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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Perilous Extremes: Set Apart vs All Things to All People

(click here to read the first post in this series)
Another area where we can tend toward dangerous extremes in our interpretation and application of Scripture is our relationship with the world.  We need to pay close attention to the full counsel of Scripture on the issue.
2 Cor 6:14-18 reads:
  14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers…go out from their separate from them…”  These are strong words that deserve some context.  In this passage Paul is addressing those who may have aligned themselves with some in the church who have opposed Paul.  By their rebellion they have shown they could possibly be unbelievers.  So Paul calls on the true believers to have nothing to do with the rebels. 
To be unequally yoked is to be hitched up or possibly crossbred with another animal of a different species.  Paul’s point is clear.  A believer has as much in common with an unbeliever as a horse does with a cow.  It is unnatural for them to be yoked together.  “What fellowship has light with darkness?”  The answer to the rhetorical question is “none.” 
Though Paul’s immediate concern is the situation in the church at Corinth, his message has broader application to all relationships between believers and unbelievers.  Believers ought not form close partnerships with unbelievers.  We typically apply this passage to marriage, which is an appropriate application, but there are other applications as well. 
But some have taken Paul’s words, particularly the admonition to “go out from their midst, and be separate from them…and touch no unclean thing,” and have gone to the extreme of having nothing whatsoever to do with unbelievers.  They do not know their neighbors or their co-workers because they are afraid of the ungodly influence on them and their families.  Caution about ungodly influences is wise, but to remove ourselves completely from society is not at all what Paul had in mind.
This is a perilous extreme because if we cut ourselves off from the world, we will be unable to obey Christ’s command to spread the gospel (Matt 28:19-20).  In fact, Paul corrected such a misconception in 1 Cor 5:9-10 when he wrote, 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.  Obviously, we are not to cut ourselves off completely from unbelievers. 
We’ve noted numerous times in our study of the Sermon on the Mount that we are to shine for God’s glory in the world: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:14-16).  We can’t shine before others if we have hidden ourselves from the world.
Jesus Himself reached out to the lost (Luke 19:1-10).  Paul claimed to be “all things to all people that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor9:19-23).  Clearly, we must engage the world and reach out to unbelievers with the gospel.  But we must be careful because it is possible to take this teaching to a perilous extreme as well.  Some appeal to passages like these and use them to defend evangelistic practices in which the church becomes like the world in order to reach the world.  Many churches have used explicit, sexually-charged sermon series to draw the lost into the church.  I have seen numerous things on church websites so vulgar that I would never put them on this blog.
Many of the changes that we have seen in the style of worship and d├ęcor of the church in recent years have been made so that the world will think that we are just like them.  Bible studies in bars, cussing in sermons, and erotic dancing lessons in the fellowship hall are born out of an evangelistic philosophy based upon taking some of the passages above and holding them in isolation from other passages in Scripture, such as 1 John 2:15 (“Do not love the world or the things in the world”) and 1Thess 5:22 (“Abstain from every form of evil”). 
Why is this a perilous extreme?  There are at least two reasons.  First, becoming like the world to win the world sabotages Christ’s intention behind calling us to shine in the world.  The whole point is so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).  The point is for us to be different, godly.  It is our difference that causes people to glorify God.  Second, when we move toward the worldly in our lifestyle and behavior in order to get close to the lost, we run the risk of falling pray to the temptations of the world.  As we read in Proverbs 6:27, Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?  In Galatians 6:1, we are warned to guard against temptation when dealing with sin inside the church.  How much more cautious should we be with sin outside the church?
God has called us to be separate from the world in our close relationships and in our conduct.  He has also called us to be lights in the world, spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth.  If we are going to be faithful, we must maintain the balance that only comes from interpreting Scripture with Scripture and avoiding perilous extremes.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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