“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Rom. 12:2.
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Titus 2:11, 12.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” James 1:27; 4:4.
We see by these scriptures that we are not to be conformed to the world. What we need to know, then, is what conformity to the world is. Far too many people are anxious to tout about what it isn’t. The great need is for those who can tell us what it is.
Paul makes his appeal against worldliness pressing in his letter to Titus. The grace of God teaches us to deny worldly lusts – the same grace that brought us salvation. This grace has appeared to all men, but how – Through preachers:
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14).
But where are the preachers today who are teaching how to abstain from worldly lusts? This is the urgent need of the hour. How can one teach this if they do not have some conception of what worldliness is? If I am to have pure religion by, among other things, keeping myself unspotted from the world, I must needs have some comprehension of what the term “the world” entails. If I am not to love the world, I need to have some understanding of what constitutes “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Obviously, if I do not understand what is involved in worldliness, these scriptures are unintelligible to me.
If my idea of the world takes no specific theological shape, then my concept of worldliness is nebulous and relative. But if, as James says, to be a friend of the world is to be in enmity with God, and to have the love of the world means to be void of the love of God, dare I take the risk by accepting a relative view of worldliness?
There is an attitude among liberal religionists today that the person who dares to preach against certain things, whether dress or actions, is fanatical and out of harmony with the Spirit of Christ. But, as we see by our opening texts, even our apostolic forefathers were very concerned with the subject of worldliness. The liberals, then, are first of all incorrect in their assessment of those who preach against worldliness, and are themselves out of harmony with the Spirit of Christ.
We have heard and have read a lot of explaining away by people with roots in the Church of God Reformation movement. They dismiss the standards and simplicity of the pioneer brethren as legalism, attributing their conservative views to rural American revivalism, prevalent at that time. Is there a single one of those who advocate such a view that is able to preach against worldliness today? Are they able to define it for us? Do some of the more honest ones not admit that a general drift has pervaded their own movement, and that they are concerned about some things?
In the book As the River Flows, John A. Morrison, first president of Anderson Bible College (now Anderson University), dismisses the earlier views of the pioneer brethren and compares them to Pharisees. He argues that the movement had become fanatical in its interpretations of worldliness and adoption of ascetic principles. Is this a fair comparison? Or is it a misrepresentation of the facts? Let us see Jesus Himself defined what constitutes a Pharisee in Matthew 23. Let us highlight the points. A Pharisee is one who:
- Does not practice what he preaches (vs. 3).
- Puts grievous burdens on the shoulders of others, but will not carry them himself (vs. 4).
- Does his works to be seen of men (vs. 5).
- Loves to have the most attention and to be praised with honorable titles (vs. 6, 7).
- Refuses to get true salvation, and shuts up the way for others to get it (vs.13).v
- Seeks to extort money from those who have none (vs. 14).
- Makes long prayers to impress those listening (vs. 14).
- Goes out of his way to win someone over to his own view, but in doing so makes him doubly more the child of hell (vs. 15).
- Magnifies the worth of money and prosperity more than spiritual things (vs. 16-18).
- Has a form of godliness, but omits the most important things – judgment, mercy and faith (vs. 23).
- Outwardly appears righteous, but inwardly is full of iniquity (vs. 25-28).
- Builds monuments to the prophets whose influence was cut off by his own progenitors, but will not live to that preached by those prophets (vs. 29-30).
- Is a serpent and a viper (vs. 33).
Now, pray tell, of which of these points were the pioneer brethren guilty? Those who are acquainted with their writings and teachings know positively that they did not overemphasize the outward to the neglect of the inward. Did they extort money from the poor? For all of their high dress standards and morals, were they inwardly full of iniquity? Did they omit judgment, mercy and faith? Did they love the titles and praises of men? Did they shut up the way of salvation against souls?
What the pioneers did endeavor to do was to define the scriptures in language that could be understood and was intelligible to mankind. For this they cannot be faulted. In so doing, they came far closer to the mark of obeying the scriptures than their modern-day progenitors who throw standards to the wind of human whim and individualism, praising the pioneers but not living to what they preached. But the work that the pioneers accomplished bore fruit, and good fruit at that.
Anderson College Press should have been ashamed back then to publish such glaring hypocritical analysis from Mr. Morrison. He was himself originally saved under those radical, anti-worldly pioneers on whom he finds it so easy to apply the Pharisaical epithet. Yet, he was himself a foremost proponent in adopting some of the very things that characterizes a Pharisee, i.e. love of lauding titles (Reverend, Doctor of Divinity), etc. There are many such books as Mr. Morrison’s circulating in Church of God circles these days. Almost without exception they praise the sweeping reform the pioneers set in motion while at the same time decrying what they deem as their narrow-mindedness.
Let us put the matter before the reader plainly. If worldliness is not inherent in certain fashions, customs, practices, and places, then pray tell what it is. Do you condemn as legalists those who preach that the wearing of jewelry embodies worldliness? Whatever do you do with such scriptures as the following:
“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” I Tim. 2:9
“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.” I Pet. 3:3.
Do you wear gold? Do you wear pearls? Are you concerned with having fine and fashionable clothes? If the answer is yes, you have some very serious explaining to do. It is one thing to criticize those who preach against things that you consider as gray areas, but these scriptures mention things in black and white. If you cannot obey the Word in these littlest things, then you haven’t spiritual discernment enough to know what worldliness isn’t, nor the authority to pass judgment on those who are obeying the little things. The saints of this restoration have taken a lot of criticism for their stand on separation from the world and their interpretation of worldliness. We have been called the “right-wing Church of God” and have been accused of living in the past and putting “time in a bottle.” But we do not dress the way we do or refrain from certain things just because the pioneer brethren did so. We aren’t living in the past. We do, however, see worldliness through the scriptures and seek to define it in present-day terms. We see the fruit separation from the world produced in the Evening Light Reformation, and it is producing the same fruit today.
We dare say that most ministers today aren’t worthy to claim the pioneer brethren as their predecessors. They were brave men and women who preached against sectism and worldliness, at times to the very peril of their lives. Those who claim to follow in the spirit of their footsteps won’t even preach what few convictions they do have today, for fear of offending their congregations or losing their salaried positions. It is wrong to praise the pioneers for their heroic valor and then to decry the very things that inspired that valor.
We exhort all souls claiming their roots in the Evening Light Reformation to take an honest look at themselves and the spiritual conditions of the movement they are in. When is the last time you heard a message on worldliness? Does the term “worldliness” mean anything to you? Do the scriptures quoted above mean something specific to you? Do they stir within your soul a great carefulness in living for God? Do the preachers you sit under define things for you? Does the evangelist’s wife obey the Word in all things, not adorning herself with jewelry and fashionable clothes? And how about the pastor’s wife? Are you a friend of the world? Has your movement tried to marry the things of the world and the things of God? What about that so-called “Christian rock” concert your church recently supported? Or the “country music” karaoke at the recent graduation party? Ah, souls, do not shame the name of God’s church by such adulterant practices!
We have the Word of God in the English language for a reason. Let us read it, obey its precepts, preach it, interpret it with the help of the Holy Ghost, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. It will produce the same effect that it did for the pioneers. If there is any doubt, we invite all souls to come see what the Lord is doing in this present restoration.