How Can the Church Be In the World, Without Being Of the World?

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). 

“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). 

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:15-16). 

The three statements above get at an important truth about followers of Jesus. Namely, we are in the world, but we are not of the world. Our spiritual regeneration has not changed our physical location. And as long as we are here on this spinning blue ball, filled as it is with fellow sinners, most of whom do not share our love for Jesus, the big question hanging over our heads is, How can we, the church, be in the world without being of the world? How can we be here, make a real impact and better our world, without losing focus on our true identity–not as worldlings but as citizens of Heaven?

In The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, (Eerdmans, 1964),  Leonard Verduin says that,

The history of the Church is, to a large extent, the story of a tension between two extreme tendencies: the one extreme makes so much of the principle ‘in the world’ that the Church loses her identity; the other extreme makes so much of the principle ‘not of the world’ that the Church becomes irrelevant (276).

It seems to me that these two extremes would be avoided when the church commits herself to a three-fold vision:

  1. Biblicism
  2. Evangelism
  3. Baptism

Allow me to explain.

Biblicism

At the heart of the message of the Bible is the Gospel. A thoroughly biblicist church would be one that is so saturated with Scripture, so committed to relentlessly pursuing biblical norms for every worship gathering, small group meeting, and outreach event, that the Gospel will be oozing out in every little thing that her people do.

The church possesses the Bible. It is her founding document. It is her unique selling proposition. It is the heart and soul of what makes her unique and distinct from every other institution and movement in the world. To whatever extent a church drifts away from an unwavering reliance on the Bible, that church is drifting toward becoming “of” the world.

Evangelism

Evangelism is, “teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade” (Mack Stiles). A church that is focused on evangelism is a church that thinks strategically about her situation. A church that knows her neighbors and her neighborhood. A church that has her finger on the pulse of the community, with an eye toward the felt needs of the people and a heart for the true need–the need for Jesus.

As a church dedicates herself to evangelism, that church will be increasingly in the world in all the right ways, making an impact through serving and renewing the world with the very love of God. Such a church will not be content to merely impact the surrounding region but will faithfully train up and send out workers into God’s harvest across the globe, impacting the world at large.

Baptism

Believer’s baptism is an outward sign of a life that has been inwardly transformed by the Gospel.

Historically, believer’s baptism has been a demarcation between insiders and outsiders of the church. This is not to say that unbaptized, unbelieving outsiders cannot become baptized, believing insiders. In fact that is the very mission of the church! The gospel offer is free to everyone who will believe. However, a church that places a high value on baptism is one that loves Jesus and wants to obey him (after all, he did command baptism in Matthew 28:19). It is a church that recognizes the miracle that happens when a sinner is called out of the world (spiritually, not physically) and into the family of God.

A church that honors being called out is a church that is ready to go back in. Such a church will head into the world armed with the Gospel that alone transforms lives, renews the community and impacts the world.

Is There Such A Church?

No church has got this figured out perfectly. Verduin himself says that the problem of “in but not of” is “in the very nature of things ultimately and finally insoluble” (278). However, it does seem to me that a church that is doggedly committed to Scripture and the Gospel, is outwardly focused with the Gospel, and steadfastly celebrates Gospel transformation, will be well on her way.

We certainly aren’t doing this perfectly, but for our part, the vision of Park Community Church is, “to be a biblical community where the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives, renews the city and impacts the world.” To learn more about us, go here.

2 thoughts on “How Can the Church Be In the World, Without Being Of the World?”

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