So, if I may be so bold as to ask a question, do you like going to parties that are not Christian parties?
You might answer no to this question because, quite simply, they make you feel uncomfortable. You are aware that bad things can happen at parties, and sometimes they can go from bad to worse quickly. When there seems to be an endless supply of alcohol, and often times drugs are added to the mix, things can easily get out of control. The dirty jokes, the swearing, the often present sexuality – these can certainly add up to an uncomfortable experience for a person trying to live a renewed life. And the raunchiness of it all seems to be starting younger and younger, and at times with the help of parents. A little while back a thirty-five-year old dad was arrested in Colorado for hiring a stripper for his son’s birthday party, his twelve-year-old son’s birthday party. When the police talked to him the father said he “just wanted to be a cool dad” (Staub, Dick. “Too Christian Too Pagan,” p.62).
Now, I was raised in a pretty conservative home, so parties full of debauchery were not a normal part of my upbringing. However, I am not innocent. I went to my fair share of parties a bit later on in life. While growing up though, the tradition of the church and denomination I was a part of went to great lengths to label certain things worldly and therefore forbidden. On the list were some understandable items, but the list also contained some harmless things as well. The list included, but was not limited to: drinking, gambling, smoking, cussing, and even playing cards, dancing, and going to movies. If you were raised in an environment like this it’s likely when going to parties you remember all of the “thou shall nots” (legitimate or man made) that supposedly helped you “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22) or cautioned you that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4 – no doubt usually taken out of context).
A healthy dose of fear or concern about going to parties is not all bad. If you were raised in an “anything goes” environment your memory of crazy, unhealthy, negative experiences can be helpful things preventing you from repeating those activities. After all you have been renewed, transformed, so your desires have changed and you want to steer clear of any sort of party.
On the other end of the spectrum you have self identified Christians who love to party and seem to live for them. They have no problem fitting in even when the environment is pretty extreme and wild. They usually respond with something like, “I absolutely love to go to parties that are not Christian. Christian parties are so lame and boring. Why would I want to party with the stiffs I see at church every week?”
Right about now you may be wondering how I would respond to the question. So, do I like to go to parties that are not Christian? The answer I give is full of wisdom and insight, “It all depends.” Brilliant and informative isn’t it? Let me explain.
I am not naive nor am I dumb. I am fully aware that it is possible for bad things to happen at parties, but because I want to live the life God wants me to, I have committed to follow Jesus even if it means going beyond my own, personal comfort zone. So, my answer to the question depends on how I answer another question, “Can I be an effective, positive influence or presence for Jesus at the party?” If I can answer yes to that question then my answer is yes to going to parties that are not Christian.
No matter what kind of spin someone tries to put on it, you can’t get around the fact that there are many times when Jesus clearly partied with those who were not Christians. Early on in Jesus’ ministry he ate meals with tax collectors (a sinful bunch in his day) and other sinners (Matt. 9:10). The Scriptures give us a hint as to what kind of reputation these types of parties had. We can see this by the way Jesus was judged for being at them, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Matt. 11:19).
So, the question of whether or not Jesus partied with unbelievers is clear, he did. The question we need to ask now is “why?” Well, Jesus provides us with the answer in this same chapter. When the Pharisees made the accusation against Jesus regarding these parties Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick [do]” (Matt. 9:12). He was at the party because that’s where the “sick” people were.
Jesus spent a great deal of time at parties because he was a lover of people and had no doubt that God was capable of doing good at parties. Where did Jesus perform his first miracle? It was at a party, a wedding party. And what was that miracle? He turned water into wine, not grape juice, not grape flavored water, but wine. At another party Jesus performed another miracle and the result was that a despised, thieving tax collector was so touched by the love and acceptance of Jesus that he gave half of everything he owned to the poor and needy.
I think, if we are truly Christ-followers, then we need to go to parties, at least some of the parties. To do so is to be obedient to Christ’s example.
WHAT ABOUT WARNINGS?
I mentioned a couple of passages earlier that are often used as warnings against associating with “the world.” Well, let’s look at each of these as they should be understood in their context.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14 there is a warning about “fellowshiping with darkness.” This passage is part of a letter, a second letter, to the Christians in Corinth who were not living or teaching a distinction from the sinful culture they were surrounded by. They were allowing sinful, worldly activities to penetrate the church. They had compromised. They tried to combine the immorality of their culture with their lives as Christians. Paul is instructing them that they can’t do this, it isn’t right. This is the same Paul who already wrote them a letter telling them he did NOT want them out of the world (1 Cor. 5:9-10), and now he is telling them to keep worldly behavior not only out of their personal life but out of their church life because the two ways of living are not compatible.
