A perennial problem for the Christian is learning how to be in the world but not of it. That is, the believer wants to reach people in the world for Christ, but he does not want to be unduly contaminated by worldly behaviour, worldviews and the like.
And as always, church history shows us that there are extremes to be avoided. Some believers, to remain pure and unspotted from the world, will withdraw altogether, living in caves, or at least going into monasteries, and so on. And there CAN be a place for some of that activity for some people, to some degree.
The other extreme of course is to totally embrace the world, its values, its beliefs, and its behaviours. But worldliness is something we are repeatedly warned about in Scripture. So the issue once again is about trying to find the biblical balance.
And all this has once again come to a head with the release of the film Sound of Freedom. Much of the recent criticism about it had to do with religious and theological differences. Some folks thought we should stay away from the film altogether because not all those involved in it are fully onside theologically. I already penned two articles looking in detail at those critics and their criticisms.
In that case, it was about doctrinal and theological purity. Some Christians thought we must avoid this film like the plague. Never mind the rescue of trafficked children. But I argued – once again – that there is a place for working with others for various worthwhile purposes. It is called co-belligerency.
What I want to discuss here follows on from all that, but it has a somewhat broader application. As I just mentioned, how do we stay “pure” in various ways while living in the world? The New Testament does speak about the need for separation at times. But it also speaks about being involved in the world to make a difference.
As but one example of the former, Christians, of course, should avoid sexual impurity. So in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul says we are to avoid those involved in sexual immorality. Yet he says that in terms of those claiming to be believers. He says that if we seek to avoid ALL sexually immoral people, then we “would need to go out of the world” (see 1 Cor. 5:9-11).
If Paul were here today he would not be telling us to never buy a coffee at some shop for fear that the barista is sexually immoral. He would not tell us never to fill our cars with petrol because the one taking our cash might be immoral, or an atheist, or a cultist, or a witch. So, he would seek for a bit of common sense here. We should as well.
Getting back then to the question about associating with others when it comes to theological and doctrinal matters, let me tease this out a bit further. While hopefully, most Christians would find this all rather obvious, sadly not all do. So I need to revisit this matter in a bit more detail.
The question is, then, when do we need to have a theological checklist in place, and when do we not? That is, when do we need to know where another person or group stands in terms of their religious beliefs and theological stances, and when does it not matter so much?
It seems to me that in some cases it is very important that we know – and act accordingly – where someone is in terms of their beliefs. But in other cases, it really does not matter very much at all. So let me offer two lists of ten points each.
Cases where we need such a checklist:
When you are seeking a new pastor for your church
When you want to hire a Bible college professor
When you are selecting a teacher for a Christian school
When you are seeking a marriage partner
When you want to find a very close business associate
When you want someone to lead your Bible study
When you are vetting candidates for missionary work
When you need a counsellor in your Christian ministry
When you need someone to help you write your statement of faith
When you want godly and biblical advice on important matters
Cases where we (almost always) do not need such a checklist:
When you buy an ice cream cone
When you are buying petrol for your car
When you deal with a checkout chick at a supermarket
When you go see a travel agent
When you need a plumber to unclog your drain
When you need some legal advice about drafting a will
When you need a doctor to look at an infection you have
When you want advice on where to best invest some surplus funds you have
When you need a tradesman to put up a fence
When you need a quote for getting your house painted
All this should be obvious enough. And yes, sometimes knowing that a person is a Christian might be of use, even when looking for a house painter. You hope that the believer will be less likely to rip you off, cut corners, or overcharge you. So in THAT sense, yes it might be good to know where a person is at.
But even here, one would likely prefer a fully qualified and experienced pagan painter over a Christian one who has no clue what he is doing. Once again, so much of this is just a matter of common sense. The simple truth is, in some areas, yes it matters very much where a person stands in terms of religious beliefs, theology, or spiritual practices. But in other areas, it really does not matter very much at all.
Yet some purists and Pharisee types seem to be all upset that those rescuing trafficked children – or those making movies about them – may not be fully orthodox biblical believers. Well, let me tell you this: if a son of mine were kidnapped, but a New Ager, an agnostic, or a JW rescued him, I would not give a rip what their theology was – or wasn’t. I would thank them profusely for doing this.
And I have actually had to ask some of these critical folks point blank a question like this: ‘If your daughter or grandson was kidnapped by traffickers, would you only allow biblical Christians to try to rescue them, or would you support anyone, regardless of the spiritual and theological position, to help save them?’
So I obviously differ with some of the critics here. Yes, good theology is very important. But so too is rescuing a child from rapists and sexual traffickers.