Wednesday, November 15, 2017

In the world but not of the world

A perennial issue is the relationship between the church and the world. That ranges a long a continuum. At one end is the Amish paradigm of separation. Literal, physical separation. A quarantine model. It treats the world like a pathogen, and the church like an island. 

There are, however, basic problems with that model. You can take Christians out of the world, but you can't take the world out of Christians. We're infected. We're carriers. We bring that with us into the compound. Pretty soon, the world is reborn on the island. 

Moreover, it eliminates our duty to maintain a public witness to the world. 

At the other end of the spectrum are modernists. They are chameleons. They blend into the cultural background. They change colors when the intellectual environment changes. 

For them, there's no substantive distinction between the church and the world. They take their cue from the cultural elite. If the elites say miracles never happen, modernists comply by offering a secularized interpretation of the Bible. Likewise, whenever Bible ethics conflict with secular ethics, modernists adopt secular ethics. Not surprisingly, denominations like that are dying because there's no justification for their existence. 

In-between, we might view the church as a fortified city with a drawbridge over the moat. Christians live in the city, but work in the world. They come and go. They leave the city during the day, but return at night. 

They alternate. In the world, but not of the world. They have an existence distinct from the world without sealing themselves off from the world. Their presence is a witness to the world. 

Dropping the metaphor, what keeps them distinct is the combined influence of Word and Spirit. The Bible gives them a different frame of reference. An alternate vision. An alternate identity. A different roadmap. A different destination. 

The Spirit gives them grace and faith for the journey. Preserves their distinct identity. 

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