As a child in Pentecostal church I often heard sermons warning against the dangers of worldliness. The words of John were seared into my Christian psyche:
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).
In my Pentecostal tribe worldliness was often defined as attending movies, fairs, and other public amusements; wearing cosmetics, jewelry, and pants (for women); and drinking and smoking. Although this holiness discipline often became a form of legalism and self-righteousness, as we look back we should admire the desire of early Pentecostals to be “a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9 KJV).
Today, it is rare to hear a Pentecostal preacher warn against worldliness. Most Pentecostals warn against legalism and self-righteousness (as we should); but rarely take seriously the temptation of worldliness. In fact, I’m suggesting that we have embraced worldliness – secularism.
Secularism became a popular methodology with the seeker sensitive movement which sought to empty the church of architecture and symbols that had religious significance. The sanctuary became a “worship center” that resembled a common auditorium. By removing the religious symbols from our worship centers we have effectively secularized a sacred place. Many Christians protest the removing of the Nativity scene from a public space, but fail to erect one in the sanctuary. It is ironic that as we resist the secularization of culture we are embracing the secularization of the worship center.
I often read articles that suggest that we should remove “religious jargon” from our conversations in order to reach the masses. Are we really insisting that we not speak our unique language to tell our story? Certain religious terms are essential to message of the gospel – God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, sin, repentance, forgiveness, salvation, sanctification, resurrection – are all loaded theological terms that are essential to telling our story. We forget that these words were often foreign to the early pagan audience of the apostles. But the apostles didn’t trade these words for acceptable alternatives; they carefully defined the words so they could be understood. If we remove these terms from our preaching and teaching, then we have secularized our language.
What events do we celebrate? Does Super Bowl Sunday have as much significance in your church’s calendar as Pentecost Sunday? Do Memorial Day, Independence Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day have priority on your church calendar? Whose story are we trying to tell? If secular (national) holidays have priority in our church celebrations, then we are giving priority to telling the story of the nation over the story of Jesus Christ. The observance of holy days and holy practices (sacraments) serve to remind us of God’s story. If we fail to prioritize the story of God in our celebrations then we have secularized the calendar.
I often hear that “the message remains, but the methodology changes.” The truth is that our methodology reflects our message. Like it or not the methodology changes the message. A methodology that robs the church of its story is a method of secularization. I fear that we have become very good at building crowds, but we are failing at making disciples. The words of John are especially significant in our post-modern, post-Christian, secular age. Worldliness should be resisted, not embraced.