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It seems as though people in my church are becoming very worldly. What can I do about this?


It seems as though people in my church are becoming very worldly. Some wear earrings, and some curse and do bad things like that. People in the church seem to be fighting over things such as music and clothes, and were losing what our church is all about. And Im concerned that young people will just quit, and then the church will die. What can I do about this?

Steve Answers:

Your church sounds a lot like, well, many churches and many people. And there are times when the worldliness and fighting you mentioned describe me! Yikes!

I’ve heard this same concern a number of times in my life. Usually it comes from older people who remember “the good old days,” although they tend to remember only certain things from those days. I actually have a book entitled The Good Old Days—They Were Terrible! in which the author points out that people forget many of the unpleasant things of the past, such as pollution, bad health, poor education, etc. I’m not denying that things can be pretty bad right now. I’m just pointing out that they might have been bad in the past as well.

The Bible presents some pretty bad times in the church. When Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago, he cleansed the Temple twice (see John 2:13-25 and Luke 19:45-48).

Long before that, God spoke the Ten Commandments to His people, and within days they were dancing around a golden calf (see Exodus 32:1-14). In that story God threatened to destroy the Israelites, but Moses interceded on their behalf (which might be something we could do more of these days—pray for others).

After King Solomon built the beautiful Temple to God, most of the later kings chose not to follow God, and they led their subjects into worldliness or pagan worship. The young king Joash repaired and restored the Temple. But later the items dedicated in the Temple were taken out and used to worship Baal! (See 2 Chronicles 24:7.) Another king, the wicked Ahaz, purposely broke the utensils in the Temple and then closed the Temple so nobody could worship there. Then he “set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 28:24, NLT).* Eventually the Temple was burned to the ground by the Babylonians (see 2 Kings 25:8-10). Things can certainly get bad, can’t they?

In your question you mention the problem of worldliness. Let me highlight two familiar passages about the world. In 1 John 2:15-17, you’ll find this:

“Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world. And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever” (NLT).

This describes what many would consider to be “worldly,” although it doesn’t name the specific things you mentioned.

The other passage is John 3:16: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (NLT). Sound familiar?

John uses the same word, world (kosmos in Greek), for the evil he wants us to avoid and also the people he wants to save through the gift of Jesus. Obviously there must be more than one meaning for the word world. This might describe the very tension we feel inside of ourselves and also in our churches.

Paul wrote to a fairly worldly church about this and told them that Jesus died for us so that we can live for Him. Instead of living to please ourselves, we have a new life that God gives us now. This new life enables us to say no to the pull of the evil in the world and to say yes to the pull of God. We are then public-relations agents to draw other people in the world to this amazing God who gave us new life. You can read about that in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.

Whenever you observe outward behaviors, instead of immediately jumping to the conclusion that a person is “worldly,” remember that you can judge only the outward appearance, and only God can judge the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Why would a person wear earrings? To be worldly? To look attractive? To honor someone who gave them as a gift? To dress up as much as possible for God? To rebel against what they were told in the past? To make others jealous? Maybe instead of guessing or pronouncing, you should ask the person the reason for their behavior. The possible motives I mentioned could be the same motives for wearing a nice dress or new shoes or a necktie for men!

We can make the same mistake of judging the motives when we observe what seems to be godly behavior. Why does a person pray in front of the church? To speak to God for the congregation? To listen to himself or herself talk out loud? To try to impress others? To please authority figures? To polish their image? To participate in worship? To help? For some people, it’s often a mixture of many motives that leads them to do a certain action. So be slow to judge and quick to listen when you ask people about their motives after you’ve observed certain behaviors.

I’ve got a question for you. Who should go to your church—sinners or saints?
I hope you answer “Yes,” because both are invited. Sinners need a place to come to God and find forgiveness, and saints need a place to honor the God who has forgiven them. Sinners need a place to receive God’s power to live, and saints need a place to serve. But this means that your church will be a hodgepodge of people with all kinds of needs and all kinds of reasons for being there. The only way they will experience true fellowship is if both rely on God. The only hope I have for your church (or mine) is that God will be present and that people will find God there.

What can you do about it? Love the world the way God does.

* Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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