s happiness, but it centers on the pleasure of God. It doesn’t make provision for the flesh. It won’t always deliver us if we walk near the edge of the moral cliff. Grace will build a fence there. It won’t make it easier for the flesh. It teaches us to deny ungodliness and lust. Standards graciously apply Scripture. They protect the distinct, holy culture of the Christian.
As I write this, we are in the midst of a presidential primary and down to two democratic candidates, as history will show, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In this last week, the media has finally revealed the incidiary statements of Obama’s long time friend and pastor, Jeremiah Wright (decent articles about it here, here, and here). This is the man that gave Obama the title of his bestselling book, The Audacity of Hope, married him, baptized his two daughters, and was the long-time pastor of the church of which Obama has been a member for twenty years. Obama says he had no idea that his pastor was like this.Â Obama doesn’t think that these comments need separate him from Wright, because they are only a few things that he said among, you know, mainly good. Then again, Mussolini got the trains to run on time. And imagine if another candidate said, “This man, David Duke, has influenced my life almost as much as anyone—I do separate myself from some of what he says—but he is a good man.” How would that go down?
The media talks about this like it’s old news and yet I had heard nothing about it. The mainstream media, that I know of, has said nothing about Obama’s regular usage of the terms hoodwinked and bamboozled on the campaign trail, especially in areas where his crowds were huge numbers of African Americans, terms utilized by Malcolm X in speeches that were borrowed by Spike Lee for films They are code language for many African Americans. Imagine if anyone else besides Senator Obama had connections with this man or used these terms, what would that do to his or her candidacy? You know the answer.
This all relates to the subject of toleration. Toleration seems to work only in certain directions in this culture (which I’ll explain below). For instance, politically correct toleration works with the media’s treatment of the Senator from Illinois, who is running for president. His association with intolerance is tolerated. Toleration, however, is the chief virtue of the culture. And that toleration has destroyed the culture we once had for a truly pseudo liberty.
One can easily see that the true beginnings of toleration started when Adam tolerated Eve’s option of eating the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That plunged our world into sin and since then, mankind has continued to look at much of what God said to be and do as merely optional. More seriously, the ever increasing philosophy of unrestrainedness has penetrated at first subtly and now more obviously into churches. Churches became permissive and now have taken on the look, sound, and attitude of the world.
A Description of the Unrestrained, Toleration Culture
Nowhere is the mounting culture of toleration described more brilliantly than the 1987 bestselling book by the late Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom begins by examining the students in the prestige universities, and he finds them deficient in moral formation, in reading of serious books, in music, and above all in love. They have no love in their souls, no longing for anything high or great. Their minds are vacant, their characters feeble, and their bodies sated with rock and roll and easy sex. These same students come furnished with a simple-minded relativism that is quick to close off all discussion with the question, “Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?” Their relativism justifies an easygoing openness to everything, an openness which expresses their incapacity for being serious about anything. This proclaimed openness, in fact, turns out to be a dogmatic closedness toward moral virtue no less than toward even true thoughtfulness.
The cause of the closedness, in Bloom’s diagnosis, is modern philosophy. He posits that America was founded on modern principles of liberty and equality passed from Hobbes and Locke. Liberty, however, turned out to mean freedom from all self-restraint, and equality turned out to mean the destruction of all differences of rank and even nature. Our Founders may have said to have acted “with a firm reliance on divine providence” (Declaration of Independence), but Bloom says that their natural-rights philosophy came from the atheists Hobbes and Locke. He characterizes the Lockean doctrine of the Founders in this way (p. 163):
[In the state of nature, man] is on his own. God neither looks after him nor punishes him.
The practical result (p. 230):
God was slowly executed here; it took two hundred years, but local theologians tell us He is now dead.
Similarly, Bloom says the Founders may have thought they were establishing a political order based on reason. At first reason legitimated industriousness and money-making, but eventually lost its authority and became impotent against expectations of self-indulgence and mindless self-expression. Finally, the infections caused by our political principles sapped the strength of faith and morality.
The relativism of today’s students is, then, in Bloom’s view, a perfect communication of the real soul of liberty, which from the start, in Hobbes’s thought, meant that life had no intrinsic meaning. The anti-design dogmas of women’s liberation, which in the name of equality deny the obvious differences between men and women, are destroying the family, which had been the core of society through most of America’s history. Likewise, the anti-design dogmas of affirmative action, insisting that equal opportunity be suppressed until all categories of Americans come out exactly uniform, deny the obvious differences in ambition and intelligence among human beings. Thus equality and liberty eventually produced self-satisfied relativism which sees no need to aspire to anything beyond itself.
