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The Church and the World

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The relationship between the church and the world can be complex, especially for the church.

I’ve always thought and taught that there are essentially three postures that the church—which is to say, both congregations and individuals—can take toward the world around them.

They can insulate. Churches or individual believers who insulate themselves see all of the problems going on “out there” and retreat into their holy huddle. They cloister themselves, privatize their faith, and build high walls to keep the world from invading.

They can integrate. Those who choose to integrate buy into the contemporary cultural ethos hook, line, and sinker. They sell their biblical birthright for a proverbial pot of stew.

Or, they can incarnate. Churches or believers who choose the model of the Messiah, incarnational ministry, partner with the Spirit to transform the world around them.

This little alliterative outline has helped me in my personal attempt to live for Christ in the world. And it has been a real help in encouraging believers as they live out the same mission.

Thanks to an article I read this morning, I have a new outline to use.

The church _____ the world

The preposition you use to fill in the blank—in, against, of, or for—makes all the difference. 

I love the simplicity. Of course, this originated with Tim Keller. There’s a reason that thousands of people will pay to read what people like him write. There are four postures that the church can take toward the world.

The church in the world, like the insulated church I’ve always taught about, is present there but has little or no effect upon it.

The church against the world is like the church in the world in that they’ve grown inward. However, they’ve taken it a step further by fostering and fomenting an adversarial relationship toward the world.

The church of the world is the church that has integrated into the world. They have diluted or discarded the truth of the Bible in effort to appeal to the masses.

The church for the world is making God’s word and ministry incarnate. They want to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So they take action, compelled by a deep conviction of the truth of God’s word, the prompting of the spirit, and a deep love and concern for their neighbors.

The view that you, as an individual, and your church, as an organization, take toward the world reveals itself in a thousand ways: how you talk, what you think, your stance toward sin, the activities with which you busy yourself, the prayers you pray, and the company you keep, just to name a few.

When it comes to our view of the church and the world, let’s make sure we choose the correct preposition.

Let’s talk about it

What about your church? Is your church in, against, of, or for the world?

What about you? Are you in, against, of, or for? The preposition you and I choose makes all the difference.