Friday, 21 November 2008

The Christian and the World: Staying Holy and Faithful

Here are my notes from a Bible study I gave last night at MPBC...

We have two duties as Christians with respect to the world:

1) Avoiding worldliness
1 John 2:15-17:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

2) Engaging with the world
1 Cor 9:19-23:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

We need to learn to find the balance between avoiding and hating sin and also making ourselves relevant out of love for the world.

2 things about the world:

1) We live in a changing world
2) We live in a constant world

If we are to adopt what Paul says in 1 Cor 9 we can say two things:
1) We need to be constant-some things should never change eg truth
2) We need to change- some things have to change if we are stay in touch with the world eg the outward appearance and arrangement of our Christianity

Paul’s Aim: The glory of God in winning souls. Paul gets himself involved in culture but not for his own pleasure in culture. Every act of engagement performed by Paul is done for the sake of winning souls
From the text:
-Paul changes his disposition to win more people for Christ ‘all things to all men’
-Paul (to change His lifestyle) must have been aware/ researched into the surrounding culture
-Paul’s focus on methods does not deny his belief in the Holy Spirit’s work
-Paul became all things to all men to remove unnecessary barriers to the gospel
There are some cultural forms that restrain people understanding the gospel. E.g. the incarnation-Christ came into the culture of the time

Engagement with the world is the concept of sinless identification with the sinful beings, showing them that the gospel is relevant and applicable and needed for their lives. It’s not compromising on truth, neglecting theology or changing the gospel so that it is acceptable in the eyes of the sinner. It is paying attention to culture to become like culture and use many methods to win many people to Christ.

Engagement requires knowledge of restraints and liberties. We must be flexible and rigid. We need to know what we can lawfully do as Christians- the things that do not break commandments. And we need to know what is prohibited. We have to have a clear view of worldliness. We can’t go against our conscience if our conscience has been soaked in scripture. We must exploit all liberty to seeing more people saved without blaspheming God in the process. Paul is not saying- to the gambler I became a gambler. People abuse the concept this way.

In order to be open to win as many as we can to Christ we must know how far closed we need to be. This is liberalism. Our openness is not theological-we do not and should not compromise the truth of scripture. Liberalism does-they say homosexuality is ok- it’s not it’s a sin. Homosexuals must repent of their sin daily as I repent of my sin daily.

The other end of the spectrum is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a holding onto everything- not only the essentials of scripture but also cultural values. A fundamentalist church doesn’t change-ever. It’s not looking for ways to be relevant to the society around it. They don’t spend time investing money into making literature look good or the church look welcoming and comfortable. A fundamentalist only takes notice of the preaching. Preaching is the focus. It’s the only hope for all we do. We are called to preach the word- this is the way Christ is exalted in hearts and minds. The error of the fundamentalism is that he/she doesn’t realise that there are external factors of the situation that reduce the number of people listening to the preached word. Would you go to a church without heating? Or without pews? Some might stay others would leave. We want to make sure that no-one is being pushed away by our weird cultural intricacies and characteristics. We need to paint our churches in neutral colours, have music popular to the current culture (not the same as the culture- it must be regulated by scripture but similar in style and sound), our leaflets and websites must look contemporary.

We must labour to be in the middle of fundamentalism and liberalism. Holding to the fundamentals of truth but allowing the externals or cosmetics of our Christianity to look different as time moves on, showing Brighton that the gospel is relevant.

What are the dangers of adapting to popular culture? The danger is worldliness. We need to know and re-access exactly what this means. Is dancing worldly? Can we find scripture to back up our position in condemning this? If it’s not worldly we should embrace for the sake of the gospel. If dancing is not wrong then dancing should be redeemed and used for the glory of God- not by everyone but just by some!
Is drinking wrong? What about smoking occasionally? I don’t believe these things are sinful. Therefore I would encourage Christian smokers to spread the gospel using their mutual interest.

We need to be aware that our hearts love to make any and everything and idol. Anything can be sinful. We need to be as ready to fast from culture as we to engage with it. Can we live without having a pint? If you can’t your sinning and you need to give it up for the sake of your own personal holiness. We are called to be holy and set apart. We cannot afford to sin in evangelism or get too close to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life but in order to be faithful we need to redeem as much as we can of this fallen world to use it in the worship of Christ by bringing others to know Him.

Did Jesus live out these principles? Did He fit in with the culture around Him? Yes-Christ is the ultimate example of cultural relevance. He became like us. He did everything He could to bring a message relevantly. Christ is the word made flesh. He didn’t come down in a blaze of light or glory. He came as a person to identify with us. He subjected Himself to some of the values of society- He lived a human life. We are called to live the same life because Christ said (John 20:21) ‘As the Father has sent me so I send you’. So we are to incarnate ourselves into culture become all things to all men to win them out of a sinful lifestyle and into the liberating gospel.

Questions to discuss:

In what ways are we to be servants of humanity?

