“Come out from them and be separate says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17)
I grew up in a very conservative denomination. We rejected the label “evangelical” for the more spiritual label, “fundamentalist.” How conservative where we? Well, in both High School and college (I attended denominational schools) I played basketball in long pants because wearing shorts was considered immodest. Somehow, through all the nonsense I was taught, God reached out to me, and through His grace, brought me to a place of peace, mercy, and forgiveness.
It was early in Sunday School, as a child, that I memorized 2 Corinthians 6:17. As a tribute to my fundamentalist, legalistic upbringing, I will quote it from the only Bible we were permitted to use, The Authorized King James Version: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord…” It is impossible to count how many sermons I have heard from this single verse. And all the sermons had the same theme! To be “separate” means you…
- Don’t curse.
- Don’t dance.
- Don’t go to movies.
- Wait until marriage to have sex. (Because we all know sex leads to dancing.)
- Don’t listen to rock music.
- Don’t listen to contemporary Christian music. (This was even worse the rock music. The absolute worse style of music to listen to was Christian rock. “You can’t have Christian rock anymore than you can have Christian prostitution.” Yep, that’s a direct quote from more than one preacher.)
- If you are a guy, don’t wear long hair…or earrings…or a necklace…or a bracelet. (Pretty much all jewelry was forbidden. If you wore any jewelry, you were a “sissy.” Nothing was worse than being called a sissy.)
- No “mixed bathing.” (That’s not what you think. It simply means guys and girls were forbidden to swim in the same pool at the same time.)
- No drinking alcohol. In fact, a good Christian would not shop in a grocery store, or eat at a restaurant, that served alcohol. A really good Christian would refuse to take cough syrup if there was alcohol in it.
- If you were a girl, only wear dresses, or skirts, or these things called kool-locks (I don’t think that’s the correct spelling.) Basically, girls were forbidden to wear pants.
- No gambling, or playing pool, or pin-ball, or any video-games, and face-cards were straight from the pit of hell. Rook, however, was acceptable.
- Surprisingly, smoking was ok. Mainly because a large number of people in my denomination made their money, and supported the denomination, with tobacco farms. The usual line in a sermon about smoking was, “Smokin’ won’t send you to hell, but it will make you smell like you have been there.”
You say, “Kevin, you are exaggerating.” I wish I were, but as a teenager, I had to sneak and go behind my parents’ back to go to Family Billiards to play Astroids and Pack-Man, and the occasional game of pool. I kid you not! I wasted a lot of money during my teen years buying AC/DC and REO Speedwagon and Eagles records, only to burn them after a convicting youth retreat, only to repurchase them a few weeks later. Even now, after all these years, when I go to the movies (which is not very often), I still feel a twinge of guilt. Popcorn with extra butter makes me feel a lot better.
Are the things listed above what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Come out from among them and be separate?” Some of the things, probably. Some of the things, maybe. Some of the other things, maybe not. Paul’s context IS a warning about being a worldly Christian. The context IS about personal holiness. But the problem with making a list is that the list, if we are not careful, becomes legalistic. Most of the time, the lists does nothing to change the heart and mind of the person. Thus, a list can be counter-productive. The list, in and of itself, does not produce holiness.
Living a separated, holy life is not a list but a lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that impacts every area of life. As a follower of Jesus, there should be a marked difference between my worldview and the worldview of secular society. My worldview, not only affects my personal choices, but also my public choices, and my attitudes and my values and my beliefs. My Christian worldview should put me at odds with the prevailing thoughts, attitudes, perspectives, values, beliefs, and actions of secular society.
As a follower of Jesus, I have a different filter then those who do not follow Jesus. Paul writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The culture in which I live (the U.S. culture) filters things through the empty philosophies of individualism, secularism, power and dominance, violence, war, self-defense, safety and security, materialism, consumerism, hedonism, isolationism, racism, sexism, and on and on it goes. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to filter things through the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31), the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), the Sermon on the Plains (Luke 6:17-49), the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the job description of the Messiah that, as His disciple, becomes my job description (Luke 4:18-19), plus many other teachings of Jesus.
If I truly strive to live more by the words of Jesus and less by the philosophies of this world, I will automatically be different. Following Jesus’ teachings will most definately affect my personal holiness, but it will also affect my public consciousness. Following Jesus will affect how I view…
- politics, power, and imperialism
- nationalism and patriotism
- war and peace
- refugees and immigrants (both legal and illegal)
- mass incarceration (restorative justice vs. retributive justice)
- the death penalty
- the sanctity of all of life
- the environment
I know what you are thinking, “Didn’t you just trade one list for another?” If you are asking that, I would answer, “Yes and No.” Yes, it is another list, and Yes, there is a danger in becoming a legalist to my new list. But, No! It is not a specific list. It’s a list of values, not a list of actions. Each follower of Jesus, I believe, needs to critically think through the issues we face as a country, and through prayer and study and discussion with other believers, allow the Holy Spirit to lead them in the right direction, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide them as to what specific actions they should take. Furthermore, grace should be extended to follow believers who end up with different action points. Just make sure that you view each issue based on God’s Word, not a political platform or a denominational resolution, or what is popular among your group of friends. Our witness to the gospel greatly depends on how we view (and act on) such things. Peter clearly told us, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
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