In early 2009 Dr Peter Masters, pastor of the church meeting at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, wrote an article in the Sword and Trowel entitled “The merger of Calvinism with Wordliness”. In some circles this was well received, but in others it evoked a furious response. The polarisation was quite stark and the “anti” camp certainly had a great deal to say. Some contributions were less than charitable and we read many personal attacks on Dr Masters for speaking out on what we consider to be one of the most important issues of the day.
Ironically, a few years earlier there was a “School of Theology” the theme of which was the subject of “Worldliness”. Phil Johnson was one of the speakers on that occassion. How sad then that Dr Masters had to point to the capitulation of John MacArthur to Charismatic style worship and to his acceptance of well known “reformed charismatic” C J Mahaney. (Is John MacArthur the same man who wrote the “Charismatic Chaos”?) Phil Johnson, out of respect for Dr Masters, was typically more measured in his response, but nevertheless disagreed with Dr Masters that the style of worship was material to the question of worldliness.
What all this does demonstrate is that there is a very wide divergence of views on the issue of what exactly constitutes “worldliness”, even when 2 men have stood side by side as it were preaching on the theme warning Christians not to be worldly!
It was interesting therefore to come across the following in our reading of James Bennett’s “Justification as revealed in Scripture“. The modern “christian mind” will probably recoil from acceptance of the views presented here, but these were the standards of our reformed forebears!
…….. We show our faith by obeying the voice that says, “Come ye out of the world, and be ye separate.” For our Redeemer says of his disciples, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” But as there is something vague in the general term, world, we must consider what it includes, in order to see the works that show a real faith. In this, we are assisted by the apostle, who says,” All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, (i. e. sensuality, covetousness and pride,) is not of the Father, but of the world.”
To show our faith, we must quit the sensual world, or renounce the lust of the flesh. To say that we must not give ourselves to the more gross excesses of debauchery, of gluttony, drunkenness, whoredom, or adultery, is surely not necessary; for who would suppose that such slaves to lust had any regard for religion? But, when our Lord exhibited the rich man ” clothed with purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day,” the Saviour neither asserts nor insinuates anything more than what would be called high living within the bounds of morality; and yet this man is shown to us in hell, lifting up his eyes in torments, crying for a drop of water to cool a burning tongue. For what purpose? To warn us, that a life of sensual indulgence wars against the soul; and that we must “mortify our members that are on the earth.” “I keep under my body,” says the apostle, “and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” Who have founded Temperance Societies to stem the torrent of drunkenness that is bearing down our population into the fiery lake? Believers; and they have shown their faith by these works, who prove their dominion over their own appetites. For other men may live to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, as they would say ; but such as live by faith “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lust thereof;” but prescribe to themselves abstinence from everything that would either injure or oppose any hinderance to the soul in the service of God. The senses clamour for indulgence, regarding nothing but sensual gratification; but faith looks at the things that are not seen,, that are spiritual and eternal; and to the interests of the soul subordinating the body, with its appetites and passions, believing the voice that says, ” If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Of unbelievers, it is said, “These are sensual, not having the Spirit.” He, therefore, shows his faith by his works, who regulates his eating and drinking by the rules of health and religion; who maintains chastity in thought and affection; who allows himself no unnecessary indulgence in relaxation or sleep, and who, when the interests of the soul require it, joins fasting and watching to prayer.
But the second part of what is called the world’s Trinity, is, the lust of the eye, or covetousness as is seen in Eccles. v. 10, 11.
In an age when banks and national stocks were unknown, the possessors of money kept it by them, to indulge their covetousness by feasting their eyes. Many who talk much of works, think it perfectly consistent with religion to set their hearts on riches, and to accumulate as much as they can. Yet our Lord has forbidden us to lay up treasures on earth; and if we would show our faith by our works, we must lay up our treasure in heaven. To quit the covetous world, is as essential to the demonstration of our faith, as it is to renounce the sensual world; though it is to be feared that many abandon the more expensive sins, to indulge in this more selfish one; and because it can be indulged under a cloak of religion, of which sensual excesses would strip us, it is supposed to be no sin at all.
To show our faith by our works, then, we must, under its influence, renounce all undue gain, or withholding of money. “He that believeth shall not make haste” to be rich, “lest he fall into a snare, and the curse of ill-gotten gain be upon his house.” But, though it be said that the covetous can scarcely be honest, there are those who cherish high integrity with regard to the acquisition of wealth, but are yet within the blast of that sentence, “No covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” We may sinfully retain what we have honestly acquired. But “rich men are charged to do good, to be ready to distribute, willing to communicate.”
In the declaration of Zaccheus both parts of the sin of covetousness are renounced. He restores fourfold to any whom he might have wronged, and gives half his goods to feed the poor. A conscientious use of our property, giving willingly to the purposes of religion and benevolence all that God enables us thus to bestow, is essential to the demonstration of our faith. If you ask what that word all means, I answer, every man must decide that question for himself; and according to the reality and strength of his faith, he will decide with accuracy, and act accordingly.
