Keeping Oneself Unstained by the World

According to the Clark County Democrat (and others), a bar owner sued a Baptist church who petitioned and prayed against the opening of his newly remodeled bar. Apparently, a thunderstorm dropped a lightning bolt on the establishment about a week before it was to open, and it burned to the ground. Based upon the church\’s actions, the bar owner held the congregation responsible, either “directly or indirectly” and sued. The church responded by denying any and all culpability in the matter. In the case, the judge noticed – quite correctly, I might add – that the bar owner apparently believed in the power of prayer, whereas the church congregation obviously didn’t.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

What is a stain?

What does it mean to keep oneself unstained (unspotted, unblemished) by the world? To answer that question, we first need to review the nature of a stain.

Some of the synonyms for stain are as follows:

discoloration, dirt, filth, grime, soil, grease, grunge, mark, stigma, brand, blot, smear, smirch, spot, appearance, color, coloring material, dirtiness, error, fault, mistake, symbol, uncleanness, visual aspect

While we could go on about how stains are difficult to remove, the real lesson here is that they affect the thing on which they are found. A stain on your shirt affects how the shirt looks and is used. A black and white checkered pattern (or stain) on a flag affects how that flag is used: it is a signal to indicate that a race has finished, whereas a solid black flag indicates punishment or hazard, and the driver must return to the pits. In both of these cases, the stain on the flags defines their purpose.

What is being stained by the World?

As a Christian, stains function similarly but not identically to the examples I’ve provided. Simply put, a stain is anything that affects or directs you towards one or more ungodly behaviors.

A Christian, who is stained by the world, carries something of the world – something of the fleshly nature – that affects how the Christian behaves. For example, if such a person does not believe that all of their needs are met in the person of Jesus Christ, then they carry a fleshly behavior pattern, a stain. That stain affects their behavior – they may become co-dependent or become involved in ungodly pursuits such as lasciviousness. They may become hoarders of things or of money.

The Stains of the World

There are plenty of things that can stain the Christian.  Just a quick look a the internet will uncover all sorts of things that we can use to make ourselves dirty.  But be careful with that concept: it’s not just about living among the sin or being exposed to the sin that’s the problem (otherwise, Jesus would have been stained, correct?).

For example, an average Christian can visit a restaurant or bar and not leave drunk.  It’s a simple choice.  But don’t miss this: the stains I’m talking about exist in our motives that drive our decisions.  If your motivation is to feel better, and you believe that getting drunk or smoking will make you feel better, then you’ll get drunk or smoke just to feel better.  And therein lies the stain: not the activity participated in, but the motivation, the spirit that lead to the activity.

The truth is that only God can supply all our needs. And feeling better is a need no matter how you dissect it.  When we go to things other than God to meet our needs, we act on our stains.

Keeping ourselves unstained by the world will not be achieved through works or observing how other people live.  Jesus said of the Pharisees,

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.  (Matthew 23:1-4)

What was He saying?  Follow the Law of God, not the law of man, as observed through their actions and belief systems.  In other words, the Pharisees were stained.  And if you followed after their deeds, you would be stained of the world, just like they were.

The Stains of Tradition

There are other stains which we\’re not so keen to see, those being the stains of traditions. These stains are found within the confines of the church. Tradition, particularly in the Baptist church (of which I’m most familiar), states that we should not “drink, dance, smoke or chew, or go with those that do.” What’s the point of this mantra? To keep the impressionable away from danger, to keep the young ones unstained from the world. It’s not a bad tradition; it has valid outcome desires. It’s a “follow the rules, and you’ll be a good person” type of tradition.

The problem is that instead of making disciples of the young people, we instead give them rules to follow – as if forcing them to obey rules makes them righteous or turns them into good people. What about their innermost desires? Have those desires changed by them keeping these rules? If you listen to the doctrine of some people – read the right thing, believe the right thing, do the right thing, be acceptable to God – then in their world, the answer is yes. But as a student of four years at a fundamental Baptist University, I can, with assurance, tell you that those students who lived under and by the letter of the law (tradition) of their church and parents were the first ones to get into trouble. They were the first to break free from the bondage of hypocrisy in which they had been forced to live and instead pursued that which was in their heart. In those people, the letter of the law and the church’s traditions made no difference to their innermost man.God desires truth in the inward parts, not sacrifice or legalistic obedience to His law:

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6)

For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ (Jeremiah 7:22-23)

But the LORD said unto Samuel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD see not as man see; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

When God says He desires truth in our inward parts, He is really saying that He wants His nature inside of us, as opposed to some other nature, that being the stain of the world.  This other nature is what He was talking about in regards to Saul.

