“Conformed to This World”
Have the churches of Christendom met the challenge of today’s worldly conformity?
It has long been the tendency of mankind to conform to the crowd. The results have long been unhappy. Despite repeatedly sad results, humans and human organizations continue to conform to the world. Small wander that we have reached what one educator calls “the age of conformity.” Mass communications and educational organizations have been criticized for not meeting the challenge of today’s conformity. Where can the people turn for leadership in resisting worldly conformity?
Many persons look to the churches of Christendom for direction. They feel that, of all organizations today, certainly the churches ought to take the lead in resisting worldly conformity. And should not the churches, of all organizations, conform to Biblical right principles rather than to the world?
Not unreasonably, one should expect religious leaders to adhere to the rule found in the Bible at Romans 12:2, which reads, according to Christendom’s popular modern English translation, the Revised Standard Version, “Do not be conformed to this world.”
Well, then, how are the churches meeting the challenge of today’s worldly conformity? Are they resolutely pointing to Bible principles? Are they, with all clarity, warning professed Christians of the perils of conforming to this world? Are the churches themselves setting the example in not conforming to this world?
A noted educator recently surveyed the religious scene. What he found is recorded in the book The Age of Conformity: “In their efforts to hold their influence over a sensory society, the churches have failed to maintain with uncompromising clarity the spiritual standards of their origins. Some have turned to popular entertainment to lure their constituents at least physically into their houses of worship. Church community centers function with dutiful vigor; coffee is served in the crypt after Communion, and bingo enlivens cathedrals. . . . Sermons have become more mundane and popular, and some churchmen have embarked . . . upon the controversial political and economic seas of their communities. All these attempts do not appear to have won the public to greater spiritual devotion.”
SOCIAL CLUB ATMOSPHERE
When we examine a typical church weekly or monthly program we often find the social club atmosphere. Church bulletins abound with references to a bewildering array of dinners, various kinds of picnics, square dances, social affairs for the young, schedules for sports events, sales and entertainments. “A great many clergymen,” writes J. F. Saunders, “fear that the secondary functions of the church are beclouding and superseding the primary one. There is a tendency to place record memberships above solid spirituality and to mistake a seeking after social activities for religious fervor.”
There is no doubt that giving a church the social club atmosphere does wonders for the church membership roll. But what does it do to the church? Kermit Eby, a University of Chicago social scientist, observes that the trouble today is “the church has become respectable, a please-the-crowd institution instead of an unfettered champion of principle. . . . This trend to respectability and conformity has undermined the church as an instrument of God.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 13, 1956.
Social scientist Eby has indeed furnished food for thought—“a please-the-crowd institution instead of an unfettered champion of principle.” That phrase well describes so many churches; they have conformed to worldly ways to gain members. Instead of conforming to the crowd the early Christians conformed to God’s will as revealed in the Bible. They lived up to the command at Romans 12:2: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and complete will of God.”
ATTEMPT TO SERVE TWO MASTERS
How impossible, then, for true religion to conform to this world! One cannot conform to the world and at the same time conform to God’s will. The Master stated the inflexible rule: “No one can be a slave to two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other.”—Matt. 6:24.
Yet the churches have tried to serve two masters. British prelate H. R. L. Sheppard wrote in his book If I Were Dictator: “What is wrong with the churches is that they try to be both Christian and secular at the same time. Is not this perhaps to give to Caesar the things that are God’s? . . . At the moment the churches are primarily devoted to finance and prestige. . . . They have consented to enter the world’s arena.”
Financially, the results of this policy have been gratifying. Spiritually, the results have been catastrophic. Small wonder that Christendom finds herself in the worst plight in history; the colossus of a moral breakdown stalks throughout Christendom. The churches’ conformity to worldly ways has backfired. Church members are hardly different from nonchurch members. They have not been trained to live according to God’s will. Christianity is not only a way of believing; it is a way of living. Conformed-to-the-world churches have not transformed their members into conformed-to-God’s-will Christians.
It is not surprising, then, that we often hear comments such as that once expressed by American clergyman John Haynes Holmes: “It is a little difficult to think of America as a Christian nation—that is, if one thinks of Christianity in terms not of belief or profession of faith, but of actual life. There are Christian churches enough in this country. . . . But what influence do these churches have upon the thought and conduct of the average citizen, and what difference would it make to the life of the community if they were closed, never again to be opened?”
The answer is only too obvious. Conformity to the world is weakness, not strength, compromise, not integrity. True moral and spiritual power comes from unflinching adherence to God’s will; any other course is spiritually devitalizing. “The Christianity of today cheats itself,” declares Dr. Albert Schweitzer, “with the delusions that it is making its position as a church stronger year by year. It is accommodating itself to the spirit of the age by adopting a kind of modern worldliness. . . . Just in proportion as it gains in external power, it loses in spiritual.”
How glaring is the unscriptural worldliness of Christendom’s churches! Powerful Bible truths have been watered down so that sermons become please-the-crowd speeches. “There will be a period of time,” foretold Christ’s apostle, “when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.” Ear-tickling sermons are the specialty of so many churches!—2 Tim. 4:3,
Churches have gone after prestige and financial gain. They have sought glory from the world, despite Jesus’ definite pronouncement: “Woe, whenever all men speak well of you, for things like this are what their forefathers did to the false prophets.” They have initiated all manner of dubious methods to raise funds, including games of chance. They have adulterated God’s Word with philosophy and psychology to please more people, despite the words of the apostle Paul; “We have renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking in craftiness neither adulterating the word of God, but by making the truth manifest recommending ourselves to every human conscience.” Churches have preached politics and dabbled in politics despite clear-cut Biblical warnings: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.”—Luke 6:26; 2 Cor. 4:2; Jas. 1:27; 4:4.
Is it strange that conformity to this world makes one an enemy of God? No, for this world is under the control of the “god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil. (2 Cor. 4:4) This world’s ways are in direct conflict with the righteous requirements of God. And yet, as G. G. D. Kilpatrick, principal of the United Theological College, Montreal, says of the churches: “We have acquiesced in conventions, practices, and aims which are at entire variance with the ideals and spirit of the religion we profess.”
Is there any doubt about Christendom’s churches being conformed to this world? Not in the opinion of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, which said in its 1954 State of the Churches Report: “The average church is so much conformed to the world that people are surprised if it sharply challenges the prevailing behavior of the community.”
Though the churches have conformed to this world despite the unequivocal command, “Do not be conformed to this world,” there is no reason for you to take the same disobedient course. The Bible points out God’s will. Learn that will. Pattern your life according to it. Let this journal help you do that.