The great British pastor of the last century Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.” I find his words fascinating when cast against the background of modern church life.
In many small ways, I find the church more and more accommodating to the world and less and less different. Some of our accommodations are more cosmetic than real. For example, we often try to build church buildings that look more like warehouses than church buildings. Once our best dress was saved for Sunday and worship—today, anything goes. In fact, we even advertise “come as you are” and tout the fact that our pastor dresses in blue jeans and untucked shirt. These are cosmetic issues, and certainly do not make a huge difference. I care some, but not much, what the building looks like, what the person in the pew wears or whether the preacher has a tie or no socks. What I do care about is the substance of what is taught and lived.
On the other hand, we dare not think that changing our dress code or the look of our building will make up for powerless preaching and ungodly living. The same can be said for the traditional church. Wearing an Easter bonnet or a tie on Sunday does not cover riotous and rebellious living either.
Lloyd-Jones is pressing a much greater point. He is calling the church to a distinctive lifestyle of holiness and purity. No amount of jubilant singing and dancing in the aisle can overcome immorality, deceitfulness and the bondage of sin in the church. But when the people of God, imperfect as we are, seek to live circumspect lives to the glory of our Savior, the world takes notice. The world is not impressed with holier than thou, but is captured by authentic living of the Christian faith with passion and commitment. People are attracted to those who admit their failures, but seek to demonstrate in the normal traffic patterns of life the fruit born by the internal work of the Holy Spirit.
The world has big eyes for people who have learned to love instead of hate. Like a magnet, they are drawn to people who have discovered peace and joy in the face of adversity. Individuals who have learned well how to live with self-control in an out-of-control society capture people’s attention.
Distinctively Christian living opens doors for the distinctively Christian message. I remember well a man whose wife was brought to Christ from a pagan religion that they both practiced. He determined to watch her for one year to see if Christ really made a difference. Her changed life validated the impact of the Gospel. He, too, committed his life to Christ.
I have also found that those outside of Christ are compelled to listen to the church when we act out our faith. Hard issues like abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues can be laid plain before an unbelieving world when the church speaks the truth in love. I have always been fascinated with the fact that unbelievers were willing to listen to Jesus, even when they were clearly walking in sin. The people with whom they had difficulty were those who had a form of religion, but denied its truth and power.
We have a great opportunity to speak into the morass of cultural decadence if we live an authentic Christ-like life. The unbelieving world watches before it listens.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.