How do we live in the world but not of it?
How do we keep ourselves holy, meaning separated for God, and still live as a witness?
How do we guard our thoughts and watch television too?
It helps to know that God’s people have been trying to figure out how to live for God ever since Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden. Sin really did complicate life!
The Benedict Option
Rod Dreher published a book in 2019 titled The Benedict Option. It caused a stir when it came out with some Christians making a case for it and others speaking against his ideas.
Dreher had been a Roman Catholic and became part of the Eastern Orthodox faith. He was familiar with the life and teaching of St. Benedict. The Benedictine monks are still known for retreating from the world completely in order to live separate lives dedicated to the church.
Dreher’s book suggests Christians should do something similar if they want to keep their lives holy in our current Western culture. The book discusses the great need to protect our children from the abundance of anti-Christian influences in this digital age.
Dreher discusses filters to be put on computers and televisions. He suggests the need to create communities of like-minded Christians who share life, raise kids together, educate kids in homes, and preserve the innocence that children deserve to have.
In many ways, the Benedict Option is like the original intent of the Holy Land, a place where outside influence was limited and God’s people lived and worked together. One of the big weaknesses of living with the Benedict Option is that there is very little in Dreher’s book that would enable evangelism.
How do we live separate from the world and still “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)?
The church community
Almost every church website uses the word community in its description of itself. Churches used to reflect the community they were located in and defined their mission field as the neighbors living nearby.
The popularity of the megachurch changed a lot of that. People now drive a lot of miles to go to a church that has become their community. Large churches build gyms, establish schools, and include Christian bookstores, children’s organized sports, and even popular coffee bars and restaurants. Churches want to help provide their members with everything they need to live as a community of believers. Many of these churches have helped their members avoid the influence of the world.
The downside is that a lot of the smaller, neighborhood churches have grown even smaller or have closed their doors. They don’t have the funds necessary to provide a lot of what the megachurches can offer. It might be more difficult to attract new members if you have less to offer.
Another weakness of the megachurch is the lack of accountability. You can join a large church and pick and choose what you would like to attend and how often you want to attend. You can get lost or go unnoticed in the crowd unless you work at getting involved.
The megachurch has been accused of creating a generation of consumer Christians. It used to be that God’s people were taught to join a church that God had called them to serve; now people often join the church they feel suits their needs.
One of my favorite quotes is from William Temple, an English Anglican Priest who died in 1944. He said, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” Eighty to ninety years later, would William Temple describe our modern churches that way?
Paul’s option for Christian living
Scripture contains two letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul wrote about living as a community of Christian believers in Macedonia.
Macedonia was a region of Roman colonies, much of which was located on the coast and thrived on the shipping industry. Lydia had her purple dye business in Thyatira and was quite prosperous. The Christian faith spread throughout the region, but many of the churches spoken about in the book of Revelation were located in Macedonia.
The influence of the world crossed the border daily as ships docked in the ports. The Roman government required the people’s allegiance, taxes, and attention. The Greek philosophers and entertainers filled the coliseums and theatres sharing their gods, their values, and their influence. In many ways, the letters to the Thessalonians could be Paul’s letters to Western culture today.
Paul told the Christians living in Thessalonica “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).
How would Paul want Christians to live?
- With a quiet, careful witness to those outside the faith.
- To work hard, earning their own way in life.
- To live with integrity and character in the eyes of others.
- To love and care for one another as a community, not depending on those in the world for support.
A new option for Christian living
The new option for Christian living is actually the ancient way.
As mentioned earlier, that was God’s plan for the Holy Land. God wanted to prosper his people as a witness to the world. God wanted the world to notice his people so that unbelievers would want to know their God. God gave them a land “flowing with milk and honey” and promised to care for them if they would remain faithful.
Old Testament history tells the rest of the story. As a result, God so loved the world, he gave us Jesus.
We know how to live as a Christian community of believers. We are called to live with the Spirit of Christ.
We should enjoy our faith. We should enjoy our faithful friends and family. We should enjoy the blessings God will give to those who walk with him.
We should aspire to live quiet, peace-filled lives of integrity. We won’t be perfect, but if we “aspire” or “make it our ambition” to live this way, our lives will stand out in the increasing chaos of this culture. It isn’t a Benedictine lifestyle, but it is a Spirit-led lifestyle.
What kind of life will you aspire to live?
This might be a good time to think and pray about that.