Documents of Synod:
The REPORT OF THE WORLDLY PRACTICES COMMITTEE was read by Dr. John M.L. Young.
This Committee was appointed by Synod to study and prepare a Biblical Statement on "worldly practices." The Committee understands its mandate to be the consideration of the Scriptural teachings relevant to an understanding of "worldliness." What is worldliness? What is "the world" Under what circumstances can a practice properly be labeled as "worldly"? Is it Scriptural to name such things as "smoking, drinking of alcoholic beverages, modern dancing, and Hollywood movie attendance" (Overture to the 147th General Synod, Minutes p. 130) as "worldly practices?" With such questions we must be concerned here.
In pursuing this study the Committee has sought to prepare the following: 1) A Biblical definition of "worldliness," "worldly," and "the world;" 2) A positive consideration of the life which is godly (that is, not "worldly"); 3) A consideration of Biblical catalogues of sins, or "worldly practices;" 4) A statement of the Biblical teaching concerning Christian liberty, and the possible abuses of that liberty; 5) Practical recommendations for use in the churches.
A BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF "WORLDLY PRACTICES"
The use of the term "worldly practices" is problematical. The word "worldly" (Greek kosmikos) appears only two times in the New Testament. Each time it has a different significance. In neither case is it used to speak of questionable practices on the part of believers (sometimes called the adiaphora, or things indifferent).
Obviously the word "world" (Greek kosmos) is widely used in scripture to refer to the material creation. Everything created is in that sense "in the world." There is an ethical use of "world," however, which is very helpful to the understanding of "worldliness" and "worldly practices." Such use of the word "world" is found in I John 2:15-16.
With this passage in mind, certain conclusions begin to appear:
"Worldly practices," therefore, are those practices which are motivated by the boastful pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes.
This understanding of "worldliness" is in accord with Paul's teaching in the first chapter of Romans. It was when men rejected God and did not honor Him as God, or give Him thanks, that God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity. It was because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie that God gave them over to degrading passions. It was because they did not see fit even to acknowledge God that God gave them over to a depraved mind to do those things which are not proper.
THE GODLY LIFE
It is equally clear from I John 2:15-16 that the believer's life is to be motivated by "the love of the Father." The saved are called to obey the first great commandment. They are to have no other god, but the true and living God, the God and Father of their Lord Jesus Christ. They are to center their lives in Him. They are to place highest value on knowing Him, honoring Him in every part of life with thanksgiving and responsibility; and they are to find their fulfillment in so doing. They are to walk in the Spirit and not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16).
When this is understood it becomes evident, as was mentioned above, that each of the three forms of "worldliness" listed in I John 2:15-16 is the result of a refusal to acknowledge God and to honor Him as God in a particular aspect of life. The temptation of Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:1-7), and the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), serve to illustrate this. Both temptations can be considered according to the three forms of "worldliness" which John lists, and it is likely that John had those temptations in mind when he wrote. These temptations must also be considered from the viewpoint of the correct attitude they call for:
The whole matter may be summarized simply: the godly man serves God, the "worldly" man serves some idol in one of these forms - the exaltation of his personal life, the exaltation of his appetites, or the exaltation of some beautiful thing. It is interesting that John concludes his first epistle with the warning "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." The godly man must never permit anything, however right and good in itself, to intrude on his absolute homage to God alone.
Let us now proceed to a consideration of the teachings of the Scripture concerning those things which may be termed "worldly practices," and which the godly man must avoid.
Biblical Catalogs of Sins, or "Worldly Practices"
It is obviously impossible for a study to be exhaustive or comprehensive of all that the Bible has to say about what may be termed "worldly practices," for throughout the Bible there are admonitions and examples of righteousness and ungodliness both explicit and implicit. There are certain outstanding passages, however, where lists are given of practices which displease the holy God and, contrariwise, lists of those things that please Him. Among these are the Ten Commandments, as given both in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, the Sermon on the Mount, most of the book of Proverbs, Romans 12-15, I Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, Ephesians 4-6, Philippians 3-4, Colossians 2-4, and several others.
One of the points that becomes apparent through study of the ethical passages in the Bible is that positive and negative injunctions are frequently combined. Many of the passages that are usually thought of as being negative include positive commands or statements of what pleases God as well as what displeases Him -- for example, the Ten Commandments include very positive statements about Sabbath observance and about honoring parents in the midst of negative precepts. Likewise many of the passages usually thought of as being positive include negative commands -- for example, the beautiful description of love in I Corinthians 13 includes in verses 4 through 6 several things that love is not or does not do. Romans 12 and 13 includes negative points in 12:9, 11, 14, 16, 17, 19 and 13:13-14 among generally positive precepts. Ephesians 4:15-31 and 5:3-5 provides a similar example. Galatians 5 sets up a stark contrast between the works of the flesh in verses 19 through 21 and the fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 and 23.