How the Toleration Culture Infects the Church
If I were to add a chapter to Bloom’s book, the subject would be how that this relativism has infiltrated the church. A first aspect began when the church turned over the stewardship of science including origins, government, art, psychology, and history (among other things) to the state The state gladly left the church with theology. The Bible could apply to spiritual matters. We arrived at a distrust for the Bible to speak to anything that is cultural, including music and dress. I think it also applies to the text of Scripture itself, but I want my multiple version readers to stay with me. There is one last step that I see in the church’s ejection of culture—since the Bible does not speak to science, government, art, psychology, and history, and it is not trustworthy in those matters, then how could it be in theology? This ends where many liberal churches already exist: the Bible has no authority in anything.
Political correctness, what Bloom describes as the closing of the mind, has lead to theological correctness. This reigns in liberalism, permeates evangelicalism, and is now greatly influencing fundamentalism. Your view of biblical subjects must fit within a certain realm of theological correctness to be acceptable. Like with the secular education system, there is no visibly organized authority for this correctness, yet it can be seen and felt all over. Some of the most prominent advocates of absolute biblical truth will cower especially on the cultural issues. They have been given up in the same fashion that higher education abandoned absolute truth long ago.
Scripture is sufficient for all matters to which it speaks. The theological police are busy removing cultural issues from its body of sufficiency. They have no historical basis for doing so, but they do so nonetheless. This parallels with higher education dumbing down its own music, literature, and appearance in lieu of the noble savage. A splatter on a canvass becomes great art and a violent stroke on guitar strings great music, akin to the superiority of a cave painting by aboriginals. The noble savage isn’t faking it. He isn’t very good, but he keeps it real. This is the kind of faux authority we’re left with when we abandon the Bible on cultural issues.
In keeping with the relativistic approach to culture, criticism of music and other culture based upon absolute truth is scorned. Man’s feelings reign even in Christian criticism (the little there is). What becomes important is whether you like it or whether it kept you listening. We “musn’t” be bored with a song. People must like it. Neither can we criticize anyone for how they dress when they come to church or worship, if that’s why they happen to be there (which is more and more unlikely due to our methods). For all the talk about God, man remains the measure for all things, including worship of God.
Covetousness, Rebellion, Unthankfulness, and Unholiness
In this first part of this essay, I had begun explaining the present cultural decay in churches. I referenced 2 Timothy 3:2:
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy.
Modern evangelicalism and much of fundamentalism pursues self interests. This relates closely to covetousness. What I want becomes more important than my testimony for God. Men argue for liberties, but they forget that they are not here for themselves, but for God (Romans 14:7, 8). They also may fail to remember what Jesus said about our relationship to others in Matthew 18:6:
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
2 Peter 2 relates man’s lust with his relationship with authority (vv. 10, 18, 19). We live in an era with a motto: Question Authority. Most fundamentally this manifests itself in disobedience to parents. Parental rights are greatly weakened in a permissive society that also has influenced Christians. Libertines prefer weak authority. They chafe and rebel at what keeps them from their self interests.
God gives every good and perfect gift because He knows how to give good gifts as a good God. For unthankfulness, that isn’t enough. He complains for more creature comforts and conveniences. He expects permission to touch, to drink, to jive, and to dance.
Covetousness, rebellion, and unthankfulness aren’t compatible with God’s holiness. God’s nature is separate from these character traits. God’s holiness relates to his unique attributes and nature. He is separate from all things, high above and distinct. God expects that same quality in His own. More than ever the world’s culture is separate from the character of God. This unholiness has influenced the church. The church has become increasingly common and profane in the ways it manifests itself, more and more like the world and less distinct, therefore, less like God.
So, weâ€™ve laid the foundations of the Christian worldview. You can refresh your memory here and here, or you can keep reading. And since foundations serve a vital role in building, we see the necessity of covering our bases. Since we view the world through Christian eyes, we understand that God is absolute, that God is sufficient, that God is the ultimate reality, the Uncaused Cause of all things. We understand that nothing exists apart from or independently of God, and thus we understand that Creation is entirely dependent on God. And this means that we depend on God for knowledge. We can only know what God intends that we should know, what God has revealed to us in nature or in Scripture. God knows all things originally and exhaustively, we onlyÂ know after Him. And that includes our knowledge or understanding of right and wrong, and how right and wrong is determined. We do not make up our own ethic. God has revealed the Christian ethic, and we receive that ethic.