You will also hear people say we need to avoid the “very appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22) meaning we need to avoid even a physical closeness to evil. Well, for one, living in this fallen world that is impossible. Second, we have learned from scholars and translators that this verse was mistranslated in the KJV. In fact, it was corrected in the NIV and reads, “avoid every kind of evil” and means we are not to commit “any kind of evil act” (Staub, p.64).
And in James 4:4 where it says “friendship with the world is enmity with God” the reference is clearly to giving ourselves over to our sinful desires and lusts. It is not a command that we should avoid making friends with people in the world.
One cannot interpret these passages as defining “holiness as abandonment or separation or withdrawal from the world, nor can they be used to define proximity to the profane as inevitably polluting to us” (Staub, p.65). What these passages can do, however, is provide us with a warning on how essential it is for one to use discernment and proper judgment on this issue.
Pray for discernment. Know when not to go and know when to leave. Remember you are there for a purpose, God’s purpose, and not your own. Pray for open doors, for opportunities, for times your light of safety can shine and attract others.
We will not all be “called” to the same kind of parties. I’m thinking in particular of a part time job I used to have. I don’t mention this often as it tends to bring about some hostility and hypocritical judgment, but at one time in my life I provided personal security/bodyguard work for local “dancers” as well as a few international adult film stars (or strippers and porn stars if you prefer straight talk).
During this time I attended several parties (i.e. bachelor parties). While I attempted to be a shining light and set an example, there came a point where I had to say “no more.” Although I was able to handle these parties, to a point, I can safely say that 99.99 percent of the Christian male population should definitely not even attend such activities. I am making no claims of being a moral Superman, my eyes strayed in the direction they shouldn’t have on more than one occasion. But I am saying that, for a season, I believe I was suppose to be at those particular events with those particular people.
The point? Use discernment. And no, God is not calling you to go and “serve” in the environment I just described. Trust me. Again, know when not to go and know when to leave.
BE A POSITIVE, COMFORTING PRESENCE
When at a party full of people who are not Christians we need to be a positive presence. Unless you are specifically directed by God, do not act as a moral or behavioral judge. When you go to a party full of people who are not Christian it would be wise to expect their behavior to be “un”Christian. Expect and be ready for the fact that people are probably going to get drunk, swear, tell dirty jokes, etc. Even so, very rare are the times I felt it was my place as a guest at the party to stand up on a soap box and start screaming like a street preacher. Of course I have quietly taken a personal friend somewhere private and suggested they may be acting in a way they will regret later, but that’s a different topic altogether.
A great exercise while at a party is to recognize that under all of the excessive behavior, the wild antics, and the heavy drinking, there is a person who is hurting and trying to fill some kind of void. Dick Staub says it well, “…[they are] human beings carrying the sorrow and pain that accompanies life without God” (p.66). Then, wait for God to show a way for you to do His will. Nine times out of ten this will come in the form of a quiet conversation that will take place privately, away from the crowd, with someone who wants or needs to talk more in depth.
Keep in the forefront of your mind that regardless of how these people may be acting, these people need Christ, and Christ loves people.
More often than not I would much rather just stay home than go to a party. Being around groups of people can drain all of my energy. I’m an introvert by nature and when you add to that having to use extra caution and a much healthier dose of discernment than I’d need if I just stayed home, I tend to want to just stay home. On the other side of the coin, there have certainly been times when I’ve wanted to go to a party and act a little more “in the world” than “not of the world.” While reading the rough draft of one author’s similar sentiments, his editor wrote a note in the margins which said: “Going to parties is not for the weak of heart; going into the world does not excuse us from stupidity.”*
Why then should we go to parties? What should be our motive? Well, to put it simply, because people need Christ and Christ loves people. Because it is the “sick” who need a “doctor.” So, if you’re a Christ-follower and are looking to him for an example, then party on!**
*Staub, Dick. “Too Christian Too Pagan,” p.67
**Article inspired by, and adapted from, the above referenced resource.
Featured Image: Smaller Wine Barrels by Andy Rogers; CC 2.0
This was a guest post from Dr. Jeff Hagan.
Jeff is an ordained Christian minister with over 23 years of ministry experience. He has attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, Tyndale Seminary and a handful of other institutes as well. He has earned several degrees including the Doctor of Christian Education and the Doctor of Theology.