So, what’s the point?

The point is that just because we keep and obey the rules does not mean we’re not stained by the world.  Had those college students not carried the desires of the world, then they would have behaved correctly, as ones who carried God’s truth in their inward parts.  But instead, they rebelled against the norms they were coerced into following.  While at home, they were the perfect little Christians who obeyed the rules and precepts laid before them.  But when on their own, those precepts meant nothing and their true colors, their real stains were apparent.

Back to the Bar

So what happened between the church and bar? I don’t know the final outcome, but I can positively comment on what the church did. They followed the letter of the law – they tried to tear down the idols in their land. They prayed about it (good), and they petitioned against this man and his venture (not so good). And when confronted by their enemy on the veracity of their religion and their actions, they denied culpability (wrong).

This whole thing reminds me of the Old Testament: how many times did one King or another tear down Israel\’s idols? And it didn\’t work, did it? Why not? Because the heart of the people was not changed. You can take away a man\’s idol, but you can\’t take the idol out of the man\’s heart.

A very good friend of mine responded to this particular Bar vs. Baptist Church happenstance in this manner:

If Satan can’t get you to do a wrong thing, then he’ll get you to do the right thing in the wrong way.

This is simply another way of saying:

If God can’t get you to do the right thing in the right way, Satan will get you to do the right thing in the wrong way.

Seeing that we all know (according to those who have the corner on proper scriptural interpretation) that alcohol is of the devil and drinking is a sin, then I’ll bite on this bait. I’m going to assume that the “right thing” is that the congregation should have instead confessed their sins and the sins of their community; then prayed for their community so that everyone would have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and the need for this bar would have therefore been obviated.

But I don’t think that’s what he meant at all.  What he meant was that yes, they did the right thing in trying to dispose of the bar, but they tried to get rid of it in the wrong manner and didn’t follow through on their not-so-convicting convictions when they had the chance: in court.  What the average Christian believes, which is born out in this confrontation, is that bars turn people into people that God hates, so bars are bad and should be disposed of: Hence, the trick is to dispose of bad things properly.

But what about the people?  And God now hates them when He didn’t before?  That’s Westboro Baptist Church theology, folks, and it’s not of God.

Seriously, I don’t know what to think. So, the right thing is that this guy shouldn’t have a bar? Really? And how does that help the man? How does that help the community, other than cleaning up a few drunks that would otherwise offend the piety of a few sanctimonious tithers people?  The truth of the matter is you can take the bar and the prostitutes away from the community, but you can’t take those things out of the heart of people.  Which gets us right back to this-or-that King of Israel who tore down down the idols and groves of the land, only find that later on, some other King had to do exactly the same again.

Instead of looking at the symptoms of spiritual death in our society (stains) as an ill to be healed by Jesus, we look at them as oozing cancers, which must be eradicated through our church programs and vociferous speech. But what does the Bible say our response should be to the ills of society?

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within {the church}? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Mat 28:18-20)

He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mar 16:16-18)

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. (Rev 22:11)

What people don’t understand about the church is this: it’s not about evangelism or cleaning up your neighborhood – it’s about discipleship – and that, mostly outside the church’s walls. And what church members don’t get about society is that there are those who, when presented with the Gospel, will turn away and say “no thank you.” So instead of leaving those people alone, letting them “be filthy still,” we try to clean them up. But there’s a problem with that: it only serves to provide a false sense of security to the filthy, and a false sense of piety to the self-righteous.

In other words, it provides a stain of false righteousness.

But why do we do this?  Because we’re stained by the traditions of the institutional church.  It’s the Crusades all over again, without the murderous bits.  Does God want righteousness throughout all of our society?  Of course He does.  But we do not make society righteous by forcing obedience to the law. Instead, it is done one person at a time through a change of heart.

It’s not enough to clean someone up: you can bathe a pig, but that doesn’t make the pig into a horse. And it doesn’t turn the pigsty into a palace. It just makes the pig think he’s special when the truth is that the pig will be slaughtered along with the rest of his brethren.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: