My heart sank as I sat across a coffee shop table listening to a friend talk about her latest experience with church. Another set of flawed humans casting judgment based on another set of human traditions, and my friend was found wanting.
In my travels all over America, I’ve seen a lot. Words casually used in one state are curse words in another. Different places have different rules for dancing, drinking, and playing card games. Even blue jeans or simple pants can cause a stir.
While many Christians will readily admit that these kinds of topics are not critical elements of salvation, we can’t blindly ignore them altogether. They cause problems among us, so we must wrestle with what the Bible says.
DIFFICULT QUESTIONS WITHOUT EASY ANSWERS
A word to the wise is sufficient. ~ancient Roman maxim
Think about these questions.
- Is it okay to watch an R-rated movie? What about PG-13 with disturbing images? If you draw the line on disturbing images, what about fact-based and historical movies? Are movies about Nazi Germany off your list? What about inspirational movies that begin with tragedy?
- Which words are curse words? What if a person says a word you don’t consider a curse word in a manner that clearly portrays anger, frustration, or impatience? How should you respond toward others if you move to an area where a word that’s unacceptable to you is not considered cursing in your new town?
- Is it okay for a woman to wear pants inside her home? While out shopping for groceries? Can a woman wear pants to church? What if she wears pants or jeans while standing on the church stage? Most women like well-fitting clothes, so how form-fitting is too much?
Christians tend to want to isolate. It’s appealing, protecting ourselves from the things of the world that bother us. This has led many churches and denominations to boldly declare stances against dancing, card games, drinking, particular clothes, and certain ratings on movies and television shows.
And they often quote the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:2 as their defense. Or, at least, part of verse two. They say, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world . . .”
Yep. Paul did write that.
But he didn’t put a period there. The verse continues.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Don’t conform. Instead, be transformed so you can determine God’s will. That’s a little different from burying ourselves in rules.
JESUS CHIMES IN
But don’t stop at Paul’s words. Let’s back up a couple of books to the Gospel of John. In the Garden of Gethsemane in the hours before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His disciples. He said, in part,
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. . . . As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. John 17:15-16, 18
And then He prayed for future believers.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
Christ didn’t pray that we’d be removed from the world. In fact, He specifically asked God to leave us here! He prayed we’d have a spiritual unity that would show Jesus to the world.
Not Apart from the World
So what do we do with all of this? How can we answer those questions that don’t have any easy answers?
1. Acknowledge that God wants us to stand together.
When we take offense at another Christian simply because they have wine with dinner or play gin rummy with friends, we blatantly fight against the unity Christ prayed for and God seeks.
Please understand that I’m not defending the one who gets drunk or gambles away the family savings. I’m not talking about excessive behavior here.
2. Recognize our unique passions and gifts are useful in the areas of spiritual battle God’s assigned to us.
I see spiritual truths in non-spiritual movies. Like Paul who found the statue to an unnamed god in Athens (Acts 17:22-34), this gives me common ground where I can start a discussion about spiritual things.
3. Which means others will fight where we cannot or should not.
But we should always balance this with godly wisdom. Alcoholics shouldn’t go to bars. Gamblers might need to be wary of card games. I struggle with fear, so I avoid scary movies and fear-filled books.
Away with the cowards who flee from the real world and cloak their cowardice with piety. ~Martin Luther
This is a difficult subject, but really we’re talking about the perfect tension. We must hate sin as much as God hates sin yet love the world as much as God loves the world. Each Christian carries the Holy Spirit within, and He will guide each of us in our actions and attitudes if we bother to ask and pay attention. We should trust Him, and respect His work in others.
We need Christians in every area of life, from the fashion industry to the entertainment industry, from the culinary arts to the many facets of health and wellness. In businesses big and small, in government offices and public services, followers of Christ should not have to dodge arrows flung by other followers of Christ.
If we cannot boldly walk into the areas God has called us to, following His instructions with the confidence that our spiritual brothers and sisters are praying for our protection, health, and success, how will the light of Christ penetrate every area of this world?
If you want to read an example of how Christians can love each other in the secular workplace, check out my Embers series. Supporting each other doesn’t have to be filled with big displays or overt actions. Sometimes, chocolate is enough.
Inspector Cassandra McCarthy never thought she’d be raising her two daughters alone, but her husband’s unexpected death forced her to find a career. Now working beside a retired Special Operations soldier and veteran fireman, she serves her small North Carolina town, protecting them from hazards they don’t understand. She loves what she does and trusts God to provide—until a series of unexplained fires hits too close to home.