One of the most serious and yet one of the most prevalent problems which plagues the church today is the worldliness of its members. This fact can be demonstrated by observing that every sin in the world can also be found in the church. The good influence of godly lives is counteracted by the evil influences of the wickedness of some persons in the church. Brother J. N. Armstrong used to express no fear of a doctrinal apostasy (though even this has happened), but he was very fearful of the church becoming worldly. That which he feared has certainly become a reality.
The charge of worldliness inside the church does not have to be proved to any observant member. But a few illustrations might be necessary for some. I know of one church where one of its leading (?) members earns his living selling beer. He is the county wholesale beer distributor. Several preachers in other churches have attempted to defend members who take an occasional social drink. Many church members consider the preacher who opposes this practice "out of date". Not only will many members in the church defend social drinking, but one would very likely be shocked if he knew just how many church members actually practice such - especially around Christmas time.
Sexually instigated sins of various sorts are rampant. Even though dancing's only appeal is to lust, not long ago the wife of a preacher, in whose home I was staying during a meeting, attempted to defend Christians who participate in the modern dance. Not only did this occur, but the preacher just mentioned made the absurd argument that the modern swim-suit would be modest at a swimming pool, but would be immodest on the street. Even Bible class teachers of congregations are seen on the streets in the briefest of shorts. Some Christian women consider they have been greatly complimented if, by their immodest dress, they succeed in making some man to lust after them. With situations like these somewhat common, is it any wonder that gospel preaching is hindered in bringing forth its rightful and expected fruit?
There are two kinds of pleasures, either one of which can destroy one spiritually. There are pleasures that are right in themselves (such as hunting, golfing, boating, fishing, etc.), but that might be permitted to interfere with one's duty toward God, and there are other pleasures that are sinful in themselves. (Heb. 11:25; 2 Tim. 3:4; Phil. 3:19.) Though it is true that many who pretend to be faithful are going to be lost because of putting innocent pleasures before their duty to God, it is about the latter kind of pleasures that I wish now to speak.
There are several Bible terms that describe the consuming sin that we sometime refer to as "worldliness." 1. The Bible speaks of those who are "sensual". (Jas. 3:1318, Jude 17-19.) These are persons given to the "gratification of the senses, fleshly, pursuit of sensual pleasures." 2. Such persons are also described as being "carnal". (1 Cor. 3:1-3.) "Carnal" is from the Latin "carnis" which means "flesh." Hence, a "carnal" person is one "of the body of flesh, . . . as the seat of the appetites; specif. sexual." He is one who permits his body to control his spirit, rather than one who demands that his rightfully taught spirit control his body. (1 Cor. 9: 2 7.) 3. Worldly persons are also called "fleshly" ( Col. 2:18; 1 Pet. 2:11), which means that they are "sensuous, lascivious, mundane." 4. The Bible also speaks of "worldly" lusts. (Titus 2:12.) Not all desires are sinful, but these here called "worldly lusts" are desires for those things which are a part of "the world system of evil of which Satan is the head" and over which he rules.
What God Requires
The Bible is plain regarding what God requires of those of us who make up his church. It is a fact that we must live in the world (1 Cor. 5:10), and therefore we cannot escape being surrounded by worldly people. Yet God demands that his children be not "of the world." (Jno. 15:18, 19.) These verses require that we be different from other people living in this world. Christians must, therefore, be a "peculiar people" (1 Pet. 2:9), seen as "lights" in a world benighted by sin (Phil. 2:15, 16.) We must separate ourselves from people who live "of the world." (2 Cor. 6:17,18.)
The preceding passages forever should answer the quibble given in justification of Christians sharing in ungodly practices: "Well, everybody else is doing it." This simple statement, in the sight of some worldly-minded persons, justifies dancing, social drinking, wearing shorts, mixed swimming, and anything else that some weak member desires to do. The mere fact that "everybody else" who is "of the world" engages in a given questionable practice should be a pretty strong suggestion to the Christian that he ought not to do it. If an act appeals to worldly people, a Christian should be able to see that this act was not designed or planned for him. Remember, one of Israel's first sins as a nation was in trying to be like the other nations about her. (1 Sam. 8:5.)
In Romans 8:4-10 a Christian is described as one who "walks after the spirit" rather than as one who "walks after the flesh." Those walking after the "flesh" refer to all persons who are led into evil places or into evil practices by "fleshly desires." The outer man is here contrasted with the inner man, and is said to be at war with the inner man. (See Chapter 7.) Those who "attend" (indulge in) fleshly things are said to be "fleshly," no matter how spiritual they may profess or pretend to be. And the faithful gospel preacher will correctly label these indulgent people. However, in our society of perverted moral values, these who "attend" fleshly things may be either an immoral wretch lying in the gutter, or he may be a respected citizen in the highest social circles.
The Christian also is charged to "be not conformed" to this world. (Rom. 12:1, 2.) This passage also answers the "everybody else is doing it" argument. Instead of doing as others do, the Christian is told to be "transformed." This transformation is predicated upon a renewed mind, which is sincere repentance resulting in newness of life. (Rom. 6:4.)
The Christian is to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts." (Titus 2:12.) This does not mean that orally he is to deny that a certain worldly practice is ungodliness, but it means that the Christian must deny himself the right to participate in such wicked acts. James 1:27 states that one should keep himself "unspotted from the world." Eph. 5:2527 informs us that there can be no spots or blemishes in the church when it is delivered up to Christ and to his Father. (1 Cor. 15:24-26.)
1 John 2:15-17 is one of the clearest passages in the Bible showing us how God expects his children to live. The Christian must "love not the world." (See also Jas. 4:4.) The "world" here refers not to the material universe (See Rom. 1:20), or to the people who inhabit this earth. (See Jno. 3:16.) But the "World" which the Christian is not to love is an evil order, an evil sphere, or cosmos of evil. John then delineates the various kinds of sins: (1) "Lust of the flesh"-- carnal desires resulting in the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19 ff.); (2) "Lust of the eyes" --evil desires awakened through sight. (We might here ask if the prideful and immodest woman who awakens evil desires in men through the sight of her uncovered body is really innocent -- Can any believe it?); (3) "Pride of life" or vain glory of life-- This appeals to man's vanity. From all of these, the Christian must turn away; yes, he even must "flee" these things.
With this brief synopsis of these pertinent passages, it is quite obvious, I am sure, what God expects of his children. Yet by looking about us, it is equally obvious that such lives do not characterize all of God's children. This disparity between what is and what God expects is a great hindrance to the growth and respect of the church. Thus, we have called it a "Problem Within the Church. "
Preaching that never gets to the point is just so much wasted talk. Preachers therefore need to be more specific in applying God's truths to specific sins, that men and women who constitute the church of God may know exactly those things from which God expects them to "turn away." (2 Tim. 3:5.) When God's people live pure lives, victory in her battles will come much easier, for God will fight for us that which they should have given (Mal. 3:8). And without doubt, some brethren today are driving new automobiles, living in expensive residences, enjoying luxuries, etc., that were purchased with money that should have been contributed on the Lord's day to assist in doing the work which God assigned His church to do. What is wrong with people who will do this sort of thing? They have simply become materialistic. Those that express their crass materialistic disposition by giving undue concern to the making of money are usually the very ones who again permit their materialism to show through in that they use all that they acquire for the well-being and comfort of themselves. All such are not on the road that leads to heaven.
In another article on" Materialism" we want to look at Webster's third definition of "Materialism": "Any theory which considers the facts of the universe to be sufficiently explained by the existence and nature of matter." We want to see how materialism of this sort also is reflected within the church.
Truth Magazine VII: 1, pp. 2-3, 24