Remember when ‘worldliness’ was a major issue in Pentecostal churches? It is hardly mentioned now! In fact, it is code word for being out-of-date, too old-fashioned, and probably legalistic, certainly not ‘with-it.’ A few generations ago, the avoidance of worldliness equated with a somewhat exotic social-cultural profile. And amazingly, holiness folk were willing to endure the rejection that came with cultural differentiation. They had discovered something – someone, more precious than anything the world could offer. That pro-holiness, and therefore anti-worldly posture, was attained without hostility toward non-Christians While the symbols of differentiation may have been misplaced on the superficial, on that with a decided emphasis on separation ‘from’ rather than ‘unto,’ the fact that the doctrine of otherness was so fervently embraced and valued is remarkable. Now, the symbols have been eliminated, labeled legalistic, and with them has gone an adequate emphasis on holiness, consecration and separation from the world.
The problem with worldliness is that it is so stealth and subtle. Its’ most poisonous bite is not the obviously naughty or blatantly immodest, which we know we should avoid. Rather, it is in the unconscious effects, our careless, heedless assimilation of unbiblical thinking and acting patterns that appear benign rendering us unaware that we are being seduced. Worldliness is the wall paper, the background music – not something upon which we focus. It is in the water and air, so pervasive and simultaneously unavoidable. We live in the world; and yet, we are not to be of the world. But in subtle ways, seemingly insignificant changes come into our lives: altered assumptions, caveats to our theology, footnotes and exceptions, a new lens for seeing God, flexible categories for sin, enlightened syncretism in the name of cultural accommodation. The peer pressure to acclimate to social deviations and moral aberrations is huge. There are demands to sign on to new sexual norms, a crusade to modify the definition of marriage, to legalize dangerous drugs, to mandate abortions, to ban prayer and thoroughly secularize society, to allow the most egregious and degrading language. These are treacherous dangers. But our major point of vulnerability is not at the intersection of these major deviances, but at the subtle and seemingly innocent foundations. It is the small incremental shifts that are more dangerous.
And that begins, not in terms of our reference points with regard to the world, the flesh or the devil; but in terms of our understanding of God. We have forgotten who God is, what He is like, how he acts and interacts with us; how utterly other He is.