Reflections on Advance09 (Part Four)

Here is what I realized over a year ago and Stetzer and Greear and Piper solidified it for me at Advance09. Here it is – So what did Christ and the Apostles have in mind when they called the people of God to holiness in this world?  Many of the tendencies I observe among those who make up the church take the “in and not of” thing further than the scriptures allow, both personally and corporately.

I have personally made the mistake many times of thinking I needed to separate myself from non-Christians and non-Christian things so that I could be “holy”.  However, in looking back on that tendency to withdraw I found that the reason I separated myself was not for the sake of holiness but so I could avoid suffering persecution and trial. The pursuit of holiness was just used as an excuse to stay away from tribulation and persecution.

This tendency began in me when I first repented of my sin and Christ called me to Himself. I had two very good friends – lifelong friends. But instead of sharing with them my new found commitment to Christ and my life of repentance, I cut myself off from them and it was all in the name of wanting to be godly but it was really because I knew I would be ridiculed by them and maybe, heaven forbid, rejected by them.

Now, don’t be ridiculous here, I realize there are times when we must separate ourselves and there are things that we, as Christians, must separate from. I’m not going down to the local strip club and starting a Bible study there and I wouldn’t counsel a redeemed drug dealer to stick with that profession so that he/she can be a light to other drug dealers. However, certainly not all of us have to quit our vocations that the Lord, in His providence, has seen fit to give to us simply because it could be labeled as secular. The sacred/secular dichotomy was rejected by Luther and Calvin and the Puritans, but I think many in the church today would debate them on this. Does being a software developer really make me ungodly? No. I could be a godly or an ungodly software developer. For example (and don’t go crazy, this is just an example – I’m not suggesting anything about how to choose your institute of higher learning), being a student at JMU, a state school, did not make me less of a Christian than those who went to Liberty University with all Christians (sadly, you would run into the same problems at both places regardless). No. I was a follower of Christ at JMU. Ecclesia, the word translated “church” in the New Testament, means the called out assembly. So there was a group of us at JMU made up of Christ followers. We were an assembly of called out ones within in the community of JMU – and we were to be salt and light within that community. Make sense?

Again – just an example so I’m not arguing for or against going to a “Christian” school. I’m not saying that you should not transfer out of a secular school so that you can get a Christian education. If that is what you need to do, then do it. But don’t think it makes you more holy. It helps you avoid persecution and tribulation. (Now it also helps you get a Christian education, which I am totally for…) I’m just using my JMU experience as an illustration of what I’m talking about. I’m not making any prescriptions for how to choose an institute of higher learning.

One of the speakers at Advance09 made this point – Christians are cutting themselves off from the rest of the world in just about every area of our lives. We have our own soccer leagues, our own book stores, our own financial gurus, and even our own biker clubs. These things are not bad things, it’s just that many of these things exist because they feed our desire to have our own thing so that we can avoid any and all persecution and tribulation in this world – not because they make us more set apart or holy as we might think they do. Because of these tendencies, many Christians can go through an entire day without any contact with this lost and dying world. And it is all setup that way with the pretext that we are to be separate.  How is that fulfilling the great commission? How does that advance the local church?

The church’s task is not to avoid persecution, but to choose tribulation and persecution and then in that persecution and trial show the world our light and let them get a taste our saltiness. Piper made this point so well in one of his talks. Unless the church injects itself into communities and cultures, the light will be hidden and the salt will stay in the shaker. Let’s be in the world (though we are not of it) and then show this world that it is not precious to us, but Christ is precious to us. So…pastors, leaders, churches – stop the withdrawal and join the advance.

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2 comments so far

  1. Kim on

    I need more of a “how-to” on this. I have non-believing friends but I struggle with how far to carry those relationships.

    Having children makes this difficult task especially difficult. If I pursue relationships with other parents it is the inevitable result that they will then pursue relationships with my children. What does that look like?

    Deliberately exposing my young children to sinful behavior (Mark 9:42) is an area where it becomes gray for me. Is that where persecution comes into play? Am I then obligated to confront the foul language? How do I (in grace) explain our differences (movies, sleepovers, the internet, dress, etc.).

    Because, believe me. It comes up.

    I could not agree more with the truth that this “holy isolation” is not at all an effort towards holiness but more of self-preservation. Still, I struggle with how to incorporate my family into a lifestyle of advancing the gospel (and I am talking relationships). Even evangelizing with strangers is much safer than actually making relationships with lost people. I still have such a great love and respect for those people who were willing to befriend such a wretch like me at a time when I was yet redeemed.

    Like I said. Where’s the “how-to” manual, Brian? I do better with the step-by-step 😉

  2. blbarber on

    I think of my friend Aaron and his mission among the urban poor of Manila. How much is his family exposed to that I can’t even imagine in my pampered home here in this community? The difference though is that Aaron and his family are on a mission, living for something greater than just their comfort and I’m just living my life with no sense of real mission and an over indulged sense of entitlement. I’ve got to change that. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I’m going to find out.

    I agree with you on this. I’m just working through the conviction myself and searching for the answers to the questions you ask. I think it is very natural for us to want to protect our children. And I think it is right that we must protect our children from certain things. But I just challenge you to ask yourself what your true motive is in those kind of situations. Would you rather just avoid having to give explanations and reasons for things because you don’t want to be rejected or ridiculed or is it really a case of you wanting to protect your children? I feel a good MercyDays post coming on…Honestly, these are things we need to start talking about among believers and praying about as families.


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