In the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character is stranded by himself on an island for the majority of the film. What makes this movie most captivating is the exploration of how isolation eventually affects even the most well-disciplined mind and life. So what does that have to do with anything remotely (pun intended) spiritual? Socially and spiritually, and in almost every way possible, we were not meant to be alone.
A disclaimer of sorts (though unnecessary for those that know me well). I am not condemning those that may pursue holiness. That should be the pursuit of all who follow Jesus. I am simply attempting to address the lengths to which we isolate (or separate) ourselves from those around us that need our influence most.
Particularly in some iterations of Christianity there has been a specific bent often referred to as the “holiness movement”. Again, this likely means slightly different things to different people, but the main idea is that one of the main ways we show our identification with Jesus is by the outward ways in which we are perceived to be visibly different than the world in which we live. Taken most literally are issues like attire, entertainment choices, and the like. In my upbringing it was often quipped that good Christians… “don’t smoke or chew or go with those that do”. While this was used somewhat humorously, it was an apt demonstration of a specific understanding of what it meant to be Christian.
I’ve written and re-written this one more than once. I know that I am certain to offend some who grew up similarly, but know my heart. I am not saying that all of these issues can or should be summarily dismissed as issues of any importance. What I am saying is that the “holiness movement” as a whole has unintentionally done more harm than good to the cause of Christ in the world. The so-called separation which was meant to be, in the main, internal is forced into near-constant personal interpretation as to which and to what degree external things should isolate us from the culture to show our loyalty to Jesus. What follows are a handful of observations I have made as to the negative effects of isolating oneself from the culture in which we have been placed.
1. the point we mean to make doesn’t land… Obviously we want it to be known that the reason we do not participate in ______________ said cultural practice/activity is because we are intending to show that we are not participating because we are “holy”. But the only ones who understand this personal significance are those who share the same values… those who see things the way we may. Not to mention that more often than not, there are no biblical mandates related to the issue in question. Which leads to #2…
2. trying to make issues of things that the Scriptures don’t, weakens the power of the Scripture to those outside of faith… Clearly there are things to which the Scriptures, and at times, even Jesus himself speak to directly. However that list is probably not as long as any of us wish it to be and certainly does not contain many of the “religious talking points” of many conservative Christians today. And when we pretend that Scripture is loud and clear when it is, in fact, not, we weaken its power to those that have grown accustomed to associating it with _______________ said cultural practice/activity.
3. we don’t need Christian versions of ____________, we need Christians who are willing to participate meaningfully (Christianly) in the culture… I had to repent of my earliest tone for this post. Instead of participating in our culture and showing them the power of Jesus, we have created pockets of and even an entire strata of sub-cultural existence within our culture. I won’t link to any, but you can literally find “Christian” versions of everything from music to coffee to kitchen products to… you would be amazed. What this world needs to see is that Jesus calls his followers to be the largest contributors to those around them. There should be little doubt that when any follower of Jesus is involved in ______________ cultural practice/activity it is always made better because of their influence. That’s the way he played it himself.
I’m not saying there are never times when it is appropriate and even necessary for us to withdraw from _______________ cultural practice/activity. What I am advocating is that those times be few and far between and when we must, we do so with great remorse.