The Virtue of Worldliness

Worldliness” used to be a vice—it is now a virtue --Keith Drury 4/1/08


Ken Schenck said...

It seems to me that we thought being holy was the goal, and this implied being different. They see this difference as saying "I'm better than you" and detest it. While I don't think they would equate the kind of worldliness you mention with sinfulness, they certainly don't have a problem with being sinful. They think that's the default anyway.

Scott Hendricks said...

We are afraid to say "that's a sin, God's word says so, Jesus says so, and so did the apostles," and we would shy even farther away from mentioning God's wrath against those who do such things. Probably because we have no place to understand God's anger. Nevertheless, it is the job of Christians and especially of gospel ministers to admonish and warn all people (esp. fellow believers) against specific sins. Jesus and the apostles did this.

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good." (Rom. 12)

Off the top of my head (and some searching), blatant sins we should warn each other against . . .
-disobeying the 10 commandments
-Harming your neighbor, i.e. not loving every one you meet
-hating somebody, name calling (you fool, raca)
-eating excessively; drunkenness
-all kinds of greed, hoarding
-always thinking of yourself first
-being ashamed of Jesus
-judging others
-witholding alms from the poor, and ignoring them
-causing others to stumble by my liberty
-all kinds of sexual immorality, even hints of it
-coarse language, coarse joking
-showing favoritism
-only loving those who love you
-false teaching
-blasphemy of the Holy Spirit: i.e., calling what is inSpired by God devilish; despising God's word, even from prophets
-oath taking
-doing good to be seen and praised and thought well of by others, and hypocrisy
-complaining, grumbling
-insubordination, disrespect of elders, not paying taxes, insubordination to government
-being inhospitable, esp. to the stranger
-not paying debts; lending while collecting interest
-lawsuits among believers
-division, schism
-ingratitude; poor stewardship, burying talents
-not attending church; not confessing sin
-spiritual apathy
-taking any amount of revenge
-jealousy; selfish ambition
-enslaving humans, witholding worker's daily wage
-failing to warn someone of their sin?
-complicity or connivance at any sin

John Wesley advised that the greatest danger to admonition was pride and judgmentalism, and that we ought to always rebuke, correct and exhort out of love and mercy, and ask for the Lord's assistance as we do so. See the sermons "The Duty of Reproving Your Neighbor" and "The Cure of Evil Speaking." It is also best to use the words of scripture, so that we don't speak on our own, but that we speak the very words of God.

Wes McCallum said...

Keith Drury has identified THE CORE ISSUE in the membership dilemma: CHANGING CULTURAL VALUES. There is a generational shift towards the “virtue” of cultural engagement. Thus for some, a list of membership commitments seems irrelevant. Here’s a starter list of shifting values that would have been unacceptable in the 1950’s:

Sunday recreation, sports, activities.
Casual use of the Lord’s name.
Bold speech, soft profanity, secular words.
2% giving verses 10% tithing.
Fundraising raffles, lotteries, prizes.
Wine for cooking and dining.
Beer for fellowship, relaxation.
Champagne at weddings, proms.
Dancing at weddings, proms.
Dancing for arts, performance, entertainment.
Cosmetics, jewelry, hair-dye (even for men).
Tattoos, body-piercing.
Cosmetic surgery, implants.
Life-style drug use (Ambien®, Zoloft®, Rogaine®, Viagra®).
Indifference to cohabitation, premarital sex.
Contraception, vasectomy, sterilization.
Divorce & remarriage for incompatibility, unhappiness.
Secular movies, books, music.
Psychological therapy verses pastoral care.
Affirmation verses confession and repentance.

Kevin Wright said...

What a wonderful and important conversation. I'm sympathetic to a view that says the church will be defined both by its practices and its abstentions as it seeks to perform its role as a community prefiguring what the world is to be ultimately. It seems like you've encountered people who want to see abstaining and performing as diametrically opposed to each other in terms of ecclesial constitution. One of the best (and shortest!) books that might be helpful here is "Body Politics" by John Howard Yoder. It's a small, yet powerful book that talks about some of the issues at stake.

Wes McCallum said...

For John Wesley (1703-91), the goal of salvation was DELIVERANCE FROM ALL SIN and a RESTORATION TO THE IMAGE OF GOD. To attend the class meetings one must desire “to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins”. To continue attending, one was expected to “avoid evil in every kind” which he outlined in 15 General Rules. For Wesley, worldliness was a vice, not a virtue to be incorporated into Christianity. However, he was not a separatist from society. He engaged culture by preaching in coal mines, in factories, and in the fields.

