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In or Of?

March 5, 2015

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”  John 17:14-16

If you are a Christian you have probably been told that you are “in the world but not of the world” more times than you can count.  It is a standard charge for us to not submit to or accept the values of the evil world around us. More often than not we are taught specific ways to obey this command.  We are to oppose gay marriage, abortion, and a host of other things.

Admittedly this “things we need to oppose” list changes from time to time.  We don’t have to be quite as opposed to drinking as we did when I was young; now many Christians accept social drinking.  I am even old enough to remember being told to avoid TV because it is an instrument of the devil.  But still we tend to define the whole “in but not of” idea in terms of things to avoid.  But are we sure we have this right?

In the first place, we can see that this is not actually a command of Jesus but rather a prayer.  There is nothing in this prayer that can remotely be understood as some sort of “to do” list for Jesus followers.  It seems to be more of a statement of fact; that we already are not of the world.  The active agent in this seems to be God, not us.

But how does following this not-quite command actually play out in most Christian lives?  For the most part it seems to be based on creating Christian alternatives to secular things.  Online dating services?  We don’t use those of the world, we have Christian Mingle.  Whatever kind of music you like there is a Christian band or group that plays a Christianized version of it.  Public schools?  We have our own Christian schools or home schooling.  Many churches use a contemporary style of production for their services.  We don’t need secular movies, we have Christian movies.  Activities in our churches match similar activities out there in the world.

This is not a call for us to go back to some nonexistent good old days.  Rather it seems to me what we are doing is creating a parallel world for Christians to live in that is, in many respects, a copy of the secular world.  The net effect is the creation of Christian ghettos; places where we can comfortably live without fear of contamination.

The end result is that, in our obsession to be in the world but not of the world, we have actually done the exact opposite.  We have created an environment where we are of the world but not in the world; where we have every comfort, activity and social situation that the world has, but we can enjoy them with our backs to that world.

I can’t help but think we have reduced the concept of being “in the world” down to “living on the same planet” as we construct our own comfort zones.  Perhaps our churches need to rethink what it means to be in the world.  I suspect it may mean more than driving down the same streets or shopping in the same stores before we go back to our private universe.

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From → Christianity

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