Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Being in the world without being from the world

I’m busy working through the book of Revelation (again!). Contrary to most people I speak to about this book, I find this to be one of the most comforting books in the Bible. I recently purchased a new commentary on this book and although I don’t agree with everything the author says – one point being that he disagrees with the fairly general viewpoint that the Christians in the time when Revelation was written was confronted with great opposition from the Roman empire and that martyrdom was a reality with which they were confronted – I thoroughly enjoy reading through this book.
In the letter to the church in Pergamum, the author notes a few interesting issues. This church is commended for the way in which they took a stand against the worshipping of the emperor – something which was common in those days. Revelation was probably written in around 95 AD, in the time when Domitianus was emperor of Rome. He commanded that the people refer to him as deus et dominus – our lord and our god. However, although they took such a strong stand against this ungodly practice, within the church itself there were serious problems. Apparently there was a group of Christians (church members) who did not consider it inappropriate to take part in heathen festivities. These festivities were usually characterised by various forms of immorality. In this letter to the church in Pergamum, it is said that Jesus holds it against the congregation that there were people within the congregation who took part in these festivities, with the implication that the church did nothing to change their viewpoint.
This brought to mind two questions: Does the church have anything to say about the personal life of church members and does God have anything to say about the way in which I conduct my personal life – or, to put it in other words, is it possible to be in the world without being from the world? When I was much younger, the church in South Africa that we belonged to, had endless rules and regulations about what members could do and could not do, what was sin and what was not sin. These rules didn’t help much, because people still tended to do whatever they wanted – they just ensured that the church leaders didn’t catch them doing this.
In Swaziland, as I suspect in most non-Western countries, this is still true to a great extent. A former colleague of mine used to be a missionary in Zambia and he shared a story with us of how one of their male church members wanted to get married. His only means of transport was a bicycle and he picked up his future wife at her homestead and travelled with her through the forest (a fairly long distance) until they reached the church where they wanted to get married. Once at the church, the local church members decided that he couldn’t get married before being put under church discipline for some time, because nobody knew what had happened while the two were travelling by bicycle through the forest! The amazing part of this story is that the couple accepted their “punishment” and put off their wedding until the church discipline had run its course.
In most churches in Swaziland there are certain things which are absolutely considered as taboo. Smoking and drinking are non-negotiable. I’ve found the same in the church in Russia. I suspect that it would be true for many countries in Africa. These churches come from a background where people would drink until they fall down. When people accept Christ, they have to follow a totally different lifestyle to distinguish them from those who are not Christians. And this is the reason why things like smoking and drinking are such huge issues for them. In their eyes, people smoking and drinking cannot be Christians. Compare this with Indonesia, where I attended church and then, as soon as the service is over, people start lighting up their cigarettes, even while still in the church building. Granted: their buildings are totally different due to the extreme heat, which is more like an open space covered by a roof, but still…
The problem of breaking totally from your old lifestyle is that it becomes increasingly difficult to have an influence on non-Christians. And this brings me back to the main question: How to be in the world without being from the world? The answer is not easy. Few people are capable of doing this, without eventually making important sacrifices. This is apparently what had happened to some Christians in Pergamum.
What are your feelings about this?

Monday, September 7, 2009 - Posted by | Africa, Alternative Society, Church, Culture, Humour, Indigenous church, Mission, Russia, Swaziland, Theology


  1. To just use some of the examples that you yourself supplied Arnau. Do I have to smoke to relate to smokers, or s my acceptance of them as people more important? This is no judgement on the smoker. I am just saying that to be in the world but does not imply that I have to do what the world do. What if the example was not one of smoking, but drugabuse? Would we still have qualms about differentiating about being in the world vs from the world. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE other people regardless of who and where they are.

    On a different point though. Jesus is very clear that if we are not changed on the inside, the outside does not matter. SO to make rules about not being a Christian when you smoke or drink can sound like we are saying the outside is more important, the outside makes the inside clean. Just read Matt 5-7 about thoughts being just as bad and on the other side the fruit of your faith being visible on the outside. So rules are not a “rule of faith”. It does not lead to faith. How do we help people make the inside clean and then let the outside follow? How do we love people into leaving old habits and accepting new habits? What did Paul mean when he referred to sins that ad to death, and sins that don’t lead to death? If a man stops smoking, but still beats his wife, is a good advertisement for God? If a man still smokes, but stops beating his wife, is that a good advertisement for God? Are we maybe placing the accent on the wrong things, or is my standard to low?

