Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

Separation from the World: An Astonishing Concept for Paul

January 16th, 2013

There is an idea among many Christians that separation from the world is an intrinsically good thing.  This stems from the idea of being “In the world, but not of it,” (John 17:14-15) and Paul’s command to “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) among other passages.  Many have taught that these verses teach that being separate or different from the world is an intrinsic good.  (“The World” in this case refers to people, views, and institutions that are simply non-Christian.  Not things that are militant towards Christianity, but rather those that are non-Christian.  It is similar to the concept of a distinct sacred v. secular divide.)  The idea is furthered by the idea that holiness means being separate, so when we are being separate or distinct we are being even more holy.

This has lead for many to a disassociation with non-Christians by many Christians so that they have really no friends or serious interactions with non-Christians.  Even more tragically, this focus on being distinct has lead Christians to disassociate from other Christians who don’t share their distinctions.

While discussing this issue, a friend pointed out a fascinating passage in I Corinthians 5.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you. (I Corinthians 5:1-2,9-13)

You can hear Paul’s astonishment at the absurdity of being in the world and not associating with those who are of it.  There is almost a little chuckle in his voice as he says it.  To him it makes no sense.  It doesn’t compute.  How can one be in the world and not associate with those in it? Paul is explicitly refusing to tell people not to associate with those of the world.  He doesn’t believe it is possible for people living in the world to do this.

Probably the reason this idea is so foreign to Paul is that it is contrary to the last command of Christ, The Great Commission.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Funding missionaries is a good thing, but funding and sending missionaries isn’t everything that is meant.  If the Great Commission means anything, it has to include reaching the people right where you are.  This is impossible if you are separated from the people you are trying to reach.  Building relationships, knowing people, and reaching them where they are is crucial to obeying The Great Commission.

However, our focus on distinctions makes many more focused on building their subgroup of Christianity than bringing new people into the Kingdom.  While “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” (Luke 15:7) many churches are more focused on the ninety-nine.  Helping other Christians come to a “better” understanding of certain doctrines seems to be a greater focus for many.

Ironically this focus on becoming Christians who better understand various Christian teaching stems in part from the fact that most Christians only associate with other Christians, and so they are doing their best to help and teach those they associate with.  You can’t influence people you don’t know, so maybe we should rethink the idea of disassociating ourselves from those we are supposedly meant to be reaching.

Putting this a different way… When Dale Carnegie wrote How To Win Friends and Influence People I’m pretty sure separating yourself from them didn’t make it on the list for a reason.  If the church is supposed to be about influencing people to come to Christ, it’s illogical to value separating ourselves from those we are trying to influence.

Is Being Right What is Most Important?

November 21st, 2012

A recent discussion online about evangelicalism made me think yet again on the question of whether there should be something more important for Christians than believing and doing the right things.  Ben Tribbett, one of the leading Democrat bloggers in the state, shared an interesting story.

Willie Deutsch, I’ll share with you a story that is non-political on why evangelicals have trouble reaching people. My mom is Jewish- my dad is southern baptist, and whenever I went to Roanoke as a kid I attended a southern baptist church with my grandmother. One summer when I was about 5 and visiting for a month and my parents were gone the youth minister came over to the farm. I went outside with him and he proceeded to tell me that my mother was going to hell, and he wanted to save me from doing so. He demonstrated this by setting up some sticks on the ground to represent heaven and hell and stomped on the “jewish” sticks. My grandmother was PISSED when she heard what happened- because even though she was a devout baptist, she didn’t like people speaking “ugly” about other religions or people. I was perfectly happy attending church with her until that happened and never liked it afterwords.

This story brought to mind I Corinthians 13:1-3 and the need for Christians to show love.  Here Paul rattles off a number of valuable actions.  Things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great wisdom, great faith, charity, even martyrdom.  All these are good.  But Paul declares that possessing them without love is worthless.

One of the qualities Paul mentions is understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge.”  Understanding right doctrine and right practice certainly fits within the description of “understanding all knowledge.”  Imagine someone who perfectly understands all theology, and how people should live.  Wouldn’t that be pretty impressive?  Paul says if the person doesn’t have love, he is nothing.  Paul believes that all of that knowledge doesn’t matter if the person does not possess love.

Think back to the story of the pastor I shared earlier.  One can argue with whether the pastor was “right” in what he said, but what is undeniable is that he was unloving.  This also answers the question of why love is most important.  What the pastor did turned Ben away from Christianity, and who can blame him for having that reaction?  If your presentation or discussion of truth is not couched in love, how can you expect the listener to be willing to listen?  (As an aside, humility when talking about truth is also a good thing.)  An unloving discussion of truth will burn the relational bridges necessary to be able to influence a person.  How can you expect someone to seriously consider an idea presented in an unloving way?  Even worse, what will they think of Christ, whom you claim to represent?

Before writing off what I am talking about, consider this: when you know someone thinks differently than you do, are you quicker to judge or to try to love and understand?  What about homosexuals?  Do we as Christians love them or judge them?  Abortion doctors?  Those who have had an affair?  Those who have committed other grievous sin?

Thinking closer to home… What about the Christians who don’t act exactly as we do? The church with a different style of worship?  Those who don’t have the same standards of modesty?  Someone who is an Arminian or a Calvinist or Premill or Postmill, or you name it?  Are you quick to judge and distance yourself, or do you love them as your brother or sister in Christ?

“But Willie,” you may say, “These things are important.”  I know they are, but to Paul believing the right thing is worthless if you have not love.

You may also say, “Willie, I’m just showing ‘tough love.'”  Really?  Does the way you are showing love line up with the way Paul describes love in the rest of I Corinthians 13?

Another issue is that of intentions.  You may feel love towards someone, and believe that your actions are motivated by love.  But are the actions themselves loving?  The description of love, describes actions.  It is great to have the best of intentions, but are the actions themselves loving?  Think back to the pastor.  He was probably very well intentioned in wanting Ben to come to salvation, avoid hell, etc…  The unloving way in which he displayed his presumably good intentions had the opposite affect.

Think about the “being right” v. “showing love” dichotomy another way.  It is the difference between being more concerned with what someone does than in developing a relationship or understanding why they do certain actions when responding to them.  When you are more concerned about outcomes than building a relationship, you lose the ability to influence.  When someone thinks you are more concerned with making sure you act or think the way you do, then you have lost the ability to reach them at all.  This is the dangers that Christians face when they value being right over showing love.

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For a related sermon, I would strongly recommend this one by Colby Garman entitled Love the Mark of Christian Maturity.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia