One of the books I am slowly working through at the moment is called ‘Water from a Deep Well’ by a guy called Gerald L. Sittser. It’s basically a book about the Church’s history from Early Christian Martyrs to the Modern missionaries. As a History graduate and a Christian this book has a natural appeal.
However in the third chapter it looks at the Desert Fathers, who were a bunch of Christians who found the popularisation of Christianity in the Roman Empire after Constantine damaging to the “cross-carrying” life they felt called to. So they fled to the deserts and practiced various extreme methods of self-denial and disengagement with the world around them.
Whilst this kind of behaviour has obvious benefits (learn dependence on God, not be distracted by sin, etc), there are some subtle hindrances and dangers. For example
- Pursuing self-denial for its own sake, or to fuel a sense of reputation and pride in misguided piety
- An inability to change, bless or even relate to the world around them.
- Forgetting that it is by grace we are saved, not by works
As a modern believer one of the questions I have is how far to engage with the “world”. For example, will I watch 18 rated movies, go clubbing, listen to music with swear words or celebrate Halloween. Where do I draw the line on personal Holiness and effective outreach?
Well, I sat down with a friend from the Navs group and we came up with some helpful gauges for engagement vs disengagement. We agreed that for each Christian, in each circumstance and each moment it was likely to be unique. So we wanted a “tool” by which we could personally decide whether to engage or disengage.
5 Gauges of disengagement vs engagement:
- Conscience/Strength of faith. This has been covered in a previous blog post (or maybe it hasn’t ) and John Wecks book: Free to Disagree. But in a nutshell in order to determine whether it is wise for us to engage or disengage with an activity of the world we need to evaluate whether our conscience permits us. Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8 calls this “strength of faith”. See the post for a more full discussion. But 1 Cor 8 goes a little further and tells us that we should also act in the awareness of the conscience of other believers, especially younger and weaker believers.
- Calling. Just as Paul was called to engage with the gentiles (Non-Jews), Ezekiel was called to disengage for periods of his life. For example when told to literally lie on one side for a year! God may call us into situations, relationships or ministries of engagement with the world. One lady I knew became a Christian through someone who felt called to share his faith in clubs and bars.
- Empowered. What ability or power has God given us. An example of this is the power given to the early disciples to speak the languages of all the people around them in Acts 2, by this power they could engage with the culture. Empowerment can take the form of: Natural abilities, Spiritual gifts or Acquired Skill (Clinton – Unlocking Spiritual gifts). On the flip side of this, we may be empowered to disengage: Jesus fasting for 40 days, or the 3 men in Daniel 3 who were empowered to survive the fiery furnace and therefore disengage with the activities of culture.
- Law. Jesus said that not the least letter of the law would be changed. In our engagement or disengagement, we are never called into sinful activity. We shouldn’t be engaging to the point of sin. This is obvious but it must be said. 2 side-notes: 1) we shouldn’t disengage to the point of sin either (“all that is required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing”). 2) We must also have a thorough understanding of the law – remember the Pharisees who thought they understand the law of Sabbath, but were actually wrong, and they mistake led them to sin by disengagement.
- Motive. We should be asking ourselves in disengagement and engagement. What is my motive? Are we like Paul, who was able to become/engage like a Jew, Gentile, Slave or Free for the sake of possibly winning some (1 Cor 9.19-23)? Or do we disengage in order to show that we live for a different Kingdom and thereby witness.
Since meeting with my friend I have thought up a 6th: Integrity and Consistency. I came across this one in my Bible readings. Gal 2.11-17. Paul describes how Peter would only eat with Gentiles when Jews weren’t present. Because he didn’t want to ruin his own reputation. When we choose to engage or disengage with culture, is because of selfish motives and therefore will change depending on who is watching. Or are we the same when no one is looking.