GODLINESS OR WORLDLINESS
A danger threatening all believers is the failure to see this contrast in the stark terms in which our Lord Jesus Christ saw it. To His own, but unbelieving brethren He said, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” (John 7.7). This is striking language for the One who made the world and pronounced it good! What calamity struck the world to cause this change? Can it be the same world? Well, yes and no. Yes, it is still the same physical world, the same wonderful universe which came into existence at the commanding voice of the majestic creator. It is a world now widely inhabited by men, according to the same commanding voice. Yet it is not the same. Man, originally made by God, in His image and for His glory, is now so sadly different; a fallen, broken, sinful wreck of the fair and beautiful work of God. Made for communion with his Creator, he now has mother father and is involved in a very different kind of communion. Says our Lord, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8.44) and Paul declares ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom. 5.12) Even the Apostle of love in his epistle of love has to say, “the whole world lieth in wickedness”; (1 John 5.19) the power of their wicked father holds them; dominates their thinking so that their lives conform to his satanic pattern, whether it be in wretched, debauched wickedness or sophisticated, polite ungodliness.
Jesus could see, as no one else could, the complete antipathy of the powers of darkness, the rulers of this world, to the true God and to Himself as the Son of God, the promised Messiah.
It is no small triumph of the devil to have convinced a large section of the professing Christian church that this fundamental and prominent part of biblical doctrine has to be re-interpreted for this accommodating generation so that the church and the world may walk hand in hand, use the same methods, work from the same basis, and have almost identical objectives.
The Christian philosopher, Francis Schaeffer, in his last book, written as he was dying from cancer, pleads with the evangelicals of today to recognize the real situation, which he calls, “The Great Evangelical Disaster”.*
And now we must ask where we as evangelicals have been in the battle for truth and morality in our culture. Have we, as evangelicals, been on the front lines contending for the faith and confronting the moral breakdown over the last forty to sixty years? Have we even been aware that there is a battle going on -not just a heavenly battle, but a life-and-death struggle over what will happen to men and women and children in both this life and the next? If the truth of the Christian faith is in fact truth, then it stands in antithesis to the ideas and the immorality of our age, and it must be practised both in teaching and practical action. Truth demands confrontation. It must be loving confrontation, but there must be confrontation nonetheless.
Sadly we must say that this has seldom happened. Most of the evangelical world has not been active in the battle, or even been able to see that we are in a battle. And when it comes to the issues of the day the evangelical world most often has said nothing; or worse, has said nothing different from what the world would say.
Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age. First, there has been accommodation on Scripture, so that many who call themselves evangelicals hold a weakened view of the Bible and no longer affirm the truth of all the Bible teaches – truth not only in religious matters but in the areas of science and history and morality. As part of this, many evangelicals are now accepting the higher critical methods in the study of the Bible. Remember, it was these same methods which destroyed the authority of the Bible for the Protestant church in Germany in the last century, and which have destroyed the Bible for the liberal in our own country from the beginning of this century. And second, there has been accommodation on the issues, with no clear stand being taken even on matters of life and death.
This accommodation has been costly, first in destroying the power of the Scriptures to confront the spirit of our age; second, in allowing the further slide of our culture. Thus we must say with tears that it is the evangelical accommodation to the world spirit around us, to the wisdom of this age, which removes the evangelical church from standing against the further breakdown of our culture. It is my firm belief that when we stand before Jesus Christ, we will find that it has been the weakness and accommodation of the evangelical group on the issues of the day that has been largely responsible for the loss of the Christian ethos which has taken place in the area of culture in our own country** over the last forty to sixty years.
And let us understand that to accommodate to the world spirit about us in our age is nothing less than the most gross form of worldliness in the proper definition of that word. And with this proper definition of worldliness, we must say with tears that, with exceptions, the evangelical church is worldly and not faithful to the living Christ.
