In The World But Not Of The World
In the devotional I read today from Thomas Merton he commented on an article he read in America magazine on the vernacular liturgy. In this journal entry of Merton’s from December 14, 1966 he writes; “If the Church wants to sweep the world like the Beatles….” After quoting the article Merton goes on to write; “With this kind of mentality, what can you expect? But I’m afraid that is the trouble. The Church is conscious of being inferior to four English kids with mops of hair (and I like them OK). More and more I see the importance of not mopping the world with mops”.
Larry Norman released an album years ago entitled “Nothing New Under The Sun”. It’s true. There is nothing new under the sun and we’ve been dealing with the same issues in the church for centuries. Call it modern, call it post-modern or even modernization. Whatever the term used it all means the same thing. The church struggles with trying to declare a message of holiness, peace, hope, purpose and destiny to a world that demands low standards when it comes to living. The church thinks it needs to water down a message looking like whatever the pop culture might look like of the day. In the 60’s it was the Beatles. In the 70’s it was the hippie movement, in the 80’s it was the hair bands, in the 90’s it was seeker sensitive and that continues even today. Could it be seeker sensitive falls into the category of what Merton referred to as “mopping the world with mops”?
Merton concludes his journal entry of December 14, 1966 saying “I am glad to be marginal. The best thing I can do for the ‘world’ is stay out of it – in so far as one can”.
But alas that is not the answer. In John 17 Jesus declared that as believers we are to be “in the world but not of the world”. Paul instructs believers in Romans 12 to not “conform to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind” in Christ Jesus. We are called to be a “peculiar people” which means a “holy people, set apart by God” not looking like the world around us. In many places today the “popular” gospel is a watered down message offering nothing more than cheap grace and forgiveness without a true transformation and moving toward holiness. Living a holy life hurts as it means a burning off of sin and setting oneself truly apart from the world in all aspects of ones life.
The church – as Merton writes – “has been conscious of being inferior” to the message of the world for too long. It is time for the church and believers to stand up and declare we are “in the world but not of the world”. With such a declaration the banner of holiness will be raised and then we will move forward in the blessings of God. The message of the Gospel is not inferior but it is one that calls the believer to look different and live differently.