By contrast, in today’s post-modern era worldliness is a virtue. In fact, at work and church we are expected to be “culturally connected”. Today we are “culture captivated” by media, internet, education, etc. We can’t disengage from culture, because we are so well connected. So our challenge is to make the gospel relevant without becoming "culture-driven".

Wes McCallum said...

Here are a few interesting vices that were subsequently dropped from
John Wesley’s General Rules:

— uncharitable or unprofitable conversation.
— speaking evil of Magistrates or of Ministers.
— the singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
— softness, and needless self-indulgence.
— laying up treasures upon earth.

Wow, "self-indulgence" and "laying up treasures" were actually forbidden vices?!

JohnLDrury said...

You've identified a (if not the) key shift here. I heard someone once say that the way you can tell a holiness church has become a general evangelical church is that their main enemy is no longer worldliness but liberalism. This shift may have some to do with social uplift -- traditionally, the notion of worldliness included, among other things, not being like those showy rich people. Once we ourselves got rich, the prohibitions become arbitrary rather than signs of a major sociological difference.

By the way, I think there may be something to the notion of embracing some kind of worldliness, especially as it kicks against arbitrary prohibitions. Perhaps some or even many of the prohibitions should be lifted. But to me, the perpetual fear of being judgmental is just silly, and rooted in one's own issues rather than reality. These supposed awkward social situations are a myth. The circles I run in right now drink all the time, and I don't, and it's an utter non-issue. Nobody cares, and few even notice. Difference is not necessarily judgment. Most people get that, even if post-holiness Christians can't.

::athada:: said...

Kevin is (w)right. I like communities that are different in both ways - do's and don'ts as guiding principles with grace for those who don't always cut it or see it like they do.

Some people in a new monastic community I visited had these:
DO -
*clothe the poor
*be hospitable
*create rhythms of prayer

*do much on the Sabbath
*buy clothes from sweat shops (buy union or make your own)
*eat meat

luke middleton said...

It definitely is funny to look at some our applications of Scripture. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Interestingly, your first two paragraphs utilize Scripture (discussing how it was potentially misinterpreted / misapplied). Your third paragraph (what people today think) had no Scripture, but was full of quotes from others' affirmations of "I think" or "I feel".

I wonder if an examination of the Scriptures you provided (along with other ones relevant to the topic) and a discussion on how to correctly apply them would be beneficial.

Lawrence W. Wilson said...

Christians who embrace the idea of being different:

Conservative Holiness people
Fundamentalist Baptists

Christians who aren't afraid to be like the world:

Mainstream Evangelicals
Catholics (actually, they see themselves as the world—in a sacerdotal kind of way)

While both approaches have something to recommend them, I have difficulty in reading the Sermon on the Mount (or any of Jesus’ teaching, really), without seeing that the Way we follow will make us both appear odd to others and actually set us at odds with them in some ways.

Shaw wrote that "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

It strikes me that Jesus was the ultimate Unreasonable Man.

John D. Howell said...

I think that it's fairly evident that worldliness is becoming a virtue in the Church and historically I think this has been happening since the the late 60's/early 70's when the first Boomers began stepping into the pulpit.

However, I also think there has to come a point when as a follower of God - I intentionally have to begin choosing Him. As a follower of God - I have to be able to stand firm and weather the raging cultural storms around me. I have to actively seek to understand my purpose in the Kingdom despite the constant and powerful pull that desperately is trying to distract me. I have to have the courage to speak my purpose in the Kingdom to others without allowing myself to be influenced by the popular culture that I'm living in.

It seems to me that we've got to many Christian's and not enough followers of God. Too many people want to call themselves Christian’s but don't have the inner fortitude or the self-discipline to transition into a follower of God. And it's not that people don't want to go deeper - it's just that the drivel that is being taught in pulpits across America is essentially well-prepared, finely tuned TLC life-lessons that do nothing to draw people to a deeper commitment and relationship with God but rather provide weekly entertainment that has a nice bite-size lesson that is easily digested throughout the course of a week.

I don't think the virtue of worldliness a good thing nor do I think we need to go back to the legalistic views that have been pursued in the past. I think we should seek holiness and wisdom in a land and a time where that is sorely needed. The problem is that we need Pastors and Leaders who are more interested in God's truth then in “loving” everyone so much that they forget the truth of the Bible. And unfortunately, it’s much easier to “love” others then is it be a beacon of holiness, wisdom, and truth in an unholy and wicked land.

