"Worldliness" in the Church

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The following is an edited excerpt of a manuscript for a sermon I preached recently titled, Worship is Life. The sermon was mostly an analysis of Paul's description of worship in Romans 12:1-2. The excerpt below deals with the second point in the text which I feel is the most misunderstood one - the issue of worldliness. First the text, then the notes.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The second point that Paul brings up regarding true worship is “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” In other words, don’t be worldly. Now, what does it mean to be worldly? When I was a kid my father made my brother and I wear church clothes to public school. He wouldn’t allow us to wear jeans because he didn’t want us to be like the “world.” Is that what it means to be like the world? I have been studying what the Bible says about worldliness among Gods people, and the interesting thing is that when the Bible speaks of the world in the church, when it speaks about worldliness among Gods people it’s hardly ever talking about the stuff we talk about. Our definition of worldly is small compared to the Bibles definition. We say silly things like, “The new pastor doesn’t wear a tie! The world is creeping into the church!” Or, “Our church puts the songs on a projector now. I’m telling you the world is coming into the church!” “Can you believe? The church doesn’t have pews anymore. Since when do we have chairs in a church. We are becoming like the world!” Any of you ever heard silly stuff like that before? It’s nonsense! Now let me clarify. I am not saying that we should just accept every new thing as though it didn’t matter. That’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is this: for many of us our definition of worldliness doesn’t go any further than external things. But when the Bible talks about the world in the church, more often than not it’s talking about character. Worldliness in the Bible isn’t “the youth are wearing Roman skirts instead of Jewish ones.” Worldliness in the Bible is Christians who act like the world. What do I mean by Christians who act like the world? Christians who gossip like the world. Christians who hate like the world. Christians who argue like the world. Back stab one another like the world, criticize each other like the world. Christians who are lazy, uncompassionate, merciless, unloving, indifferent and judgmental. That’s biblical worldliness. Not wearing jeans but talking about the elder behind his back, mistreating your spouse, ignoring your children, and avoiding people at church that you don’t get along with. That’s worldliness. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul says,

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”

With this in mind, it’s perfectly possible to be a good conservative, orthodox, traditional Adventist who does everything by the book and still be worldly. Really? Are you serious? I thought I was a godly person because I no longer listen to music with curse words. I thought I was godly because I no longer watch violent movies. I thought I was godly because I don’t have tattoos, or piercings, or a Mohawk on my head. Well, I’m not arguing against any of that, but let me ask you: Are you impatient? Are you constantly arguing with people in church. Do you mistreat your children? Do you envy others? Do you gossip or slander your pastor and your elders and deacons? Worldliness is not just culture guys, its character. Do you love only those who love you? Jesus said,

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:46-47).

Worldliness goes a lot further than external things which more often than not are a matter of opinion. This is one reason why some of the worldliest people in Jesus’ days were the Pharisees and likewise, I believe that some of the worldliest people in the church today are the people who are always arguing about religion and doctrine but show no love for their neighbor and no compassion for their brothers and sisters. And if worship is a state of being, if worship is a 24/7 phenomenon then you cannot be worldly and a worshiper at the same time. Let me make it clearer. You cannot talk to your wife and children any old kind of way, gossip, boast, and slander during the week and then show up here on Sabbath and think you are worshiping God. You’re not worshiping God. In Isaiah 29:13 God says,

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

Oh! It's so easy to point at the young man with dreadlocks and call him worldly. It’s so easy to point at the old lady with a necklace and call her worldly. We are so fast to judge the external forms of worldliness, and yet we fail to realize that often times we are the most worldly ones in the church. Not because of external things but because of our attitudes. I have never heard a pagan say, "I don't like that church because they wear jeans" or, "Christians are hypocrites because they all wear jewelry." But I have heard many a pagan say, "Christians are hypocrites because they are unkind, unloving, judgmental etc." My hope is that we would stop focusing so much on the external forms of worldliness and instead turn our attention to the real enemy of our witness - our un-Christlike characters.

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