Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 5, 1951

The Church's Biggest Problem

Vaughn D. Shofner, Lubbock, Texas

Much has been said and is now being said about "worldliness" in the church. The general discussion of any writing or sermon on this subject deals with those things which cause people with high morals to revolt, and against which much of the denominational religion speaks. Most of our discussion deals with drinking hard liquors, dancing, card playing, tobacco slavery, reveling and such like. I know that these should be taught against with many warnings, but there is much worldliness just as abominable, more insidious in its action, yet less spoken of, and therefore I shall direct our study in its direction.

"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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." (I John 2:15-17) In this reading we notice direct command against loving that which is described as "the world." In addition to the command we gain the information that the person who loves "the world" does not love the Father, because they are so different affections cannot be reconciled to both.

Pure religion goes beyond morality in the value placed on affections. Morality requires action on the material principle involved, but religion from above goes deeper and inquires into the state of the heart, the motive of the heart. For example, the church of Ephesus was without blemish regarding zeal. Her works were manifestations of a very zealous people, but that is not all that is required. By an outward view only, nothing could be seen wrong in this church, yet as divine wisdom searched the hearts of its people this flaw was seen: "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." (Rev. 2:4) We know that bigotry denounces many things which are harmless, but laxity and liberality permit many things which are in no way innocent. Therefore the question is perpetually put, what is worldliness?

The first idea suggested by "the world" is this earth with its great light rising over the eastern hills at the dawn of the day and its purple fingers pulling the drapery of night at eventide. The earth with its hills and valleys, its broad plains and smiling seas; the earth with its panoramic scenes as seasons come and go. But this forbidden love is not love for this earth, because "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." The world in this sense is manifested Deity. To forbid the love of this earth is to forbid the love for one way the Lord is confirmed to us. The sounds and sights of this earth are but the drapery of the robe in which the invisible God has clothed himself. We cannot stand beneath the solemn vault of heaven and see the silent stars shedding forth their splendor without realizing that the handiwork of God is there. When the white lightning quivers athwart a storm swept sky and plays upon chaotic clouds before the howling gale, we have learned more than a lesson in electricity—we have seen the power of God.

Worldliness, the forbidden world, is determined by the motive of life, not the objects with which the life is conversant. In our text it is not the "flesh," nor the "eyes," nor the "life" which are forbidden, but the "lust" of the flesh, the "lust" of the eyes, the "pride" of life!

"Lust of the flesh." This is the desire that resides in the flesh. The affection for the outward, the emotional. It involves the appropriation of the desired object—using the object desired to gratify the desire. Such was the first step in Eve's temptation in Eden. The forbidden fruit was good to eat. There was offered a means of gratifying the desire by the appropriation of the object of desire. Such was the Lord's temptation when asked by Satan to turn stones to bread. Hunger afforded the desire, was the desire, and the means of gratifying by appropriation of the desired object was present. Thus we see this includes all such things as the pleasure of wine, the thrill of the ballroom, adultery, fornication, and all those desires which reside in the flesh and may be gratified by actual appropriation of the thing desired.

This sort of worldliness has found its way into the church by the lane of entertainment. There is no greater desire in the flesh today than the desire to be entertained. A certain amount of wholesome entertainment is acceptable, but at no time should the leaders and preachers of the church try to append this to the activities of this spiritual institution. There is but one thing that can cause any church to build a gymnasium, call forth ping-pong and domino parties and tournaments, to organize baseball, football, softball teams, and to enter into any activity that follows this avenue, and that one thing is a desire that resides in the flesh—namely, the desire for entertainment, and the appropriation of the object desired.

In answering this call for entertainment I fear we are using "choruses" and quartets" in exactly the same way. I know that the singing itself is not to be condemned whether by few or many, but if they are used to entertain, worldliness is evident. Further, in "our" choruses and quartets, are all who might want to sing a psalm used? Or are not just those who are the best in the school, the church, used? I suppose it is in order that those listening might hear the most pleasing sounds. How far can we go without entering the realm of entertainment?

We now consider "the lust of the eyes." If we are permitted to classify these desires, this one is a step higher. The desire of the eyes does not involve appropriation of the desired object, but reaches satisfaction in mental pleasure. This lust is easily overlooked. It is affection for the transient. The second step of Eve's temptation was in the same manner as she realized the forbidden fruit was pleasant to the eyes. It afforded mental pleasure. The Lord's temptation followed the same step as he was asked to jump from the temple and receive the mental pleasure of having others know that God's angels had charge of him, and the mental pleasure obtained in the victory of this proof.