    Many questions, what do you think?

    Comment by Lourens Grobbelaar | Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | Reply

  2. Lourens, you make a few good points. I would like others to come into the discussion as well. On the one hand it can be necessary to make a stand for your faith by breaking from certain habits. But you are absolutely right in making the remark about bashing your wife. What is even more realistic in Swaziland is that the number of pregnancies out of wedlock is not much different within the church than outside. But this is just a preliminary reaction from my side. I would like to hear what others say.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | Reply

  3. This thread and the comments demonstrate, in my opinion, how we human beings have the propensity of reading scripture through Pharisaical lenses.

    In America Christians are very vocal against the “worldly” efforts to legalize gay marriage and spend millions of dollars campaigning for the biblical sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman – – – yet the divorce rate among Christians equals the American statistic of 50%. And how “different” from the world are we when it takes rock stars and movie stars to get American Christians (myself included) to pay attention to the Aids pandemic that is ravaging Africa.

    In Swaziland Christians have determined that drinking and smoking are the sinful habits them absolutely must give up in order to be “in” but not “of” the world – – – yet often the unbiblical sex practices keep unwed pregnancy rates (and HIV infection rates) in the church equal to those in the general population.

    Somehow I don’t think Jesus ever intended us to look at a checklist of sins when He counseled us with those words.


    Comment by Wendi | Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | Reply

  4. Wendi, knowing Swaziland, you will realise that I have not even touched on issues such as ancestral worship, supporting witch doctors, etc, things often done by church members. Where do we draw the line, or should we just say that there is no line?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | Reply

  5. I reckon that witchcraft and ancestral worship is a spiritual problem and can not be compared to smoking. It is people asking help and believing in something else as their ultimate power rather than God. Makes me think about Isaiah 8:19. It does not say such things does not exist, but challenges one as to where you find your power, dead people or the living God. I also think about Satan challenging Jesus in the desert and Jesus’ response to the Evil One. I thus have to say that there are lines and one definitely have to ask about the fruits of a person’s faith. Matthew 7:21-23 draws an interesting scenario where some people say the right words, calling Him Lord (“I believe in the Name of Jesus Christ”, but they do not have fruits to support it, they do not heed the words of Christ. Another group does great deeds, in Jesus name, but great deeds does not impress, like witchcraft might make one think.

    Matthew 6:7-9 talks about how gentiles prayed to their gods hoping to invoke them to listen to them. They will shout like the priests of Baal, they will name the words of a lot of gods hoping that one will hear and be forced to listen, since they know this god’s name and that gives them power over this god. God and prayer is not like witchcraft. We can not control God, but we must submit to His will, and love. Before God it is not about saying the right words, but about the spirit knowing our needs and conveying them to God. We get not what we want, but what we need (cf.Rom 8).

    Further Matthew 5:43-48 talks about loving heathens, since a Christian loves all, even the one who hurts him. Anyone can love those who love you. Are witchcraft not aimed at hurting others at times?

    Matthew 18:15-17. I think we have a feeling that witchcraft and ancestral worship is not Christian. We know we have to address it, and we know about this verse, but would it have the necessary result. Not if there is no community where we love one another and live for one another,not by condemning one another for stupid man-made pharasaic laws, but by loveing one another. That is the only time that any person will willingly come back to the faith-community when he has sinned. Establish such a community and be an example to others of love, not emotional coochey-cooh love, but actions. You have reprimanded someone and possibly even excluded someone, now is the time to not to abandon them, but to love them to live.

    This unfortunately does still not answer how we get people to change when they become believers. Were they really faithful to begin with, or were they maybe one of those two middle groups in the parable of the sower?

