The Church And Worldliness
In dealing with the subject of worldliness we are covering a very large field of thought, one little exceeded in importance in its relationship to the, purity and growth of the church. In our study now we will follow this order of thought: (1) a definition of "worldliness," (2) some manifestations of worldliness, (8) the effect of worldliness upon the church, and (4) the remedy for worldliness.
1. The Definition
When teaching the Bible, it is always best to let the Bible, if at all possible, be its own interpreter and definer. But, when we turn to the Bible to find the passages that use the word "worldliness," we find that there are none. Thus, we must use the passages that contain kindred words and expressions, if there are any, and our own English dictionary. Going to our dictionary first, we see the word defined as "the state or character of being worldly; love of the world." Under the word "worldly" we find several definitions, but the two that are in line with our subject now are (1) "pertaining to this world or life in contradistinction to the life to come; as . . . .worldly lusts"; and (2) "devoted to this life and its enjoyments ...."
There are several passages of scripture that use expressions kindred to the word we are attempting to define. Let us notice some of them. Titus 2:12, "instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world." Here we see that, despite the fact that we must live "in this present world," we must deny "worldly lusts." That is, we must not lust after that which pertains to this life and which, at the same time, is opposed to things of the life to come. The word here translated "lusts" does not always connote evilness. Only when the context indicates it, or when accompanied by a descriptive word such as "worldly," does the word indicate a desire opposed to God's way. For instance, Paul uses the word in Philippians 1:23 to express his "desire" to depart and be with Christ. What, then, would cause a "lust" to be an ungodly one? The answer: a "devotion to this life and its enjoyments" to the extent that one would be willing to forego God's way to attain enjoyments of his life.
I John 2:15, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The word here translated "world" is "kosmos," which has several shades of definition. The love of the world, then, would be an affection for the things pertaining to this life with an accompanying lessening of affection for God.
Romans 12:2, "And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." The word here translated "world" (aion) does not, except infrequently by metonymy, mean the material world and its contents, but, generally speaking, has to do with time and life. Quite often, by metonymy, the word, as in this passage, refers to "men who are controlled by the thoughts and pursuits of this present time." (Thayer.) At least, it would refer to the way of thinking of such men. 'From the passage itself we can learn that being "fashioned according to this world" is a way of thinking, for the remedy for it is a "renewing of your mind," or a change of attitude toward the world.
Summing it up this far, we can say that a good definition of "worldliness" would be "a way of thinking conformed to the general thinking of the world but opposed to God's way, an affection for the pleasures of this life to the extent of a diminishing of one's love for and obedience to God."
2. Manifestations Of Worldliness
Since, as we have seen, worldliness is a state of mind, one could not know that another one was worldly except it be manifested in word or deed. But, since "as he thinketh within himself, so is he," we can expect that the worldliness of an individual will be manifested openly. Likewise, we can know that when one commits acts contrary to God's will, but in conformance to the general thinking of the world, that one is worldly.
Since the expression "worldliness" is such a general one, not being specific in telling us just what actions would be manifestations of it, we quite often, in dealing with specific actions must have a knowledge of various Bible truths which, though not specifically mentioning the particular action, do condemn it as sin. Of course, along with our knowledge of the Bible, we must also have the ability to honestly appraise specific actions in order to determine whether or not they do fall under the condemnation of the Bible. For instance, is the popular ballroom dance to be classified as worldly? Right off sudden like (?) the preachers and elders say, "Yes, dancing is sin!" But, upon what basis do we say so? What passage condemns it? There are none that mention the popular ballroom dance of today. But, an honest appraisal of the dance will convince us (and especially those of us who have engaged in it) that the very thing that keeps dancing popular is the lust of the flesh, or lasciviousness. Knowing this, and having a knowledge of, God's will, we immediately conclude that dancing is sin. (Gal. 5:19.)
There will inevitably be differences of opinion as to just what worldliness will include. But, since we all accept the same authority, the Bible, if we will all be honest in our appraisal of various activities, there cannot be too great a diversity of conviction along this line. For instance, who, being honest, will not say that mixed swimming (or any occasion when near-naked bodies are presented to the viewing of the opposite sex) is condemned by Galatians 5:19? Or who, being honest, will not say that missing the assembling of fellow saints in order to work is not condemned by 1 Timothy 6: 6-10 and Matthew 6:33? The general world, and many in the church, say it is all right, but God declares that brethren are to meet together for fellowship, both with each other and with him. (Acts 20:7; Heb. 10:25.) Consider the "social drink," is it sinful or not? The world says, "No." But the Bible teaches us that drunkenness is wrong (1 Cor. 6:10), and the drunkard would never be such had he never taken the first drink.
