12 January 2008

How the Church Should Be Different from the World

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Lord’s Own View of His Church and People," a sermon first published in 1887.


he church is a separate and distinct thing from the world. I suppose there is such a thing as "the Christian world"; but I do not know what it is, or where it can be found. It must be a singular mixture. I know what is meant by a worldly Christian; and I suppose the Christian world must be an aggregate of worldly Christians. But the church of Christ is not of the world. "Ye are not of the world," says Christ, "even as I am not of the world."

Great attempts have been made of late to make the church receive the world, and wherever it has succeeded it has come to this result, the world has swallowed up the church. It must be so. The greater is sure to swamp the less.

They say, "Do not let us draw any hard and fast lines. A great many good people attend our services who may not be quite decided, but still their opinion should be consulted, and their vote should be taken upon the choice of a minister, and there should be entertainments and amusements, in which they can assist." The theory seems to be that it is well to have a broad gangway from the church to the world: if this be carried out, the result will be that the nominal church will use that gangway to go over to the world, but it will not be used in the other direction.

It is thought by some that it would perhaps be better to have no distinct church at all. If the world will not come up to the church, let the church go down to the world; that seems to be the theory. Let the Israelites dwell with the Canaanites, and become one happy family. Such a blending does not appear to have been anticipated by our Lord in the chapter which was read just now: I mean the fifteenth of John. Read verses eighteen and nineteen: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you."

Did he ever say—"Try to make an alliance with the world, and in all things be conformed to its ways"? Nothing could have been further from our Lord's mind. Oh, that we could see more of holy separation; more dissent from ungodliness, more nonconformity to the world! This is "the dissidence of Dissent" that I care for, far more than I do for party names and the political strife which is engendered by them.

Let us, however, take heed that our separateness from the world is of the same kind as our Lord's. We are not to adopt a peculiar dress, or a singular mode of speech, or shut ourselves out from society. He did not so; but he was a man of the people, mixing with them for their good. He was seen at a wedding-feast, aiding the festivities: he even ate bread in a Pharisee's house, among captious enemies. He neither wore phylacteries, nor enlarged the borders of his garments, nor sought a secluded cell, nor exhibited any eccentricity of manner.

He was separate from sinners only because he was holy and harmless, and they were not.

He dwelt among us, for he was of us. No man was more a man than he; and yet, he was not of the world, neither could you count him among them. He was neither Pharisee, nor Sadducee, nor Scribe; and at the same time, none could justly confound him with publicans and sinners. Those who reviled him for consorting with these last did, by that very reviling, admit that he was a very different person from those with whom he went.

We want all members of the church of Christ to be, manifestly and obviously, distinct persons, as much as if they were of a separate race, even when they are seen mingling with the people around them. We are not to cut ourselves of from our neighbors by affectation and contempt. God forbid. Our very avoiding of affectation, our naturalness, simplicity, sincerity, and amiability of character, should constitute a distinction. Through Christians being what they seem to be, they should become remarkable in an age of pretenders. Their care for the welfare of others, their anxiety to do good, their forgiveness of injuries, their gentleness of manner—all these should distinguish them far more than they could be distinguished by a livery, or by any outward signs.

I long to see Christian people become more distinct from the world than ever, because I am persuaded that, until they are so, the church will never become such a power for blessing men as her Lord intended her to be. It is for the world's good that there should be no alliance between the church and the world by way of compromise, even to a shade. See what came to pass when the church and the world became one in Noah's day: when "the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair," and were joined with them. Then came the deluge. Another deluge, more desolating even than the former, will come, if ever the church forgets her high calling, and enters into confederacy with the world.

C. H. Spurgeon


25 comments:

Puritan said...

Excellent. Although I am quite sure that also Spurgeon wouldn't have approved of Christians dressing in today's world's half naked sensual dress.

Eloquorius said...

All this counter-culture sort of talk raises a lot of concerns with me. Why? Because whether we're conforming to culture or rebelling against it, either approach still elevates culture, not Scripture, as the standard of conduct. We can make just as much of an idol out of rebelling against culture as some do of following it. But since the anti-culture mindset comes with so much pride, I have little hope that many will keep their eye on Scripture rather than culture.

Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

Great quote. We need to be sure that we have a proper relationship with this world. Jesus was in the world but not of the world.

David Portela said...

@eloquorius:

I'm not certain what concerns can be raised by talking about counter-culture. You could really say the same thing about Christ's own words, when he says that we are in the world but not of it. Was he elevating the world, rather than Scripture, as the standard of conduct by referring to it? Of course not.