This, in a nutshell, is the foundation. And foundations, as they go, are fine things. I once knew of a man who spent a great deal of time digging out footers, setting in reinforcement, and building a very sturdy foundation for his future home. After several years of work, he finally finished with the foundation. We all admired it, wondering what would sit on it. But the foundation just sat there, holding up nothing but leaves, dust, and the occasional stray ant. Foundations need a house hat.
Our Christian Worldview, while certainly an admirable thing, needs something to cap it off. In other words, we need to take this fine Christian Worldview, and put it to some practical use. Foundations are only good when they are useful. And foundations are only useful when they prop something up. A Christian Worldview is viewing the world through Christian eyes, which implies that we Christians do some viewing, and that we are actually looking at something. We apply our Christian Worldview. This work of applying the Christian Worldview begins in the home.
Ephesians 6:4 gives us a mandate for applying the Biblical Worldview, starting in the home.
And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The modern meaning of nurture is similar to the word nourish â€“ to feed, to promote growth. But the word nurtureÂ is broader thanÂ mere physical nourishment and nurturing. It includes growth in maturity. This is accomplished through education. To nurture is to educate, to train up. The Greek word in this passage is paideia, which is the word the Greeks would have used for education. In the Greek world, classroom instruction and formal education was a central part of paideia, but it was not the entirety. The central point of paideia went further than mere knowledge, extending into the culture at large. The goal of paideia in the Greek world was the establishment and furtherance of a culture. Children were cultivated, both by the culture and for the culture. Greek philosophers pictured the ideal citizen taking his place in the ideal culture, and all education aimed at producing that ideal.Then along came the Apostle Paul. Paul presents a new picture â€“ a new ideal. “Bring them up” Paul says, “in the paideiaâ€¦ of the Lord.” A new culture, Paul argues, a new kind of culture is required. And, unlike the Greek world, Paul places the responsibility for this enculturation on the fathers, not on the government. Fathers must bring their children up in this Christian culture, this “culture of the Lord.”
Obviously, this “culture of the Lord” looks different than Ephesian culture. But Read more…
Evangelicals know something is wrong. They talk about it. They’ve essentially ignored cultural separation for decades and they’ve gotten huge in part through their non-practice. The emerging evangelicals are compromising even more on cultural issues. Now the especially conservative evangelicals seem to be starting to see that the Bible has something to say on it. But if they say much about it, they might sound like fundamentalists. If they tolerate, they’ll keep more audience, but if they do that too much, they see mounting ungodliness from their left flank. Sound confusing? It gets that way when you’ve been compromising your entire life. So now, certain evangelicals are mentioning worldliness somewhat regularly, more than I’ve ever seen. Since many evangelicals are moving further to their left on cultural issues, even they can’t stomach it any longer, and even they feel compelled to say something.
Here’s John MacArthur over at Pulpit Live—
You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can’t minister effectively if we don’t speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don’t vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christanity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times. Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don’t really care if they are worldly. They just don’t want to be thought uncool.
There is and always has been a fundamental, irreconcilable incompatibility between the church and the world. Christian thought is out of harmony with all the world’s philosophies. Genuine faith in Christ entails a denial of every worldly value. Biblical truth contradicts all the world’s religions. Christianity itself is therefore antithetical to virtually everything this world admires.
But what the contemporary church is into is not holy living, it is worldliness. They think that rather than being separate from the world and thereby laying a foundation of credibility on which to witness, you need to be like the world. They don’t call it worldliness, they have a new word for it, it’s called contextualization, which is a fancy word for worldliness. The contextualization of the gospel today has infected the church with the spirit of the age. It has opened the church’s doors wide for worldliness and shallowness and in some cases a crass party atmosphere. The world now sets the agenda for the church.
And then there’s his comrade, Phil Johnson, at Team Pyro—
[N]ot all the world is charmed by worldly religion, and the apologetic value of “Disco Night in the Sanctuary” is by no means a given. In short, taking pains to demonstrate how hip and liberated we can be in our places of worship might not always be the finest “missional” strategy.
Think about it: Youth ministries (not all of them, of course, but the vast majority of squidgy evangelical ones) deliberately shield their young people from the hard truths and strong demands of Jesus. They tailor their worship so worldly youth can feel as comfortable in the church environment as possible.