The current craze for big churches and big buildings reaches its satisfaction in mental pleasure. Now I'm not opposed to nice buildings. I'm not saying the Bible states that a church must not grow beyond this or that mark before swarming. Wisdom must regulate this, and my opinion is to be large enough to do what is expected of a church but small enough to be unpretentious. But I do know that a church can be so large in number that the only help from the size is help toward mental pleasure, and is worldliness. Likewise the building that spreads to the point of pretension and a place beyond practicality; a building with unnecessary annexes and appendages, offers no assistance save to the lust of the eyes, reaching its satisfaction in mental pleasure.

And now to "the pride of life." Again, if we are permitted to classify these desires, this is the accomplished one. It is vain assurance in one's own resources. It is affection for the unreal, such as the opinions of men, and is the most difficult to put a finger on. Eve's temptation also offered food for the desire to be wise, desired the unreal; and the Lord's temptation also offered food for the desire for the unreal in the form of the kingdoms of the world as a gift from the devil. Out of this temptation has come the sin of professionalism. Professionalism has been ushered in by a few shallow thinking elders and church members in general. These elders have decided, several years ago I guess, that a man without a degree cannot preach for the church where they are elders. Not that someone without this attainment could not tell the simple story of the cross and maybe with the correct use of our language; not that a man without this "sign" could not be just as sincere; not that a person less "up in the world" had less love for lost souls; but that old desire to be as the nations about them has demanded a king. Thus they are to blame for many of "our" young men today possessing the idea that if they but grind out a degree they are "big" preachers.

This afforded the schools an opportunity, and some of them played it up. The influence swept the country, the abilities of the preacher took a back seat and the academic attainments received the nods. Now don't get me wrong! I'm not opposed to schools where the influence of the infidel and atheist is locked out. If my plans succeed and Christians still keep school, when my boy and my girl reach the age to demand higher learning, such will be their training. But from the depths of my convictions I desire that they be kept in place, and that man not feed the pride of life through their halls.

Titling "our" preachers is another current desire. "Dr." is fast becoming a common expression. Now I've been accused of possessing an inferiority complex for even thinking about speaking against this title of distinction. Maybe I have one, but if it is a conquering obsession that I possess, it will not change a single thing from right to wrong or wrong to right. Is the title "Dr." right? That is the question, and not whether I possess a mania.

We hear that it is not a religious title, but something that was earned. I grant it, and if the earning it did not depart from the Lord's way, I'm glad you have it. But I'd ask where was it earned? Then let it stay in the world. The entire teaching of the Lord's will is against parading our earnings before the church and the world. Can you wear the title without being automatically placed above those who have not earned the attainment? Does it not "suggest" that you have acquired the highest mark in a certain field? The gold ring finds the good seat. "Are ye not then partial in yourselves?" Does it not reach for the high opinions of men relative to the "educated clergy?"

But I take you to task in your view of this earning business, and from the same position taken by the "Father" of Catholicism. Can anyone be a "Father?" No, there are certain attainments to be considered, certain things to be earned. And they are earned in the same world where the title "Dr." is earned. And too, they are not religious "Fathers," for they tell us such. It is just the wearing a title that was earned by complying with certain qualifications.

I also want to know how to make the distinctions that must be made. How am I, how is the world to know when the title is religious and when it is secular. You know it is used religiously. For example, I read: "Dr.___________minister of the church of Christ, introduced the speaker." There it is, and the only association is religious. I read: "Dr. —, minister of church of Christ, will speak on _______ ." What tells the world, what tells me, that this is not religiously used? "Dr.

________will head the annual Parent Teachers Training Course ______ church of Christ." Could I think of him as a Dr. of medicine? "An unusual opportunity for preaching the gospel has come to Dr.______." It would require the stretch of imagination I fear the world does not possess to remove this from the realm of religion. It looks to me like the parade of our vain assurance in our own resources, the affection for the high opinions of mankind, the pride of life.

Worldliness is like the weight of gravitation, but we must conquer! Like the soaring skylark, let us mount on wings of faith, prayer and righteous living and life above it. The current of wickedness in high places is like a flood-swollen stream, but we are not dead pieces of driftwood floating at its mercy—we are as the fishes of the stream that conquer the currents. We are not to conform to the world but to transform the very environment that happens to be ours. We are not creatures of circumstances, we're the masters of environment. Weaklings must conform to the world, but spiritual giants can stem the tide of corruption and transform the environment. Let's be Pauls in Athens, Jonahs in Nineveh!


James W. Reynolds, 136 Vernon Place, Pueblo, Colo., March 19: "We will have a gospel meeting here in Pueblo beginning April 1 and continuing through April 11. Brother G. K. Wallace of Wichita, Kan., will conduct the preaching services and brother Herbert Godfrey will direct the singing. Brother Godfrey is of Plainview, Texas. Of course, we expect a good meeting, and are prepared to do a good work."