The cultures of the world all offer standards of conduct, and in fact push these standards of conduct at us every day. That's a fact of life, you can't really escape it no matter how much you attempt to isolate yourself from the culture you live in. The whole point of Christian counter-culture is to identify those elements of culture which come into conflict with the standard of conduct put forth by Christ. Yeah, we need wisdom to distinguish between what is really coming into conflict with Scripture and what is just coming into conflict with our preferences, and that's where many of the pitfalls have been in the way the Church has dealt with culture for the past couple of centuries.

But the fact that we get it wrong sometimes certainly doesn't make the goal itself any less valid. It just means we need to display more wisdom in choosing our battles.

centuri0n said...

As we continue to work out this question, I found this sermon by Piper particularly helpful in moderating my sympathy for people who are frankly joyful about their faith with a right view of how our joy must be manifest.

pastorbrianculver said...

You mean the church is supposed to be different than the world?? It's not supposed to be a babysitter while bingo is being played? It's not supposed to be a dance hall for half naked teen girls to flaunt their stuff for the guys? It's not supposed to be a place where the pastor wears a hawaiian shirt and tells wonderful stories and jokes behind the pulpit?? You mean we are not supposed to redefine the Word of God so it doesn't offend anyone?

Wow! what church have I been attending??
(just kidding!)

pastorbrianculver said...

http://reformedgadfly.blogspot.com/2008/01/mcworship-authentic-worship-in-fast.html

I found this over at Tim Brown's blog, the reformedgadfly

Kent Brandenburg said...

I believe, Phil, that an important aspect of this relates to the true understanding of sanctification. 2 Peter 1 says that through a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ we become partakers of the Divine nature. The gospel raises us to sanctity or holiness not commonality or profanity. We are not saved to muddle in the world system. The gospel is a miracle that changes people. Men are not converted by relating the gospel to the world but by representing the God of the gospel. He saves them and brings them to His level. At salvation, God raises them to where He is, spiritual blessings in heavenly places, a heavenly citizenship, doesn't come down to relate with us at our level. In other words, the relationship is a miracle that the world doesn't understand. Men today want the world to understand this relationship, so drag it down to the level of the world so that they can comprehend it on a human level. However, it is understood on a spiritual level that is beyond human wisdom. I is incomprehensible except by the Spirit of God. Paul talked about this in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, probably in part to deal with the worldliness at Corinth. Essentially, this is a man-centered gospel and sanctification that I see cross the lines between professing Calvinists and Arminians.

centuri0n said...

And he never stoops to the cripple at the pool who cannot even lower himself in and asks, "do you want to get well?"

Right, Kent? That would be too much like affirming a sinner has anything God wants or, better yet, is owed to God.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Frank,

God condescends to us, but He keeps His same nature. There is a huge difference and a theological one. He humbly gave up the free exercise of His attributes, but He still never fit into the world. He reached to sinners; that's exactly the point, and brought them to where He was.

Sled Dog said...

There has been a lot of focus on 1 Corinthians 10 throughout the past few day's discussion/debate/conflagration. Yet, I find it interesting that in the preceding chapter Paul made this proclamation:

19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

I'm not saying that this is anyway a permission slip for a church or and individual to do whatever they want, but I do believe that Paul is indicating that SOMEHOW in our presentation of the Gospel, there will be obvious cultural adjustments. Is he not saying that his approach will be different between the Jew and gentile? And he throws in another category: The weak.

Look, if I'm in a church that is marked by strong preaching, praying saints, challenging and encouraging fellowship, full-life worship (corporate and individual), equipped believers, and Godly servant leadership, I'm really not to worried if you gather folks in a hip coffee house setting or a stained-glass chapel.

I minister in a mountain ski town, and I'm aware of the type of people who inhabit this area. I do, to a degree, try to fit in to this culture. I dress like them and get involved in a lot of the same activities that they do.

But ultimately I know my calling isn't to blend in, but rather to infiltrate for the purpose of helping people know Christ and grow in Him.

Jesus reached. He took on flesh. He became like us.

Randy said...

I always enjoy the weekends with Spurgeon.

centuri0n said...

My response to Kent has, oddly, disappeared.

I'll recompose it and repost it tomorrow.

Tim said...

It is thought by some that it would perhaps be better to have no distinct church at all. If the world will not come up to the church, let the church go down to the world; that seems to be the theory. Let the Israelites dwell with the Canaanites, and become one happy family.

Aw, c'mon. They're just being relevant. Give them a break.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I'm a Christian.

I'm a Bible-believing Christian.

I'm a Bible-believing Christian who likes the TeamPyro blog.

A lot.

Keep up the great work. May many be blessed. And the Glory be to God and for God alone.

