Friday, March 14, 2008

In the world but not of the world...

As Christians we are called to live out our lives in the midst of a culture that is predominantly antagonistic towards our beliefs. Often this antagonism is hidden and implicit rather than in your face, but however it manifests itself, the worldly culture is not the culture of the Kingdom of God. The most difficult part of this is that although we know that we are not supposed to live as the world lives, there is so much in the worldly culture that appeals to our sinful nature. So we are at war, not only against the outward influence of the world, but our own flesh's desire to be part of that world and partake of a myriad of sinful behaviours.

There is good sense in restricting ourselves from partaking in those external things that most appeal to our sinful nature to lead us into sin. For instance, if we have an abusive relationship with alcohol, then it is wise to not go to bars and lovingly hold glasses of scotch in our hands. Proverbs 5 talks about this in the context of adultery, "Keep to a path far from [the adulteress], do not go near the door of her house" (v8). Verses 3-4 are also instructive, "For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword." The things that are most dangerous to us are those that have the appearance of being good. Within this context it would further be an appropriate application to say that Christian people should avoid getting too close to non-Christian members of the opposite sex EVEN IF (and perhaps especially if) they think it is an opportunity to share the gospel. So many people's lives are shipwrecked on that doozy of a lie. They draw close to someone, emotionally invest, thinking they are just "loving as a brother/sister for Jesus' sake", and then end up in sin and walking away from God.

But we can take seperation from the world too far... There is a fascinating story in today's Age about a reclusive Jewish community in Melbourne, they go far far beyond the requirements of the Torah. In their zeal to maintain holiness they go so far as to segregate boys and girls from the age of 8. They do not use their wife's first name in public, only around their own children. They do not use the first name of other women to whom they are not married, to do so they see as the beginning of an illicit relationship. When the children are 16 they are sent overseas to seminary until they marry, at which point they are informed about sex and are then allowed to pursue secular university education and work. Men look at the ground as they walk, for fear of looking at a woman. Women dress conservatively, cover their hair (or shave it off once they are married, and wear wigs/scarves). They believe that, "if we want our children to uphold our religion the way we believe it, to the dot of the law, dress code etc, the only way is to isolate children from all outside influences".

This is so sadly mistaken, because the other side of this story is that the reason this group made the paper today, is that one of the female teachers in their segregated school has been accused of sexually abusing some of the girls. Now I know the atheist jihadists will see this as a vindication of their view that "fundamentalist" religion is the cause of all suffering. However, the truth is simply this, unfortunately, when we try to remove ourselves from influences that we think will corrupt us, we forget that sin comes with us into our segregated communities, because we have sinful natures! In the world or out of it, as long as people are there, before Christ returns, there will ALWAYS be sin issues.

OK, so having said that I still think there is a good argument for Christian schools, and other methods of living "not of the world". Particularly with children, it is scary how impressionable they are, and I think it doesn't matter which school you send them to all children will be indoctrinated. Every school will have a prevailing philosophy and agenda which it is trying to push. Recent comments from the federal Education Minister's advisor suggested that they saw Christian schools as subversive to the cohesion of society because Christian schools would not promote the secular "doctrines" of abortion, free sex and evolution that were necessary for the smooth operation of society. I think if I have the choice between my children being indoctrinated with the doctrines of abortion, free sex and evolution compared to grace, love, forgiveness, service, love, love, (did I mention love?) I'd choose the later everytime. I do not want my children growing up believing that sexual immorality is normal and appropriate. It isn't. It's enslaving (and I say that out of painful experience not just 'high ideals') and sinful, whether or not our society realises it.

For this same reason I am careful about what television I watch, because I am conscious of how much of an impact secular media has made on the way I think. Many of the strongholds and deceptive philosophies that I have fought against, and still fight against were formed in me through watching popular media. Based on the Romans 12:1-2 principle, "You are what you eat" (The Bec Paraphrase), I choose to abstain from junk food (worldly media) and eat healthy (bible, christian books/blogs, bible, bible, bible etc). I particularly don't watch things that promote/depict violence or sexual immorality. (For this reason, I am in NO hurry to watch Underbelly! ;-)) I also don't listen to secular music if I can avoid it, since so much of the content falls into the following categories, (a) idolatry of love; (b) idolatry of sex; (c) disrespect of women, authority etc. I am quite capable of coming up with enough sinful and rebellious thoughts on my own, I don't need any help with that!

In all honesty, I can see a point where this might make evangelism difficult. In not engaging the culture I live in, perhaps this makes relating to non-Christians more difficult. However, this hasn't been my experience to date. The times I clash most with non-Christians ideologically is over issues of trusting God versus doing things in my human strength, my relationship with money particularly has come up a number of times in this context. After all why does one need to worry and grasp after riches when we have a Father who graciously provides all that we need? I can't remember the last time I lost a conversation over whether or not I had seen such and such on telly, or whether or not I liked a certain song. In all honesty I've probably always been a bit different from "everyone else" anyway, I guess being different and seperate because of my Christianity mightn't feel that weird because I've always been an outsider. So if I'm going to be a weirdo, why not be a weirdo for Christ?

God bless,

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