One obvious conclusion
is that the church in its testimony, if that testimony is to be
Biblical, must not be either totally negative or totally positive,
but must at the same time admonish unrighteousness and enjoin righteousness,
or, "abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good."
A second point that becomes apparent from such a study is that the emphasis one gives in matters of ethics is profoundly important. In Matthew 23 our Lord Jesus denounced the Pharisees for omitting "the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith" while paying scrupulous attention to minute details of the law. He said that these weightier matters "ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." He did not blame them for attending to the minute details, but rather for giving these the priority and thus losing perspective on the spirit of God's law. He thus could tell His disciples to do what the Pharisees taught, but not to follow their example. In Matthew 15 Jesus' teaching shows how far the emphasis of the Pharisees could lead one astray as traditions of men replaced the commandment of God.
A second conclusion, therefore, is that the church must beware of emphasizing secondary ethical matters, thus allowing the weightier matters of the law to lose priority, and especially the church must avoid exalting the traditions of men, but must instead adhere to the Scriptural commandments of God, thus preserving a Biblical emphasis as these commandments are applied to contemporary affairs.
In addition to the Ten Commandments and our Lord's summary of the law in Matthew 22:37-40, harking back to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, several other Scriptural catalogs of sin help to provide us with a Biblical balance in determining what ethical matters are of most concern in the sight of God. Matthew 15:19-20 provides a good illustration of this as our Lord says that the evil thoughts which proceed out of the heart include "murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies (or slander): these are the things which defile a man. . . " Here the list almost exactly parallels the part of the Ten Commandments normally termed the Second Table of the Law.
Romans 1:29-31 refers to those whom God gave over to a reprobate mind as "being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful." (NASV)
Galatians 5:19-21 lists the works of the flesh as "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissension, factions, envyings, drunkenness, carousings, and things like these. . " (NASV)
Ephesians 4:25-31 speaks against lying, anger, stealing, corrupt language, and concludes: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice." Ephesians 5:3-5 adds: "But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." (NASV)
In like manner Colossians 3:5,8-9 lists immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry; anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying.
II Timothy 3:2-4 describes wicked men of the last times as being "lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." (NASV)
I Corinthians 5:11 warns that we are not to associate with a supposed brother who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler. And I Corinthians 3:3 says: "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"
It is perhaps worth noting that appearing in four of the lists above are the Greek words porneia (fornication, immorality, unchastity), pleonexia (covetousness, greed, avarice), and eidololatria (idolatry), and appearing in three of the lists are the Greek words kakia (malice, depravity), akatharsia (impurity, viciousness), thumos (anger, wrath, passion), and blasphemia (slander, blasphemy, reviling, abusive speech).
Other such lists could be derived from Christ's messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, from the qualifications for elders and deacons in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and from other passages. Similar lists of positive virtues could be found in Romans 12 and 13, Ephesians 4 through 6, Colossians 3:12-17, Philippians 4:8, I Corinthians 13, II Peter 1:5-8, and, of course, in the fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23. Jesus' own list of the weightier matters of the law in Matthew 22:23 appears to hark back in a very interesting way to similar lists of three virtues in Micah 6:8 and in Jeremiah 9:23-24. Whatever testimony the church bears against "worldly practices," it should include a balanced list of the sorts of things included in the passages quoted above and also should bear witness to the positive aspects of Christian living.
Finally, to set the whole study in proper perspective, it should be noted that several of the passages referred to indicate that violations of the Second Table of the law flow from neglect of the First Table. Romans 1:21 makes this very clear in its description of wicked men: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." The following verses go on to describe the full transformation to ungodliness and immorality which ensued. Galatians 5:16 also says, "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." And I John 2:15-17 opposes to love of the world a love of the Father which involves doing His will. It should be stressed that to love God with all our being is the first and great commandment and that the fulfillment of all the law is to be found in love. This is in accord with the Apostle Paul's statements in Romans 13:10 and Galatians 5:14 and with our Lord's statements in Matthew 22:37-40 and Luke 10:25-28. The contexts of all these passages show that love includes thought, word, and deed.
Closely related to the matter of "worldly practices" is the Biblical teaching concerning the Christian's liberty in Christ. Because he is free from the bondage of this world, the Christian's conscience is free from the commandments and scruples of men. In the "boastful pride of life" men seek to govern others with rules of their own making, thereby exalting themselves. The Christian, however, knows himself to be bound ultimately only to God. The "love of the Father" is in him, and his conscience is bound only by what is pleasing or displeasing to the Father. It is therefore wrong to consider a thing to be sin unless God has forbidden it. All things which are not forbidden by God are to be considered lawful for the believer. In the event that men attempt to subject the Christian's conscience to rules which God has not given, he is bound to obey God rather than men.
