My church was pretty conservative while I was growing up. We preached no movies, no dancing, no smoking, no drinking; the list went on and on, it seemed. I thought our church was really conservative until I attended a private school of an even more conservative denomination. At this school, students were required to sign a contract that said we would not listen to secular music, wear pants (girls), watch movies, etc. The list was longer than my own church's list.
The thinking behind all of these rules, was that Christians were supposed to be different from the people in the culture at large. We were supposed to be "in the world, but not of the world," a "peculiar people." What we ended up being, however, was isolationists. We removed ourselves from the culture (or world) and created our own subculture. Symbolically speaking, the Christian world packed up all its worldly or secular goods, and went to live on a hill called "WWJDland." In this world, we developed our own books, movies, music. There are even mints and chocolates with a Christian theme. We created our own stationery, cards, gift items, art, key chains, T-shirts, and now jeans, toys, video games and anything else you could want, including John 3:16 golfballs. It's like we've left one culture that we despised for its materialism and created our own with the materialism included.
We would not call ourselves materialistic, however. We would say that by using these things we were witnessing or edifying ourselves for God's glory.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, I suppose, but what happens when I develop a friendship with a person who does not go to church? Actually, would that happen? After all, a lot of us surround ourselves with church activities and people; we can even work at Christian ministries and become more and more isolated, if we want. I know this. I've been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and all the while wondered why the church wasn't growing. Anyway, when we actually strike up a conversation with "outsiders", they realize our disconnect with the culture rather quickly. The typical Christian response to this is "Good, they'll ask me why I'm different and I'll talk to them about Jesus!" That falls rather flat, and while we might be doing okay with "... the far corners of the earth ..." we are not doing so well with " ... Jerusalem ..." (Acts 1:8).
Hmmm ... seems like if I don't know what's going on in my own culture, the outsider might consider me sheltered or even a prude, and could not care less about my Jesus, especially if I have a supercilious attitude. I have encountered this attitude from the body of Christ more than once.
The best interpretation of the verse I mentioned should be "in the world, but not completely sold on the world system." The difference in interpretation means that I will work on my attitude instead of concentrating on rules. It means that instead of avoiding the culture, I'll check out popular movies and music, to perhaps find talking points and even carry on a conversation that might lead to more than a superficial relationship. I may not embrace the central themes of a movie, but through this approach I'll be able to explain why without sounding self-righteous. This interpretation will cause me to regard church as a place to refuel rather than hide. I'll still have Christian friends, but I'll also be able to introduce those friends to my non-believing friends. The difference will be that Christ's spirit will be in the center of my being where ever I am and people will know that I am a Christian by the love I have in my heart for others, rather than a Pharisaic infatuation with rules.
Does this ring true with anyone? Or, are we comfortable living by the rules? It's a lot easier, but in the gospels, we find that Jesus would not have favored the "rules" approach at all. He was involved with people, whether they believed in him or not.