How can a believer be in the world without being of the world? There is an important need for biblical separation to be taught in our churches, but what is biblical separation and how does it relate to the world? I fear many Christians assume that separation means that they have to distance themselves from the evils of the world, but that’s now what Paul says in I Corinthians 5:9-13.
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.'”
I like what Tullian Tchividjian says in his book Unfashionable about how a Christian should live against the world for the world.
“One cautionary example of such withdrawal is what happened to Protestant fundamentalism, which began in the early twentieth century as a movement to defend orthodox Christian belief and practice against rising liberalism in the church. Fundamentalists soon became strongly separatist, seeing the main problem not as “in here” (in our sinful nature) but “out there.” Cultural retreat was deemed the only way to remain faithful and undefiled; militant separation from the world became the true test of faith.”
I fear that what Tullian says is one of the major problems we’ve struggled with as a church for many decades. As a result we’ve mishandled separation so that we have had minimal impact on the world in which we live. Tullian goes on do describe where we’ve actually mishandled biblical separation.
“Spacial separation is wrong; spiritual separation is right.”
To see the affects of spacial separation we need look no further than the public school system. As soon as public education stopped teaching spiritual truths, Christians abandoned the schools to start home schooling or private Christian schools. As a result, the public school system has only gotten worse and the same Christians that abandoned it can still be heard complaining about what they teach. Could we blame them? Instead of staying in the schools system to have an impact on our culture, we’ve pulled out worried about self-preservation instead of our mission to reach the lost. (I’m planning on doing a mishandled article on education in the near future)
Another clear example about where we’ve failed to be spatially present yet spiritually distinct is in the church. I’ve found that most of the so called outreach ministries are actually in house ministries with the hopes that unbelievers might show up. The fact that the majority of the ministries of the church are ‘come and see’ ministries instead of ‘go and tell,’ is evidence enough that we are not in the world. One Christian lady once told me that she could go days, weeks, even months without ever seeing an unbeliever. Her days were filled with church activities, women’s ministries, and christian fellowship that she wasn’t doing anything to have an impact on her community.
There needs to be a distinction between the church and the world, but when that distinction prevents believers from interacting with the world we present an inaccurate explanation of what is biblical separation. If we are not adequately training the next generation to be in the world and not of it, then we are setting them up for failure and eventually they will either give in to the evils of the world or be overcome by it.
I recently visited a church that didn’t have a single member under the age of 40 and only about 5 under the age of 60. When I questioned another pastor why they hadn’t prospered he told me that their pastor had never prepared them for the culture to change. When the culture changed, they remained the same. Now, what they value so much will die with them. When we are only worried about preserving what we have, we will never be affective at passing it on so that it will continue after we’re gone. If we want biblical separation to be taught in the coming years, we need to be sure to teach it accurately now.
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. John 17:15