1. The Positive Emphasis -- Liberty to serve God alone.
In Romans 14:1-23 the Apostle Paul clearly sets
forth the doctrine of the freedom of the Christian's conscience.
Significantly, his entire emphasis is upon the believer's obedience
to God. Each of us, he stresses, must give account of himself to
God (v. 12). In matters which are indifferent, such as the eating
of certain meats, or the observing of special days, every believer
is free under the guidance of the Word to decide for himself what
he will do. Whatever he chooses, however, he is to be fully convinced
in his own mind that his action is pleasing to God, for to act without
faith, in violation of conscience would be sin (v. 22-23). Different
responses in a particular circumstance may both be right. It is
"for the Lord" that one man eats and gives God thanks;
and it is "for the Lord" that another man does not eat
and gives thanks
2. Liberty from the commandments and scruples of
This passage teaches that it would be contrary to our liberty in Christ to be bound in conscience to the commandments of men. It is important to notice that Paul says that this liberty is ours because we have died to the elementary principles of the "world"; and that we were "living in the world." The word "world" is here used in the ethical sense and has precisely the same meaning as in I John 2:15-16. It is clear that bondage to the commandments of men is a form of "worldliness." The believer has been freed from such bondage and is to stand firm in his liberty (Galatians 5:1).
The Christian's liberty, however, ought never to be used in such a way, in matters which are indifferent, as to lead our brethren into sin. This is taught in Romans 14:13-21 and in I Corinthians 8 and 10:23-33; (also Galatians 5:13 and I Peter 2:16). Although "all things are lawful," and "nothing is unclean in itself," yet "not all men have this knowledge," and it is possible, through an unwise use of our liberty to cause those who are weak to sin against their conscience. The principle is that we are to be guided, not merely by what is lawful, but by what is expedient for our brother's sake.
This general principle of expediency is subjected to an important limitation by the Apostle Paul in Romans 15:2, "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification" (NASV). In his Church Polity (p. 228), C. Hodge points out that it would be wrong for us to comply with the scruples of the weakness of others if in so doing any false doctrine or false principle of duty were encouraged; because it is more important to keep the truth pure than not to offend those who are weak. If it were otherwise, the church will always be ruled by the conscience of the weaker brethren. For example, the Apostle Paul consented to the circumcision of Timothy to avoid offending the Jews and causing them to reject the gospel before hearing it; however, he refused to circumcise Titus because of the danger of sanctioning the Jews' doctrine of justification by works. The Lord Jesus refused to be ruled by the scruples of men and was willing to be called a "gluttonous man and a drunkard" because He saw that the good of those men and the cause of truth required it.
There may arise circumstances in which the church, for reasons of expediency, may advise the people to abstain from things which are not wrong in themselves. However, it is important to emphasize that even in such cases as these the advice exists because of any inherent evil in the thing itself.
The godly man, therefore, is bound only to the Lord, loving Him with his whole being, and loving his neighbor as himself.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE CHURCHES
It is of vital importance that the churches be well grounded in Biblical truth. Unfortunately, the Church's teaching concerning "worldly practices" has sometimes been limited only to a denunciation of certain social practices such as "smoking, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and attendance at motion pictures." Such a limited emphasis has at times led believers to reduce the Christian life to a mechanical unthinking habit; the entire stress being placed on abstinence rather than spiritual discernment. Those who did such things were considered "worldly," while those who abstained were considered defiled. It is in order to avoid such things as this, and in order to promote true holiness among the people of God, that the following recommendations are given.
The words of Charles Hodge provide a fitting conclusion to this study: "Let real love to our brethren, guided by the word of God, direct conduct, and though we may not all act in the same way, we shall all act right." Church Polity, "Temperance Question," (p. 229).
It was moved and seconded that the report be recommended to our presbyteries and sessions for study. It was moved, seconded and passed to amend the motion by changing the word "recommended" to "sent". It was moved and seconded to amend the motion by adding "approved and" before "sent".
Synod recessed at 10:05 with prayer by the Rev. Thomas Jones. The Moderator asked the Synod to reconvene at 10:45.
Synod reconvened at 10:45 with prayer by the Rev. David Winscott.
It was moved, seconded and passed as a substitute for the amendment that recognizing the Bible as the only infallible standard, we approve the report as setting forth suggested guidelines for Christian conduct, along with the statement on the Christian life passed by the 1967 Synod, and send it down to presbyteries and sessions for study. The substitute then became the main motion.
It was moved, seconded and passed to amend the motion by adding, "and that the Synod make available the papers of Dr. Harris entitled, 'Biblical and Confessional Bases for the Separated Life' and 'Alternative Study of Worldly Practices.' " The main motion as amended carried.
[Documents of Synod, pages 34 - 45]
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