WORLDLINESS IN THE CHURCH AND THE SEVEN ISMS
- A study in learning to be in the world but not of the world.
Worldliness is essentially the opposite of living by faith, and has its own fruits. It is to be earthly minded rather than heavenly minded, and to give little or no thought for God and His perspective. The author of the book, “Defeating the Dragons of the World” speaks of His own revelation concerning worldliness in the church, even as she appeared to be vehemently opposed to the world. While he wrote the book over 25 years ago, the issues he identified as Dragons remain relevant, and if anything, are an even greater threat to the church today.
He said, “…One of the first things I learned [when I became a Christian] was that I must not be worldly…In my spiritual journey since those days…I have come to understand worldliness in very different ways. I still agree with my friends [at the church] that worldliness is bad, very bad. But, I’m convinced that their definition of worldliness misses the point. It is preoccupied with micro-ethics, focusing on limited areas of personal behavior and dress. While we fight the battle on the wrong front, the real forces of worldliness occupy the church. Spiritual concerns give way to cultural ones. Prayer gives way to busyness. Ministry gives way to organization and administration. Earning a living displaces a sense of vocation from God. In short, cultural values that are contrary to everything the church stands for, casually invade our lives. There is a quiet capitulation. We become worldly by default.”(page12,13)
This study owes a great deal to the succinct and helpful ‘in a nutshell’ statements that Stephen wrote concerning each ISM, and for his insights about how Christians can identify and combat their influence. Stephen Eyre identifies seven ISMS, for discussion, but acknowledges that there are a few others.
The SEVEN ISMS are:
“I am what I own”
Matter is all that matters
A deformed view of the world”
(Matthew 6:24; 2Corin 9:6-8;Ephesians 2:8-10)
In our society, it is the earthly and the material that matters most. Many either deny God and the spiritual world or simply live as if God is irrelevant. Consumption and things become the focus of life. In the scriptures, the spiritual world and God are essential to this life. As citizens of heaven, we are called to be heavens representatives and to seek the Kingdom of God first. Prayer is a core activity and generosity is a core value.
Q How does living by faith challenge materialism?
“I am what I do.”
Life is to be filled with action.
A deformed view of work.”
(Philippians 2:12-13; I Corin 10:31; 2Corin 10:11-18)
In our society, value is strongly connected to how we perform and contribute to society (meritocracy). Thus activity can become more important than truth. In the scriptures, God’s GRACE is the foundation of acceptance and WORKS is the fruit. Truth must be the foundation of right action, not good intentions.
Q How does the gospel challenge a society that gives us value based on performance and/or our capacity to contribute? Does the church put more faith in methods than prayer?
“I am self-sufficient”
We can depend on no one but ourselves.
A deformed view of self..”
(John 15:5; Galatians 2:19-20; 1Corinthians 12:7-14,22-27)
In our society, INDIVIDUAL rights compete with and are sometimes given precedent over SOCIETIES rights, and responsibility often gets forgotten. In the scriptures, the INDIVIDUAL finds his place (niche with no competition) by being part of a COMMUNITY called the BODY of CHRIST, and contributing to the whole.
Q How does our independence and self-sufficiency work against faith?
“I am who others recognise me to be.”
Recognition by others is a necessity.
A deformed view of others.”
(Romans 12:1-8; Matt 3:17,4:1-7; Galatians 1:10; 1Corins 1:10-13)
In our society, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE is linked to UNCONDITIONAL APPROVAL, and POPULARITY is more important than AUTHORITY.
In the scriptures, LOVE for GOD and LOVE for NEIGHBOUR (including enemies), are the foundations for community (in that order) and pleasing God is valued more highly than popularity or the approval of others.
Q How can conformity undermine our faith and walk with God?
“I am whatever I choose to believe.”
It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as it works for you.
A deformed view of truth. (The truth is that there is no truth)”
(John 14:6; John 8:31-36, 43-47; John 18:36-38; Romans 1:18-25)
In our society, TOLERANCE is more important than TRUTH. In the scriptures, TRUTH is embodied in CHRIST and must be spoken in LOVE. Q
Q How might relativism undermine our faith, and how do we combat its influence?
“I am sufficient without God.”
Religion is alright in its place.
A deformed view of God.”
(2Corinthians 12:7-10; 1Corinthians 10:31; Galatians 5:16-25; Titus 3:1-8)
In our society, religion is a PRIVATE thing and should stay out of PUBLIC life. In the scriptures there is no separation between the SECULAR and the SACRED, because we are called to be disciples of Christ in every sphere of life.
Q How do we resist the pressures to keep our faith to ourselves?
“I am whatever makes me happy”
Personal peace and affluence is what makes life worth living.
A deformed view of our bodies and our purpose.”
(Matthew 6:25-34; Mark 7:14-23; 1Corinthians 5:9-13; James 4:1-10; Revelations 12:11; 2Timothy 3:1-7; Galatians 5:22-25.)
In our society, the self-centered pursuit of personal peace and affluence are priorities and lead to many excesses, rampant escapism, and inevitable discontent. In the scriptures, CHRIST calls on us to DENY ourselves, so we can TAKE UP OUR CROSS daily, and FOLLOW HIM. When we seek FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness, we will find true satisfaction (This is counter-intuitive in our society).Q
Q How has our culture of affluence distorted our lives and put our faith under pressure?
In Romans 12:2 Paul assumes that we are all conformed to the world we live in to some degree. It is only as we allow God to speak into our lives and show us where we have conformed, that we can know the transformation of a renewed mind. As a person thinks so shall they be. Repentance is simply changing direction and going in a new direction. The gospel calls us out of the world and then sends us back with a new life and a new perspective within. If we are becoming more like Jesus, then the very areas in which we have been conforming to the world rather than to God will be challenged by the Holy Spirit. If we are to live by the Spirit, then we must walk by the Spirit. That means living by faith working through love. The World, our flesh and the devil won’t like that, so its going to be tough.
1. Which of the 7 isms do you find the most difficult to accept or to grapple with?
2. What does it mean to be IN the world but NOT OF the world? Why is it difficult to apply at a practical level?
3. How are some or all of these influential ideas impacting on our churches today? What should our response be? ie: Know what we believe
4. How does living by faith differ from the way our culture asks us to live? Give practical examples.
“Defeating the Dragons of the World” by Stephen D Eyre
Inter-Varsity Press, 1987 for more.
Read more articles by Mark Trodd or search for articles on the same topic or others.