What has this disaster produced? A church which exalts man’s reason above the authority of the word of the living God; ministers who teach that there can be regeneration without repentance, faith without reformation, justification without sanctification, and church members who, sadly, believe they are bound for heaven as they live an unchanged life in which their priorities are still as worldly as ever they were.
The disaster has wider consequences in the world of fallen men. The once fairly united testimony of the church against the evils of the world is now a confused, embarrassed, whisper, which is no hindrance or check to those determined to obliterate all restraints and let loose such anarchy as will destroy any wisely ordered society and all true personal freedom.
And this is not the exaggerated and gloomy view of a depressed mind, for who would have believed but half a century ago that millions of unborn children would be deliberately destroyed in the .womb, or just out of it, with the agreement of Parliament and the co-operation of a large part of the medical profession? Who would lave imagined that promiscuity, adultery, and divorce would reach such proportions as to be an uncontrollable tide sweeping away all the norms which were once so widely accepted in this country? Who could have believed that any church, calling itself Christian, would have received into membership any who were openly, even militantly, involved in homosexual practices or that such churches would ordain these people to positions of leadership? Who would have believed that this generation would seriously consider the destruction of children, before or soon after birth, because they were known to be handicapped or that euthanasia would become a polite word to describe the evil of murdering the incurably ill and he helpless elderly?***
Christianity is no longer providing the consensus for our society. And Christianity is no longer providing the consensus upon which our law is based. That is not to say that the United States ever was a “Christian nation” in the sense that all or most of our citizens were Christians, nor in the sense that the nation,
its laws, and social life were ever a full and complete expression of Christian truth. There is no golden age in the past which we can idealize – whether it is early America,**** the Reformation, or the early church. But until recent decades something did exist which can rightly be called a Christian consensus or ethos which gave a distinctive shape to Western society and to the United States in a definite way. Now that consensus is all but gone, and the freedoms that it brought are being destroyed before our eyes. We are at a time when humanism is coming to its natural conclusion in morals, in values, and in law. All that society has today are relativistic values based upon statistical averages, or the arbitrary decisions of those who hold legal and political power.
At the heart of this significant book lies the contention that, ‘Evangelicals today are facing a watershed concerning the nature of biblical inspiration and authority”, and later he declares, ‘compromising the full authority of Scripture eventually affects what it means to be a Christian theologically and how we live in the _full spectrum of human life”.
It is not surprising that the world exhibits a growing lack of
respect for all lawful authority when the church is refusing to
recognize the absolute authority of God and the final authority of
His word in all matters on which it speaks, whether moral, spiritual, scientific, or historical.
The true church is not to be seen as a fossilized misrepresentation of the New Testament church nor its Bible as an ancient and irrelevant book. The true believer today has to face the enormous problems of acivilisation which has corrupted itself and has come under the judgement of a holy God. He has to face that situation with the infallible, inerrant, and inspired Bible in his hand, head, and heart.
He has to see, by the grace of his God, the relevance of its divinely given principles in every aspect of his life in this fallen world so that he can be in the world and yet not of it. Our Lord once said, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil”. (John 17.15)
Godliness and worldliness are irreconcilable antagonists. We are either godly or worldly. “To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”. (Rom. 8.7)
The true church at the end of the twentieth century is called to be a beacon of pure light in a darkening world; to proclaim its wholehearted commitment to its glorious Head and its complete submission to His authority alone. Its members are to be holy for they have a Head who is perfectly holy and He has called them to
follow Him. No other standard is to be set but that which Paul shared, “Be ye followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, is Christ also hath loved us.” (Eph. 5.1)
* Published by Kingsway Publications. Available from the Christian Bookshop, Ossett.
**This refers to the U.S.A., but is equally true of Britain.
***Since writing this paragraph, the Daily Telegraph has reported that the Netherlands is about to make euthanasia legal in certain circumstances – and this in a land where reformed congregations gather in their thousands each Lord’s Day, and where .Christian education is widely available.