Chap said...

Great article Drury. I honestly struggle with this one myself. The best picture I have of holiness is "watching" Jesus in the gospels. Here is perfect God and man doing things in the world that I can relate too.

He is accused of being a drunkard and a sinner because, well, he drank and hung out with sinners.(this wasn't just rumor or innuendo)

We also have lists of prohibitions and are called to be holy as God is holy.

Paul (the author of many of these prohibitions) also says things like, "Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ."

Jesus states that he didn't come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it and then goes on to blast the Pharisees for their stricht adherance to the law that keeps people from knowing God. And he uses hyperbole like...even if you lust after a woman in your heart you have committed adultery as a way to blow apart their legalistic notions of religion.

There is a tension here that I'm working out in my life to be seperate, but also not weird.

John Mark said...

Great post and some great comments by Schenk, John Drury and others. I wonder if it would help us to preach some of the items noted by Wes M. I agree with Drury too that the world doesn't care (generally, there may be exceptions) if we drink or smoke, though I do remember a time when I was looked at oddly because "we" didn't go to movies. Of course we generally do, now :).
I wish I could remember the quote by Tozer who said that we have become like the world to win the world but......something to the effect that the result has been just the opposite. Anybody ever heard this?

John Mark said...

I just thought of this; William Willimon over at A Peculiar Prophet said some time ago that we are not go engage culture as we are to transform culture. As usual, I am quoting from my 57 year old mind and may not have this right. He was not speaking in the context of worldliness, per se, but I think the comment applies.

Aaron Lee said...

One of the major problems with many of the prohibitions we find in our denomination is that the restricitons seem to be pharisaical to many who grew up in the church. "Alcohol can lead to adultery, drunkeness, etc. so we cut out the middle man." This was seen as an extra restriction that seemed to so many as just that, an extra. Also, past generations may have lacked an exposure to other traditions which can lead to a kind of hyper-holiness. If you disagreed or wanted to change, your entire community or family structure could be lost. Today many people my age are exposed to people who are following God and folling him hard, but are doing so without the restrictions we may find in the Wesleyan church.
Not to make a huge post, but also there is a huge backlash against Christian kitsch (t-shirts with popular slogans changed just a bit, "Christian" music, junk in general.) Christianity or the Christianity that was practiced in the 80's and 90's became exceedingly uncool. This led to a crisis for many young believers who could not equate kitsch and junk with a God who is creator and sustainer. The desire was to make Christianity and Christ relevant to a world that thought Christians were just this weird sub-culture.
Sorry for the long post. In the world has become just as important as not of the world to these believers.

Ken said...

keith, your post makes me think of three stories...

1) i remember being 8 years old, it was a sunday, and my dad ran to the local convenience store to pick up hot dog buns. he felt really guilty about spending money for hot dog buns on a sunday, but because they "were a necessity," he got over it. but when he snagged a bag of doritos, too, and placed them in the bag just before checking out, i knew a new day was dawning...

2) i was in a staff meeting at a large wesleyan church when two of us staff members talked about ordering Barq's Cream Soda at our local Applebee's. when our senior pastor heard this, he said, "you'd better not do that again - people will think you're drinking alcohol!" he was truly angered, but i thought (and continue to think) that this was an amazingly out-of-touch response. i mean, what's the big deal? it's cream soda, and if someone wants to know exactly what i'm drinking, they can come ask me...

3) just today, i stopped at the local "family christian bookstore" to pick up a bible handbook. after we checked out, my 14 and 12 year old boys said, "hey dad, how stupid do you think those 'testamints' are? i don't really think jesus died on the cross so we could have fresh breath. and besides, wouldn't you be totally embarrassed to use those as a witnessing tool?" their observation made it clear that some of the "jesus junk" our christian outlets are peddling really make us seem corny and out-of-touch with normal 21st century living.

i think it's okay to be a little more "in the world" as stories one and two would lean, and i think it's okay if christians drop "christian kitsch" to seem a little more normal and authentic.

beyond that, i'm deeply concerned about an observably growing LACK of discernment demonstrated by some christians today, particularly with regard to spending money, engaging in premarital sex, consuming media, and demonstrating a general disregard for stewardship principles (a list more specific is not offered - it would be too long and bog down the process).

elizabeth said...