Thus, we can see that a fair, honest appraisal of specific activities is necessary before we can classify them as worldly. Not everything that the world considers to be right is worldly. Taking pleasure rides is okayed by the world. Is it worldly? No, for God doesn't condemn it as sin. Even that activity could become worldly, though, if we were to let it conflict with our obligations as Christians.
Any activity which, though accepted as right by the general world, is, after a fair, honest appraisal, seen to conflict with God's plan for his people is to be considered worldly, and the one who engages in it as characterized by worldliness.
3. Effect Upon The Church
The effect of worldliness upon the church seems obvious. Since worldliness is the conformance of an individual to the general ways of the world, and since the church is composed of individuals, worldliness would have the effect of reducing the church to a conformance with the ways of the world. There are too many passages that teach the contrary to say that this is of little importance.
The Lord desires his church to be "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:27.) It can only be so to the extent that the members of it are walking in the light (and surely walking with the world is not walking in the light), for it is only when we are so walking that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. (1 John 1:7.) If we make no attempt to live differently than the general world, we have no promise that the efficacy of Jesus' blood will be applied to us, and without it we are "spotted," "wrinkled," "unholy," and "blemished."
There are so many passages that teach the distinctive nature of God's people that it is almost difficult to choose the ones to notice now. In 1 Peter 2:9 we read, concerning Christians: "But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." "Elect race!" "Royal priesthood!" "Holy nation!" "God's own possession!" "Show forth the excellencies of him (God)!" Surely these are not descriptive of those who are living in conformance to the ways of the world!
Another passage, Philippians 2:14-16: "Do all things without murmurings and questionings; that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life " We see here that, although we must live in "the midst of a crooked and perverse generation," we are required to be "blameless," "harmless," and "without blemish," in order that we may be "seen as lights in the world. The whole point is that if we are not characterized by these various expressions of holiness, we will not be "seen as lights."
What is the effect of worldliness upon the church? It is just this: just to the extent that members of the church are worldly, just to that extent does the church become impure and lose her characteristic of distinctiveness, and her influence on the souls of men. If we think and do as the world about us, we are no different than it is, and if we are no different, how can we teach it to change?
4. The Remedy
What is the remedy for worldliness? Generally speaking, teaching. The best remedy, of course, is preventive measures, and that is by teaching and directing children from infancy up in the ways of the Lord. If there have been no preventive measures taken, and worldliness has already set in, the remedy is still teaching.
The responsibility for casting off worldliness lies squarely with each individual. Having come to a better understanding of God's way, and realizing that we are not our own, having bought with a price, we must be willing to crucify the world unto ourselves, and ourselves unto the world, and to consider that it is no longer we that liveth, but that Christ liveth in us. We must realize that we shall all give an account unto God of our actions upon the earth at the last day. Realizing this, and reckoning that God's manifested love for us is motive enough to raise ourselves above the plane of this world, we will grow into that character that God desires us to be.
Although the responsibility for a change of life rests upon each several individual, we, as brethren of each other, can help those who need help along this line. At our every opportunity we can teach them and reason with them. We can show by our own lives that one can live differently than the general world and still have as many (yes, more) friends as the next fellow, that we can still be as happy and enjoy life as much as anyone else. Verily, a clean, holy life is the most enjoyable there is!
Not only can brethren help each other severally, but the church in its congregational capacity can also stem the tide of worldliness. The teaching program of the church, congregational singing and praying, the visitation program, the oversight of godly elders are all effective means of helping ourselves and each other to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Sometimes the only remedy for worldliness is purgative action. If worldliness has crept into a congregation to the extent that the congregation's influence upon the lost is almost stifled, and if those guilty will not repent, the overseers must, for the sake of the purity, continued existence, and growth of the church, and for the sake of the guilty ones, purge out the evil lump.
Worldliness is an attitude of mind which causes one to live in conformance to the general world, and to lose his distinctiveness as a Christian. The manifestations of worldliness are many, and, for the sake of eternity, we must all be honest in our appraisal of specific activities to determine whether or not they are condemned by Bible teaching. The effect of worldliness upon the church is that of a stifling, suffocating nature, for it chokes the illuminating, leavening influence right out of the body. As for the remedy, whether preventive or corrective, it is teaching, with purgative action resorted to only as the final measure. The responsibility rests upon every Christian to remain aloof from the ways of the world, and to help each other along the path to our home above.