    Comment by Lourens Grobbelaar | Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | Reply

  6. Lourens, I think you make a number of valid points. First of all: There is a line. Smoking and drinking and similar types of laws do not determine the line. Ancestral worship and putting my trust in witch doctors means I’ve crossed the line. We still don’t know exactly where the line is, but it seems to be somewhere in between.
    I absolutely agree with you that we are called to love others regardless of what they do or have done (and I hope that we’re proving it as well, amongst others by the way in which we care for those with HIV and AIDS) and that we are not there to judge others.
    Let’s take the discussion one step further: In a community where heathenism is characterised by things such as ancestral worship and festivities (usually related to their ancestral worship) where people drink until they fall down, would it be right for people who have come to Christ to say that they make a clean break from the things that had bound them in the past, or can they merely scale down on these things which characterised their former behaviour. (I’m not speaking of judging others who drink and smoke which is wrong – I’m speaking of their own behaviour within their own context.)

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | Reply

  7. We are not talking about laws we are talking about Grace. As far as smoking and drinking are concerned, those who participate in these habits are not in right relationship with God for they are damaging their own bodies and others, as well as being bad examples to children. If our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and I know they are; and as Paul said, we can associate our bodies to Christ and thereby make Him a participant in our sins, i.e. adultery or fornication. We MUST keep our bodies under control…by the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t tickle people’s ears and preach easy believism. Paul said, “God forbid that we should continue in our sins thinking Grace is to be abused like this; God does not look lightly on our sins or errors when we won’t stand corrected and get His forgiveness. If we continue in our sins we will die in them. Bad habits are just some of many ways, gossip, etc., that so-called believers yield their bodies to unrighteousness and do not conform to Christ, yielding their bodies to God as those who are alive from the dead. So, don’t preach or think that it is easy to BE a Christian, it is not. If we can’t forfeit these bad habits, how can we begin to think we could stand up under real persecution?

    Comment by Glenda | Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | Reply

  8. I’m not sure I made my point very well. Let me make my point looking into my own backyard and my own heart.

    Here in America many (most) evangelical Christians would say that living or even affirming the gay lifestyle is living “OF” the world. But the thing is, most American Christians don’t struggle with homosexual feelings. Most American Christians believe that any woman who chooses to end an unwanted pregnancy is living “OF” the world, yet rarely do these fundamental Christian women struggle with all the emotional issues related to an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. When I told one of my coworkers (I work for a Christian organization) that I was considering voting for Barak Obama (who supports a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage), he questioned whether I was really a Christian myself.

    I personally have never had an unwanted pregnancy and don’t struggle with homosexual feelings. However, there are other things that draw me, if I’m not careful, to live both IN and OF the world. Pride comes to mind. Greed and selfishness also. And how about sins of omission; failing to care for the least, last and lost – ignoring injustice.

    I’ve been to Swaziland three times (which of course doesn’t count compared to 25 years of continuous service). I attended several churches on these trips, always 80-90% filled with women. My perception is that smoking and drinking is not the biggest struggle for most Swazi Christians I’ve met. On the other hand, I do perceive that many young people, guys and girls, do struggle very much with staying sexually pure until they marry just one person.

    My point is this, our human nature is for me to find issues that I don’t struggle with in order to define where the line is for defining OF the world. Does this make sense?


    Comment by Wendi | Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | Reply

    • My goodness ! What will it take some to realize that when we truly become a Christian, and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns within us, our old lives are passed away and a new life has begun. We do not want to live as we had been living; the Holy Spirit gives us, whether we live in Africa or America, a NEW life and new desires. The desire to love and honor God in every way, including how we live and treat our own bodies as well as other people.

      If smoking is not a sin, it is a bad habit and one that can damage you own body and the health of others. Sexual sin is the same, it damages you own body and the lives of others…so sin is somthing that damages the body as well as the soul, and being a Christian should make a difference in how we view our overall lifestyles. At least, we should teach young Christians WHY smoking and drinking and sexual lifestyles should be viewed through the lenses of Christ’s eyes…He is our example, not other people. Scripture does teach us to yield our bodies and the members of our bodies to God and to righteousness. Can smoking, overly indulging in alcohol and licenciousness ever be considered righteous?

      Comment by Glenda Smith | Friday, October 9, 2009 | Reply

  9. Very good point, Wendi. In fact, I think you’ve just confirmed that I need to do a follow-up on my blog, looking at this issue, not from an African viewpoint but from a Western viewpoint. I’ll see when I have time for this.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | Reply

  10. Arnau, why does my comment prompt you to follow-up from just a Western perspective? Isn’t it the same issue, only contextual? Americans who are drawn to serve in Africa are perplexed by the thinking that smoking and drinking are activities to “worldly” for Christians to participate in, but not the practice of multiple or out-of-wedlock sex partners. Africans are perplexed by other things when they consider American Christianity. For me, the follow-up question is “what is it in my own life that causes me to become ‘OF’ the world?”


