Posted by: serrels | June 22, 2010

In the World… Not of the World

“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.

Evil. Pure evil…

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.

Kevin Bacon: you're six degrees from him

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.

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  1. Good thoughts. Not sure I entirely agree that “He used them as an example of how “you individually should live your Christian life.”
    Jesus was in a group society, the whole concept of “individual salvation” and “individual life” is one that is quite recent. But that is a longer and quite different conversation.

    I do agree with your sentiments and I worry about most things that get used to create an “us and them” divide.

    I see in the story of Jesus, a breaking down of those classifications of “in” and “out”

  2. One look at any Christian church tells you that none of them practice what they preach. Just look at the beautiful buildings in which many of them congregate every Sunday. Individually, they are every bit as materialistic as the rest of us. Christians own houses, cars, furniture, computers, TV sets, stereo systems, and everything else that the rest of us own. You cannot tell a Christian from a non-Christian just by looking at them.

    None of them obey Jesus’ command regarding wealth–none of them. Jesus said that it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, yet look at how many of them are rich. Being wealthy, owning a lot of stuff, means that God has blessed you because he really, really likes you–the way he blessed Jacob, Abraham, David, Solomon, Job, and a whole bunch of other holy men in the Bible. Jesus said that if you want to be perfect, to go and sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, and THEN follow him–not follow him first and then think of ways to cling to your physical possessions.

    Jesus said to forsake materialism and store up treasures in heaven. One look at Christianity, and we can see where their priorities lie, and the afterlife isn’t at the top of the list.

    • None of them you say hey. That is a big broad statement. I wonder if you have forgotten a little lady called Mother Teresea, and countless other Christians i personally know who have sold their house and everything in it, pack up and go and live in a third world country to serve others. Now that isn’t denying that there are Christians who are materialistic and non-christians who live non-consumeristic lives. You can’t just go around making broad statements like ‘none of them obey …..’

  3. “And embracing people for who they are, instead of judging them might be a decent start.” concur

  4. Wow, I’ve never come across a blog like this before!! Very interesting…
    I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to honestly look at the SDA church, and evaulate it from your perspective, without chewing it to bits, or without being wishy washy! 😀 good on you!

    And yes, that verse you’re talking about does get twisted to suit people’s ideas of what is right or what is wrong 😦 If people stopped looking at others and evaluated themselves instead, things would be different!

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