“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” John 15, verses 19-21
“What does it mean to be ‘of the world’, and what does it mean to be ‘in the world’?”
I asked my wife this question, because, despite knowing Christians most of my life, I was unsure about what it meant exactly.
“She wasn’t happy,” I heard someone whispering once, gossiping idly about a mother’s reaction to her son’s marriage. “She’s too worldly. She’s of the world.”
Of the world. Worldly. It was a word I heard often amongst Seventh Day Adventists.
And for a religion constantly in fear of seeming ‘culty’, the phrase had always seemed, to me at least, a little… well, culty – like it belonged in a Scientology promotional video, featuring Tom Cruise and his terrifying smile, or as an excuse for extremists to lock themselves in a barn and start playing with matches.
But at its root it’s something far more harmless, something that springs from the Seventh Day Adventist’s belief in prophecy. SDA Christians are, like most Christians, waiting for God, but they also expect to be persecuted in the lead up to the end of history, just before the second coming of Christ. Being in the world, but not ‘of the world’ basically means that while Christians should live, work and breathe in the same world as non-Christians, they shouldn’t necessarily participate in certain un-Christian activities.
Which is fine. Completely. But from how I’ve heard the terms used, it has become something different entirely. It has become a word Christians use to demean and demonise a lifestyle deemed ‘unChristian’.
In short, being worldly, in my experience, has become a euphemism for any activity Christians don’t approve of, no matter how banal or impotent. A polite synonym for ‘slut’, ‘drug addict’, or someone that just enjoys a drink every now and then. I’ve even seen people refusing to dance at a wedding because it was a ‘worldly’ activity. Such a shame that a word, or a phrase, designed to help Christians get through persecution is being used to persecute.
I wonder just how useful the phrase itself is. At the root of things it represents a desire to be like Jesus, who was not ‘of this world’, and that, of course, is fine; but it’s a testament to our ability to twist and manipulate language to suit our own selfish, insecure ends that these words are used in such a way by the vocal minority.
Words are powerful, and we should be careful with how we use them, and what we allow them to represent. When Jesus talked about being in the world and of the world, he didn’t use these words to discriminate, he didn’t use them as a means to judge. He used them as an example of how you individually should live your Christian life.
And embracing people for who they are, instead of judging them might be a decent start.
Stuck in Church on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter