When “The World” Infiltrates the Church

When “The World” Infiltrates the Church April 11, 2023

Hang around Christians long enough, and soon enough you’ll likely hear some talk about “the world.”

We Christians need to be careful about the Christianese-y side of that phrase – people outside the Church often don’t know what we mean. Are we talking about the planet? Like, earth?

Free earth image courtesy Pixabay



People within the Church also don’t always know what we mean. Especially the way we use it.

“The world” is bad. The world is evil. The world is opposed to things of God. The world is to be avoided at all costs.

And we must be very, very careful that “the world” is not infiltrating the Church.

So what do the Scriptures say about “the world?” Lots of things, but here are a few key and well-known verses:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1Jn 2.15-17)

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (Jn 15.18-20)

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (Jam 4.4-5)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3.16)

Some hard-hitting truths in there, to be sure.

And also some things to wrestle through. As always, we cannot simply take one verse and hang our hats on it – we must do the difficult work of holding various Scriptures together, even if they seem to challenge one another.

Many of us are not willing to do that tough work, and simply lean into the verses that support our views and skip over the verses that challenge our views.

So what is “the world?”

I don’t know that there is any easy or crystal-clear definition, but mine would be, “The fallen Creation that is yet unredeemed by Christ.”

There is no doubt much more to add, but I think that is a decent snapshot.

All of Creation was broken by the Fall, and came under the power of the evil one (Gen 3; Lk 4.5-7; Rom 8.20; 2Co 4.4). As Christ arrived on earth, He proclaimed that “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” (Mt 3.2) Since that day, through Christ’s work, God has slowly been redeeming the fallenness of Creation, like a bit of yeast working its way through dough (Mt 13.33).

What Christ saves becomes part of the Kingdom of God. What remains fallen remains part of “the world.”

Although something of an abstract term, it seems to refer to the sinfulness and the systems and structures of broken Creation. At times it also seems to refer to the people who live under its influence who are opposed to the things of God.

Many Christians are worried about “the world” infiltrating the Church. And according to the list of Scripture above, that is certainly a biblical concern.

But it’s always interesting to find out what people mean when they are worried about this. Almost always, their concern is about (insert particular sin or behaviour that they don’t like here).

And that is certainly not nothing.

But while for the past hundred years, we seem to talk endlessly about, for example, how the world’s sexual values are impacting the Church, we almost never have a conversation about how other cultural values affect the Church – things that are completely counter to the way of Christ, which affect Christians just as much.

We don’t talk about how worldly politics and political strategies have entered into Christianity, even when some of these strategies would seem completely opposite to how Christ called us to live.

We don’t talk about how violence and force are encouraged by many Christians today, even though Jesus taught differently.

We don’t talk about how our cultural emphasis on pride, position, self-promotion, and the elevating of leaders are well-established in our churches today.

We don’t talk about how greed and money and the endless pursuit of “more” have become just as important to the people of the Kingdom as to the culture around us.

We don’t talk about how cruelty and dismissiveness and slander are easily thrown around by Christians talking about other Christians, just like anyone would talk.

We don’t talk about how the worldly emphasis on power, dominance, and forced submission have easily become just as “Christian” as any other cultural value.

We don’t talk about how Christians hate and attack their enemies, instead of loving them as Christ called us to, and in so doing do not appear any different than any other group in the world.

One can’t only be talking about how “the world” is infiltrating the Church when you’re talking about that sin that you don’t commit but which you are particularly bothered by (as you assume, of course, that the sin you do commit is at least somewhat justifiable, and that when you bring that into the Church, it is OK.)

And to be clear, sin is sin, and we believe that the way of Christ is better, and of course we should always be helping one another to leave our sin and find the way of Christ laid out in Scripture.

But beyond just the hot topic sins that we tend to emphasize, there are many values and principles of this world which stand opposed to the values of Christ and His Kingdom.

Many of those values have become so ingrained into North American Christianity that it is actually hard to imagine it without them.

We talk about them far less than we should.

Being concerned about “the world” means far more than simply being mad at a few particular social issues or sins.

And it also means taking heed of John 3.16, listed above.

That even as we should be watchful of the ways of this world, we are reminded that Christ loves the world. He loved it enough to enter into it. He loved it enough to draw close to it. He loved it enough to die for it. He loved it enough to set out to redeem and restore it.

This “world,” so often viewed with contempt by Christians, is full of people that He dearly loves. There is no place for contempt towards it or its people, even as we are called to be watchful of its influence.

And as we live out the ways of the Kingdom, peacefully and with perseverance, we become the means by which that Kingdom bears witness against the ungodly and unholy ways of the world, and by which that Kingdom pushes those ways back, and reveals to the rest of the world who our King is.


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