    Comment by Wendi | Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | Reply

  11. Wendi, I would say there’s two reasons. One is that most readers of this blog are from a Western background and there are certain issues that may be more important to look at from a Western perspective to answer your last question. Secondly, there is little understanding for the reason why Christians in Africa would feel so strongly about certain “sins” and what I wouldd like to look at, is whether we have the same attitude in our Western way of thinking and perhaps more importantly, whether there are things that we condone (and you’ve actually touched on a number of them) which we as Christians need to have a stronger opinion about.
    But let the comments come in. I won’t have a chance to write anything on my blog before tomorrow at the earliest.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | Reply

  12. Interested to read about ancestral worship and witch doctors. I am a searching Christian for truth. I attended four churches over a period of time and they all, in the end, succumbed to the manifestations as per the Toronto Blessing. People falling over, writhing on the floor, laughing and making scary noises. These manifestations did not appear to me to be orderly and from Jesus. I have read about the Alpha course on offer but it seems to have the same roots (http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/index.html, and on http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/index.html ) and so I am afraid to attend any church that promotes the Alpha course. In searching for a church that did not practice this, I was unable to find a Christian Church in my area that did not subscribe to the Alpha course. It seems that there is a wave going throughout all the churches including Roman Catholic. What are your feelings on the subject?

    Comment by James Rousseau | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

  13. Hi James. I’ve had a look at those websites and I’m pretty sure that a lot of lies are being spread on them. I know of rumours going around about both Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. I’ve met Bill Hybels personally and have been in their church, and although their worship style is not quite what I prefer, I have not found anything there which I think is unbiblical. Personally I think the stuff being said about them is caused by jealousy. I also do not agree with the Toronto Blessing manifestations found in many churches, but as far as I know this is not what happens in their churches.

    I would like to know what you have read against the Alpha course. I do not have enough knowledge about it myself, but what I have heard is that it is an excellent way of helping people who do not want anything to do with the church to come back to the church. According to my knowledge the Alpha course is a method of evangelism and although not perfect, still has very good results.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

  14. Please have a look at:

    Comment by James Rousseau | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

  15. James – I need to agree with Arnau. Those sites are well known “watchdog” sites that are well known to spread rumor and innuendo, take things out of context and build “straw man” cases against well known Christian leaders in America.

    It’s fine to disagree with a program or a person, but the kind of trash talking these sites deal in is more unbiblical than anything they claim to have “discerned” about others.


    Comment by Wendi | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

  16. James, it’s always good to feel that Wendi’s taking my side! I don’t have enough knowledge about the Alpha course to know whether the allegations are true or not. I know of church leaders using Alpha whom I know won’t have anything to do with the Toronto Blessing. How effective Alpha ia as a training course, I also do not know. But about Rick and Bill, I’m convinced that it’s a load of trash, as Wendi said!

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

  17. Arnau, sorry for only coming back to the conversation now. You asked me a few questions at nr. 6. I was thinking for one, if we were talking about an alcoholist that was rehabilitated, what advice would we give that person? To stay away I asume. Further I a think about 1 Cor 8 and the issue of strong and weak Christian. Yes the weak still have to grow and it is the responsibility of the stronger believers to do that. But why are the weak ones falling away. Because they see others entering temples to gather meat to eat. In those days temples aparently also served as some kind of slagpale/abatoir where people received their meat. The weak see this and it is too much for their faith to handle. I also think about the rules given by the Jerusalem church-leadership in Acts 15:28-29. Those rules firstly asks them not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but the rest of verse 29 according to many commentators refer to the heathen cultic setting of temple worship.

    It would firstly seem that we have to consider a person’s walk in faith, how far down the road are they, before we re-enter old places.

    I have another question however. Does being in the world, but not from the world have to include other places of worship, like the cultic setting you described? Paul only entered the synagogue, not the temples. He talked at the areopagus, but that was not a cultic setting. Even if we ignored this, common sense would dictate that this is not the place to be in the world, especially not for a new believer. As believer also I know my weak points and would still avoid situations that might lead me into temptation, and that is after being a believer for many years.