Ahh yes. The great fine line of being like the world but not being liked by the world...so much I feel guilty anyway. It has been great to read all of the comments. I remember growing up not being able to take any " face cards " to my grandparents house. Maybe they thought I and my five year old sister would be starting an underground poker ring complete with pretzle sticks that we would smoke like cigars. That always made us Wesleyan kids feel like rebels didn't it.
I hate to pull the middle ground card here but I think of two camps when I think of this topic. You have the Amish who everyday people admire for their set-apartness. The problem is... is anyone really lining up to "join" the Amish or are they made up of people mainly born into the life style. What is their conversion rate exactly? Do they get people interested in knowing Christ at a personal level? Maybe so. I am never one to deny my own ignorance on any subject.
And then you have your "Cotton Candy Christianity" where everyone is accepted, everyone wears blue jeans, and there is no confrontation. The goal is to convert until we have to build a new stadium and our pastor gets his book on the New York Times best seller list. I think we have all been to these churches. If you are not sure, on your way there, you will usually pass by holiness standing at the side of the road with his thumb out trying to hitch a ride inside. Few pick him up. He looks dangerous.
So what is the answer...
I think that this is more an internal conflict of the churched than the un-churched. I, like John, also go out with friends who drink and smoke but I personally do neither of these things. I don't think they think a thing about it. If we haven't gotten by now that the world is tolerant of differences, then we need to stop and put some glasses on. My friends do take notice however that I seem happy a lot of the time. They also notice that I am a faithful wife who is not wandering around for the next best thing. They notice I have a high patience level with difficult people and they have mentioned all of these. If anything it is our moral and inward behaviors that people notice more than the blatant loud omission of external behaviors. However, let us not forget our personal walks with Christ. If he is convicting us of a lifestyle behavior that He feels we need to change... then it matters not what the world or what other Christians do or think. It matters only that Christ is calling us to do something different.

Ryan Budde said...

Hey Keith,

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength...except live a victorious life by the power of the Holy Spirit, I guess. What a miserable existence the newly enlightened "believers" must have. What do they believe in, anyway?

More to the point, what do they repent of? What is repentance to them? How important is it? Does repentance mean "change of mind"? Do they believe we are to "Turn and go the other way?" What "way" is the other way?

If we continue to be worldly, what is the difference? What a miserable existence to constantly live in a way we said we no longer wanted to live. If I am crucifed with Christ and therefore I no longer live, but Jesus lives in me, why would I continue to emulate the worldly passions and reasons for living?

Man, I do not get what has happened to the church, but the pendulum has swung so far away from holiness, I think it snapped right off. The church is broken. I am so glad that God can fix it, I just wonder who He will have left when the fix is in.

Wes McCallum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The AJ Thomas said...

Maybe on of the challenges in this whole thing is that we no longer have a clear moral "two party system" in North America. At one time I think it was (or at least we thought is was) a simple this is like the world and this is not but today on many issues you can find a "worldly" group that espouses almost any virtue. Take something easy and current like the environment. I can find you very greedy, short sited, self-centered types who could care less about caring for the environment. On the other hand I can find you some pagan, free love, no absolutes, do what feels good types who are very concerned with the environment. So which is "like worldly people - environmental concern or environmental "who cares". I can show you people who have a TV and watch lots of base stuff - thats worldly. I can show you people who don;t have a TV because they think it is beneath them and that someone of their incredible cultured-ness and intellectual prowess should only read philosophy and listen to NPR. Do we have a TV so we aren't like the proud or get rid of it so we are not like the base?
Here's an idea - maybe instead of taking our cues from the heathens and trying not to be "worldly" we should take our cues from Jesus and try to be Holy. Sure there will be places where that makes us very different from the world (say in how we speak) but in other ways it won't make us much different at all (say who we choose to associate with). But the point is not our difference from the world but our similarity to Jesus so lets look at him and judge ourselves and our actions against him rather that saying if the heathens do it we shouldn't - I mean, what if they all started reading the bible? We would would then find ourselves in what philosophers call "a dilly of a pickle".

Joel Gorveatte said...


Genius commentary. We so often measure by the wrong standards.


The AJ Thomas said...

Joel - thanks. Long time no see, trust things are well.

JustinJNierer said...

14Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15What harmony is there between Christ and Belia? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
17"Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you."
18"I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

I used to use this passage all the time when I gave the yearly "dating" lesson. I now believe Paul's words go much deeper than just a lesson against teenage infatuations.

Glen Asbury said...

I meant to comment on this article on Monday; so much for that.

Now, however, having read the other responses, I find so much of value to think about in addition to the original article, so perhaps there is benefit in replying late!