And then you have David F. Wells, who writes about the culture:
What the church has to do, therefore, is to look for correlations between worldliness as I have described it and the cultural consequences of modernization that I am sketching. At the point where they coincide, the church has to become both anti-modern and carefully self-conscious about its virtue and its cognitive processes.
What Wells wrote, in very dressed up language, sounds just like what separatists have been saying for years. When you say it in such a high-brow way, it seems easier for evangelicals to swallow. I think it actually makes it easier for them to dismiss themselves from the actual practice of separation from the world. However, again, they know something is wrong.
Evangelical Criticism of Cultural Separation in Fundamentalis
When evangelicals are asked to evaluate fundamentalism, a common negative is fundamentalism’s emphasis on cultural issues. Just recently, as we ended writing this first month on culture here, very popular Southern Baptist evangelical, Mark Dever, and his 9 Marks organization published a critique of fundamentalism in their online ejournal (pdf). Here are some quotes from some of the evangelicals, critical of the emphasis of fundamentalism on cultural issues:
David S. Dockery—
Carl Henry once said that Fundamentalists cannot distinguish between the important truth regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ and questionable matters like attending movies. In their attempt to defend the Bible and the gospel, Fundamentalists have often presented the truths of Christianity in a negative light. Their concerns with worldliness have resulted in a separatism that has no impact on the culture or society. The emphasis on holiness often results in an unhealthy legalism.
In their zeal to resist modern culture, for example, Fundamentalists have been quick to abandon such costly teaching of Jesus as “Love your enemies” and forgive as we have been forgiven without limits.
Fundamentalists tended to take a hard line on drinking, dancing, movies and the like, and to withdraw into separate colleges, missionary organizations and denominations. Unfortunately, this separation too often fostered an oppressive legalism and divisive denominationalism that impeded the gospel.
So you can see that several evangelicals have a concern about modern day cultural philosophy and practices of professing Christianity, but on the other hand, they will criticize cultural separation within fundamentalism. You really can’t have it both ways. We either should separate culturally or we shouldn’t.
What Does Scripture Say About Salvation and Cultural Separation?
What matters is what God says, and the Bible does instruct us about cultural separation. What I see in Scripture is that salvation is cultural separation. When God saves us, He separates us from the culture. A “salvation” that is not culturally separate is not salvation at all. I want us to look at just a few passages and I believe you will see this truth with me.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
God commands Christians not to fellowship with non-Christians. In light of a lot of other instruction in Scripture, this doesn’t mean that we don’t interact with unbelievers. All of the nouns and verbs combined in this text help us to understand what this separation is. Believers are not to fellowship, have communion, have concord, have part, or be in agreement with the unsaved. Scripture nowhere teaches a believer to find common ground with an unbeliever. A Christian as light has characteristics that pertain to his nature and lifestyle that are incompatible with the darkness descriptive of the unconverted man. He especially does not share a common culture. He is radically different than the unbeliever—he isn’t to cooperate, share, or associate with.
Now, what “communion” can there be between persons so different one from another? for what is more so than light and darkness? these the God of nature has divided from each other; and they are in nature irreconcilable to one another, and so they are in grace. . . [W]hat part, society, or communion, can they have with one another?
In vv. 17, 18 we see this connection to salvation. Those who do not separate from the world and its way, God will not receive and He will not call these non-separatists His sons and daughters. Those God saves He also separates.
As a separatist, have you ever looked at a worldly evangelical (they’re all over), and thought: “to me he doesn’t seem like a saved person”? This passage says the same thing, that those who won’t separate culturally aren’t saved. Their desire to associate, share, and relate with the world says something about their profession of faith. God doesn’t receive them nor will He call them His sons and daughters. You’re seeing them the same way He does.
1 Peter 3:18-21
During the days in which Noah built the ark, out of His longsuffering the Lord Jesus Christ preached through Noah to those on earth who mocked and persecuted him. At the end of that time period, Noah and his family, eight souls, were saved by water. That’s right, Noah and his family were saved by water. Those eight souls were also saved by the ark, but not in the same way they were saved by the water.
If you were rushed down river in dangerous rapids, ready to drown, but you reached up and grabbed a tree branch just in time, you wouldn’t say that you were saved by water. You would say that you were saved by that tree branch. So how were Noah and his family saved by water?
One aspect of a believer’s salvation is his separation from the world. We will not share eternity with those who oppose God, like the men who ridiculed Noah while he built the ark. God will separate His own from unbelievers. This is another way that God saves us.