The pride of life is the third and last of the sins of the world which faith must overcome, in order to show itself by its effects. This signifies every thing of which men boast, or make a show, so that it is varied according to our tastes and circumstances. With many it is the love of finery in dress; with others it is display in furniture, and in their habitations; as with those in higher ranks, it extends to palaces, and carriages, and liveries. The pride of mixing with what is called good society, which means not good, but great, is a very extensive form of the pride of life. The amusements of the world, balls, races, theatres, parties of pleasure in general, are valued chiefly for the sake of being seen where our pride may be gratified. But it would be unjust to pass by those who pursue science and literature, in the same spirit as others hunt after pleasure. A valuable library may be as much an object of pride as a splendid carriage, or mansion. One may be more vain of the title of doctor, than another is of that of duke. If the motive is the same, where is the difference between crowding to the conversations of the learned, or the soirees of the fashionable? There is as much pride in science as in wealth, and the most arrogant of mankind were the ancient philosophers; not the rich only, in their splendid porches or rural groves, but the poor cynics also, like Diogenes in his tub. For, when he trode contemptuously on the rich furniture of Plato, exclaiming, “I trample on Plato’s pride,” the retort was - “Most true: and with still greater pride.” In fact; the pride of life may appear, as it too often does, without a blush, in the assemblies of the church; and in the pulpit too, where a thousand arts are employed to catch the eye, and the ear, and to fish for applause by those who ought to be “fishers of men.” Verily, here is “the abomination that maketh desolate standing where it ought not.” “But this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;” and to show it by our works, we must renounce the pride of life in every form. It should, however, be known and remembered, that what is guilty pride in one, may be perfectly innocent in another. A king, born in a palace, cannot lay aside the splendid appendages of royalty, at his own pleasure; but, then, he may have no more pride in these things, than a labourer in his neat cottage, and pretty garden. “The rich and poor meet together, and the Lord is the maker of them both;” nor does it appear that he designed to destroy the differences of ranks, by the influence of religion. The pride of life is that which faith must overcome; and every genuine believer watches against this evil principle, so that to the eye that searches the heart, there may be more humility in high than in low life; “the brother of high degree rejoicing in that he is made low” by the Spirit of Christ, and the one of low degree vaunting that he is exalted, though he is “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”
A man that would show us his faith, must shun whatever would feed his pride. Who can read the apostolic writings, without being struck by the total absence of the spirit of the world which they evince? If any one were to say, they were clothed with purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day; that they accumulated fortunes, and were gay and fashionable, figuring in courts and theatres, and public amusements, who would not be shocked with the gross violation of truth ? But was it peculiar to the apostles to renounce the world? No; Christians in general tread in their steps.
Not merely by negative excellence, or what would be called innocence, putting away every sin, do we show our faith, but by works of obedience. When our Redeemer sent his apostles into the world, to preach the gospel, that he who believeth might be saved, he added, “teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” “Faith worketh by love, and this is the love of God, that we keep his commands,, and his commands are not grievous.” For what some, who rely on their own works, think so hard that they take the liberty of neglecting it, faith makes easy. Of this, what a triumphant display is given in the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews! There we see believers at God’s command, quitting their country, to go they knew not whither; offering up, without murmuring, an only child, passing from a court into a desert, and braving the wrath of a tyrant; in short, “working righteousness, obtaining promises, stopping the mouths of lions, quenching the violence of fire.” For that faith which some think a dull, passive thing, a mere apology for indolence, is the only working principle that produces obedience to all God’s commandments……………
Are we really to believe that sensual indulgence, even in matters which are otherwise moral, can be worldly, except in the realm of worship?
Are we really to believe that indulgence in matters aesthetic can be wordly, except in the realm of worship?
Are we really to believe that pride does not encroach in matters of worship?
Good men can talk all they like about the regulative principle of worship, but if they are not prepared to guard the spirit of worship by protecting the form and substance of worship, then they err greatly! How jealous God is of worship! In the Old Testament the altar was to have no tool laid upon it. Nothing of human pride was to contribute to the worship of God. Nadab and Abihu suffered for their presumption in offering strange fire unto the Lord. We cannot just determine what we think is acceptable to God. The Israelites committed idolatry in so many forms, not least in their syncretism when they joined pure religion with the practices of other religions.
Some would lead us to believe that the argument is merely over individual tastes, but they make little or no allowance in their argument that one may have worldly tastes. Be that as it may, we beg to differ from them and think that the issue is a whole lot more serious than a mere matter of taste! There are broad and deep principles at stake which undermine the very nature of Christian experience and worship that we hold dear. The “new calvinists” are seeking to accommodate more and more of the world within the Church. And in the so called ‘worship wars’ we are witnessing the world invade the very sanctuary of the church!!