Lots of food for thought here, but "Elizabeth's" comment resonated the most with me. The power of personal testimony has, I think, always been at the root of spiritual effectiveness. If something is hindering that, we'd better do a checkup. Simplistic? Yes, but true.

I grew up in the conservative holiness tradition, and left because I felt that so many of their obsessions and quibbles were largely irrelevant to the world as it actually functions today. (An ultra-simplification, but time and space don't permit more.)

Now, though, I worry that the essential character of many today who profess Christ doesn't seem to be changed all that much. This bothers me more than whether or not they cease certain practices or begin others.

I still passionately believe that when we come to Christ, we change, pure and simple. I guess the rub comes when we attempt to specify down to the nitty-gritty exactly what should change, across the board, beyond the venal sins such as murder, adultery and theft?

Pastor Rod said...

Others have said similar things, but I think the category of "worldliness" is not very useful nowadays. (I'll leave aside the question about whether it ever really was.)

Jesus was different than the "sinners" he spent time with. But some of his activities were considered "worldly."

Holy is not the opposite of worldly. Many people think of "holiness" in much the same terms as the Pharisees thought about keeping the Law.

I'd like to see us get more serious about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of focusing on a list of cultural taboos.

I'd also like us to return to holiness as a work of grace and stop acting as if it were a form of legalism.

Sometimes it seems that we don't really believe in the power of God's grace to deliver us from sin. We act as if the only thing that can keep us from sin is our own man-made "hedges."

Keith was a "voice crying out in the wilderness" several decades ago when he spoke against the sin of materialism. We need more of those kinds of voices.

Materialism is a good example. Rules aren't of much help in dealing with this sin.


Toots said...

(Actually, this is Curt on "Toots'"--my wife's--google account)
I see a person about to eat a poison mushroom. My goodness, I would not want to make them feel dumb by telling them so; rather, I want to show how much I “love and accept” them by joining them in the meal.

Only a very great fool would act that way. Anyone with half a brain would cry out, “STOP, you’re about to kill yourself!”

Your article and the comments raise many issues. From your questions, Mr. Drury, it sounds like you are trying to make people think. Please keep it up, there is a dearth of thinking in the church today!

A “christianity” that says we should “relate to them by being like them” must be built on two faulty assumptions: (1) what we do has no negative eternal consequences; and (2) what we do has no impact on the quality of our earthly life, i.e. has no negative temporal consequences. What we do DOES have consequences, both in this life and the next.

I am not a legalist; I am a believer. We are saved when we put our TRUST in Christ. We cannot claim to “trust” Him if we behave in a way that is contrary to what He taught. Say that I hire an architect to design a building; I describe what I want to do with the building. He draws up the plans. If I then proceed to REVISE the drawings, or build contrary to the blueprint, can I claim that I trust the architect? Of course not: I am substituting my own unqualified judgment for his professional expertise. How much less then, when we are talking about our very Creator and His Son, can I say “I trust Him” and then disregard His blueprint?

Trusting Christ leads to a positive mindset, not a negative one, and it will dramatically change our actions. Elizabeth seemed to be alluding to it (“he is convicting us of a lifestyle behavior that He feels we need to change...”) but I believe it needs to be more proactive (not to be critical, but distinct: she sounded more reactive). The aj thomas line, “But the point is not our difference from the world but our similarity to Jesus” gets closer, I think to my point.

If you trust that Jesus is God’s son, and that God is our Creator, then you believe that means He KNOWS how we are and how we are designed to work. So if you want life to really WORK right, you would look to the Creator for direction. “I want to do and be all I can to have a wonderful life! Where do I start, and then where do I go from there!” I want to be like Christ because I truly believe (trust) that he has my best interests at heart and wants the best for me. The amazing thing is that this is not a paternalistic “take your medicine” sort of what is best, but I find that every part of life works better and is more satisfying when we do it God’s way (friends, marriage, family, work, etc.).

It seems many “Christians” today approach life this way: “I wanna do what I wanna do; so where do I have to yield what I ‘in my flesh’ wanna do in order to ‘make it’ into heaven? What are the minimal requirements.” THAT is the ultimate legalism!

We don't need a list of rules. We need a heart set on following Jesus, and that will lead us to live a life that is going to look very different from those who are unsaved and have no regard for what He values.

You've inspired a lot of thought and much more writing, but I won't clog up your blog further. I'm going to be posting much more on my own blog (http://truthis.blogtownhall.com) and crediting you with this inspiration!