Pax in Christ alone.

P.S. Awesome sermon by Spurgeon. Antidote to liberal mainline churches, antidote to over-reliance on seeker-sensitive methodology, antidote to PoMo Emergent nonsense.

Brandon said...

The gospel is a declaration, not a conversation.

Rob Hughes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Hughes said...

"He was separate from sinners only because he was holy and harmless, and they were not."

That says it all, don't you think?

Beth said...

Phil,

Thanks for standing up. If no one else needed to see this post after the previous discussion...I did.

Thank you.

Sometimes I am edified by the comments here and sometimes I'd rather not hear what other people think is right or wrong. It gets disappointing at times. Just give me the Word.

God bless

donsands said...

" Through Christians being what they seem to be, they should become remarkable in an age of pretenders. Their care for the welfare of others, their anxiety to do good, their forgiveness of injuries, their gentleness of manner—all these should distinguish them far more than they could be distinguished by a livery, or by any outward signs."

Amen and amen.

May the Lord fill us with the same love He has for the ungodly. And may we have integrity and fear of the Lord reigning our lives.

There are a lot of church goers all clean on the outside, but inside are as dirty as the selfish world. A lot of pretending going on.

Jay said...

If Spurgeon were alive today this would have been an excellent post for him to make on the previous topic. Very timely.

Yet another example of how things move in circles, nothing new from the ruler of this world's darkness in his fight against the light of the God of the universe.

4given said...

Cent,
Thank you for sharing that sermon by Piper. His explanation of the Indigenous/Pilgrim Tension was immensely helpful.

The Spurgeon excerpt was, of course, excellent.

The Seeking Disciple said...

Eating with my family today we ran into some Christians we know who informed us that they were heading to their weekly ritual of going to the movies. When I asked what movie they were going to see and they told me I replied, "But isn't that an R rated movie?" This took them off guard. They replied, "It's R but only for the nature of the subject."

I sometimes wonder if, in our zeal to avoid extreme views on personal holiness, we go the opposite extreme. We tend to avoid going down the middle of the road and choose instead to fall into the ditch on either side.

How we need more sermons such as Spurgeon's and my prayer is for a revival of holiness.

centuri0n said...

Here's my original response to Kent, btw ...
_____________

Kent said this:

[QUOTE]
Men today want the world to understand this relationship, so drag it down to the level of the world so that they can comprehend it on a human level. However, it is understood on a spiritual level that is beyond human wisdom. [It] is incomprehensible except by the Spirit of God.
[/QUOTE]

And then he said this:

[QUOTE]
God condescends to us, but He keeps His same nature. There is a huge difference and a theological one. He humbly gave up the free exercise of His attributes, but He still never fit into the world.
[/QUOTE]

On the one hand, in the first quote, Kent is right about one thing -- there's a "new nature" aspect to comprehending and accepting Jesus as Lord and Christ, including (as Phil points out today) our problem of having a sin nature. But what we cannot do is confuse the problem of spiritual blindness with the problem on our side of the fence of being in the world.

That is, on the other hand, there is no question that in former times and in various ways, God spoke to us through the father and the prophets, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. That is, Jesus leaves us without any excuses for not knowing or not seeing -- because He did -more- than abstain from the things the Law said "thou shalt not". Jesus didn't demonstrate He was Lord and Christ to the word from the most holy place inside the sanctuary: He did it in the barn, in the feeding trough, in the street, on the hillside, in the tax-collector's home, at the wedding feast, by touching the leper, and on and on -- all manner of things which put him near those people who, as He said, were sick and needed a physician.

I think this excerpt from Spurgeon is right enough -- right minded, and rightly telling us what Scripture is saying in the Song of Solomon. I think a lot of the rest of this particular sermon -- which you can find here -- draws the wrong picture of the church, or at best draws a picture of the church which is easily misapplied and misinterpreted.

This is not to say that the Emerg*** gets it right -- I think they fall off the other side of the apple cart and give away way too much. And this is also not to say that we must somehow refrain from preachng the Law -- because the Gospel doesn't make any sense without the Law.

But it is to say that we have a mandate to preach the Gospel to the whole world, to every living thing. Christ's own parable about the Kingdom of God (Mat 22:1-24) is that it is a celebration to which people should come prepared -- dressed in the right garment.

How can that parable make any sense at all if we ourselves are to be a people who are afraid to have a party, and see parties themselves as worldly and wrong?

donsands said...

"How can that parable make any sense at all if we ourselves are to be a people who are afraid to have a party, and see parties themselves as worldly and wrong?"

Amen.


Christians should be the most "party hearty" people on the planet; with joy unspeakable, and full of glory!