Like water saved Noah and his family, so v. 21 says that baptism also saves. Someone’s water baptism will separate a believer from the world. It is one of the reasons for baptism. When a new Christian makes his salvation public through baptism, he will separate himself from the world. The reality of God’s salvation of Noah from the world is symbolized by baptism. Some day God will physically and permanently separate His people from all others. However, believers are to subject themselves to a temporal separation through water baptism.
Noah did not share the antediluvian culture. He clashed with their way of life. God saved him from it with the flood waters. After the flood, he could live without their influences. When we get saved, God wants the same for us, so he provided baptism, water that saves believers from pagan culture just like the waters of the flood saved Noah and his family.
Hebrews 13:13, 14
Gill writes concerning v. 13:
[T]he world [is] full of enemies to Christ and his people; and for the noise and fatigue of it, it being a troublesome and wearisome place to the saints, abounding with sins and wickedness; as also camps usually do; and for multitude, the men of the world being very numerous: and a man may be said to “go forth” from hence, when he professes not to belong to the world; when his affections are weaned from it; when the allurements of it do not draw him aside; when he forsakes, and suffers the loss of all, for Christ; when he withdraws from the conversation of the men of it, and breathes after another world; and to go forth from hence, “unto him,” unto Christ, shows, that Christ is not to be found in the camp, in the world: he is above, in heaven, at the right hand of God; and that going out of the camp externally, or leaving the world only in a way of profession, is of no avail, without going to Christ: yet there must be a quitting of the world, in some sense, or there is no true coming to Christ, and enjoyment of him; and Christ is a full recompence for what of the world may be lost by coming to him; wherefore there is great encouragement to quit the world, and follow Christ: now to go forth to him is to believe in him; to hope in him; to love him; to make a profession of him, and follow him.
The separation from the world is shown here to be the act of saving faith. Believing in Jesus Christ is changing association Jesus bore the reproach of the world and receiving Him is also receiving His reproach. Believers don’t engage the culture, but bear its reproach.
Verse fifteen further explains. We aren’t trying to fit in here because this isn’t our home. We have no “continuing city” here. We’re passing through so we’re not interested in conforming or fashioning ourselves like the world as if we had some future here. Jesus didn’t fit in, so neither do we.
1 John 2:15
John tells us that the love of the Father does not abide in the man who loves the world. Salvation is love for God. Love for the world can’t be. Worldliness is incompatible with salvation.
Evangelicals Divide Cultural Separation from Salvation
Against this teaching of Scripture, evangelicals remove cultural separation from salvation. They do this by making cultural issues a secondary matter, distant from the gospel. On p. 24, the 9 Marks ejournal reports:
Most of the answers focus, positively, on the Fundamentalists willingness to stand for truth and, negatively, on their tone and an inability to distinguish between primary and secondary matters.
Even professing fundamentalist, David Doran, mentions this (p. 25):
Later, in the midst of the conflict between the Fundamentalists and new Evangelicals, in some ways the focus shifted off of the gospel to secondary matters. Separation, rather than serving the goal of gospel purity, sometimes came to be viewed as end in itself.
Lance Quinn writes (p. 30):
While we can appreciate the Fundamentalists tight grip on the essential elements of Christianity, we must eschew their doctrinaire stances on issues which are much more secondary or tertiary.
Evangelicals also disjoin cultural separation from salvation by disconnecting the practice of separation from the gospel. In their view, the gospel is something we can prize in everyone that claims the gospel, even if they are worldly too. However, we can change the nature of the gospel by our lifestyle (1 Peter 2:11, 12). The terms of the gospel, who Jesus is and what faith is, can both be affected by our association with the world. The cares of this world can choke the word, so that it becomes unfruitful (Mark 4:19). In other words, Scripture itself doesn’t separate worldly living from the work of the gospel. Evangelicals have done and do it at their own peril. Their ranks are full of worldly individuals, who still profess to be saved. Doesn’t sound so secondary, does it?
Cultural Separation Doesn’t Separate from the Gospel
The Gospel separates from the culture. The practical righteousness that we live comes out of the positional righteousness from our justification. The Gospel does not disconnect from personal separation. God saves us but He keeps on saving us. That ongoing salvation through our justification also continues to separate.
The grace of God that brings salvation also teaches us to deny worldly lust (Titus 2:11, 12). We won’t desire to act, look, or sound like the world if we have received the grace of salvation. It won’t stop teaching us to deny wordly lust because it won’t stop saving us until our glorification.