    To be honest, I agree with Glenda that smoking is probably still not in God’s will for my life. The difference is that I do not judge as Christian/non-Christian when it comes to sin that only affects me and not others. That is probably where the difference lies between smoking and drinking/drugs on the other hand that can ruin both my life and that of others. Sin is thus relational to people and to God.

    Comment by Lourens Grobbelaar | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

  18. James-I spoke to a mentor (Stephan Joubert) recently who had a meeting with Rob Bell. Rob Bell told him of people making up things that he would have said and publishing it on websites like these. I would be careful of these sites myself. The Alpha Course has bee presented at my church with great success. It’s biggest value seems to be that it is relational. More than that However I do not know. The person that lead it is a very sharp Systematic Theologian (Doctorate) of the more conservative side. He would not easily have let this pass. There are some people at the moment who see themselves as Christian apologists, but who are more adapt at standing against, than standing for something themselves. The moment you stand for something you will always find someone who differs from you, criticizes you and declare you a heretic. The real question to me is, what do they say about Jesus, His origin, death and resurrection? Can they affirm the Apostolic Faith confession. But that’s just my opninion, and it is a human flawed opinion. That’s why I use the Bible as word of God as my measure stick.

    Comment by Lourens Grobbelaar | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

    • Thank you so much for your reply. I cannot defend these sites as my knowledge is too limited. Did you attend the Alpha course? How did the last week-end go? Were there visitations of the Holy Spirit? If so, what were the manifestations?

      Comment by James Rousseau | Friday, September 11, 2009 | Reply

  19. Lourens, thanks for your well thought-out response. I think you’ve come to the essence of the matter by asking the same question that Paul asked, concerning those who are weaker in their faith. This is really developing into one the most interesting posts in a long time. Let me ask another question: What about the unbeliever who has certain set ideas of what a Christian is and how they should live (be they right or wrong)? How would that influence my life-style?

    Concerning your question: Once again, there are places that a Christian will instinctively know is out of bounds. But then there are places, not cultic temples, where it may not be quite as easy to discern between right and wrong. Obviously, some people will be able to supply us with a list of where we may enter and where we may not, but in my experience it is not always so easy to decide. And then, there are places where I may go to and things I may do in South Africa or in my own home, but that I would not do in Swaziland.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, September 10, 2009 | Reply

  20. A brief word on Alpha. It is very sound as far as it goes. It is intended to reach the person who has little back-ground in the Christian faith. Its approach is to introduce indiviuals at a basic, non-threatening level to the faith. The principles can be found in the spiritual formation movements emanating from Spain in the late 1940s and of course from the spirituality of Ignatius of Loyola and other great Christian thinkers and methologists. It must be followed by helping individuals discover and practice those spiritual disciplines that will take them deeper and remove deeply ingrained emotional/spiritual blockages to growth. Alpha alone won’t do much but if combined with meat it makes a valuable contribution to the discipleship meal.

    Comment by Roger Perkins | Thursday, September 17, 2009 | Reply

  21. We must always seek God’s answer from scripture.

    In the OT what was eaten or drank was a part of the “law”.
    In the NT, God gave a vision of how to apply this “law” to our relational lives. What is acceptable to God is not the food or drink but the movtives behind what we do or don’t do.

    Paul tackled this problem by teaching that although any food or drink is acceptable, it is not acceptabel to do anything that would offend, or cause a brother or sister to stumble. In other words, do what is best for others that they would grow spiritually in their understanding of the law. Why is it good? Why is it bad? As I understand the ten commandments of God, they were not given by a tyranical God for His Own particular pleasure in being obeyed just because He was God…which is a good rule for us anyway…but because He knew the harm and disharmony and even serious crimes the breaking of these commandments would cause His people, His children.

    It is neiither right or wrong to refrain from certain things unless we understand why we are doing so. Is it because we think it will please or displease God, or because it will harm our bodies or someone else either physically or spiritually.

    There are more ways than one to kill someone or to disparage their faith by doing something we want to and to heck with what anyone else thinks or feels about it.

    Comment by Glenda | Thursday, March 4, 2010 | Reply

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