Should the church change from generation to generation? Yes/No in what ways?

How should we think about methods in relation to the Holy Spirit’s work?

What is the difference between worldliness and engaging with the world?

What can we do specifically to ‘win more for Christ’ in these areas:
Social activities

What does the doctrine of the incarnation teach us about Christ’s example of relating to culture?
What are the benefits of relating to culture?

What are the dangers of relating to culture?

How does Paul’s attitude of engagement promote humility within the church?


Marshall | bondChristian said...

I'm working on writing a short book on applying what we learn to what we live. I found your blog when I was researching what others have said on this topic. While I don't agree with everything you've written, I found some of what you've said compelling.

I particularly thought I’d comment on two of the questions you offered for discussion:

“In what ways are we to be servants of humanity?” That’s an excellent question. My blog is going to start to take a slightly different slant in the near future. It will primarily cover the answer to this question. I think the two commandments Jesus offered in the New Testament, love God and love your neighbor, can be summed up as the “What” and “How” of Christian.

Question: What are we to do? Answer: Love and serve God.

Question: How are we to do it? Answer: Love and serve our neighbors.

The general answer to your question then is the basis for what all Christians are called to do.

Another question I found interesting: “What can we do specifically to ‘win more for Christ’ in these areas: speech, clothing, tracts, social activities, friendships.

I’ve covered some of this (particularly as it relates to speech, social activities, and friendships in my “How to be interesting” Series (Check it out on my blog if you're interested). The other areas are areas I’d like to cover in the future so thank you for bringing them up.

I know I didn’t really answer much of the questions in this comment. But I wanted to let you know I appreciate what you’ve written. Keep it up.

- Marshall Jones, Jr.

Simon said...

Thanks for your comment Marshall.
I'm glad that you found the post interesting.

In your response to the question 'In what ways can we be servants of humanity?' you seem to suggest that our love for God is achieved by loving others.

'Question: What are we to do? Answer: Love and serve God.

Question: How are we to do it? Answer: Love and serve our neighbours.'

I don't think this is right because a non-Christians can love their own neighbours well and not be loving God. They can love their own neighbour with a motive that is in rebellion towards God.

I believe that the love we have for our neighbour is an indicator of our love for God but not a means of our love for God. If love is the appropriate response to beauty then the way in which we love God is by enjoying Him. And this enjoyment of Him will flood our society with love and service towards our neighbours because He loves us so much.

What do you think?

I really like your blog and will am interested in reading your short book when it’s done. Can you keep me posted please?

Thanks and God bless you,


Marshall | bondChristian said...

Thanks for the reply, Simon. I'm glad you enjoyed my blog.

About the first question I answered/discussed... about how loving others is how we love God.

I think I understand what you're saying with this. Love, as defined by popular culture, is about self-gratification. It's a feeling.

In this, I agree with you because there are people who love in this way who aren't believers. We aren't necessarily loving God if we try to love like that.

However, I was speaking with a finer distinction on love. As the Bible defines love, non-believers cannot truly love.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." 1 John 4:7

This kind of love for others is primarily how we love and serve God.

(Though I'd agree it's not the only way because we could surely love God even if no others “neighbors” existed... like in Adams case for example.)

Finally, you said that it seemed like I was saying serving others is "how our love for God is achieved."

I'd like to stay away from saying that our love for God is "achieved" in any way. That sounds too much like a works-based faith, which isn't biblical.

Thanks for the discussion. I'm interested in reading your thoughts on this now. I'm always up for talking about Jesus.

- Marshall

Simon said...

Hey Marshall...sorry for not responding sooner!

Yes I agree with you that unbeleivers cannot love as God as God loves because they are without the Spirit- like you say this is what 1 John 4:7 is pointing to.

But nevertheless people don't always think in these categories. They should but they don't. When you say 'love one another' to a non-Christian they don't think 'I need the Spirit so that I can love as God loves' they would think 'I do love my family and friends'. And so when you give an answer to the question 'How are we to love and serve God?' and your answer is 'Love and serve our neighbours' many non-Christian will be decieved and assume that they love God because they see themselves as loving their neighbours. Whereas if you say something like loving God is enjoying the character of God or treasuring God's person people will realise that loving God means valuing God and they don't; non-Christians value everything but God.

Your answer is also deceptive to the Christian as most Christians will beleive that when they do good works they are loving God. The Pharisees did good works without loving God.
Many non-Christians do many good works and they hate God in their core.

Can you see my reservations about your concept?

Marshall | bondChristian said...

Yes, I believe I understand the distinction you're making.

The primary focus should be on the "What", not the “How” (as I defined them in my first comment). That's exactly what Jesus meant when He said the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God... etc.

Without the first command, the rest is useless.

Thanks for replying, particularly on facebook. A few days after I last commented, I tried to find your blog again but couldn't. So I have a connection now. Great to hear from you again.

Marshall Jones, Jr.