Looking Like the World
I can recall growing up being told that I should avoid ‘looking like the World.’ The idea was more assumed than ever really explained. Consistently though I was told I was out of line in regards to music. At the Christian school I attended in Jr. High and High School we were told that electrical instruments were evil; the most vile of all being the drums. The problem was that I was a budding electric guitar player. But what made matters worse was the fact that I was in a metal band. I can recall various things that were said negatively of the style of music that I played. Once it was said, “There’s no such thing as Christian Rock, like there’s no such thing as Christian beer.” Another teacher tried to convince me that the Newsboys weren’t a Christian band because they played at a venue that on other occasions has served alcohol. Now, if you have a fundamentalist view of alcohol this might seem par for the course (for a critique of this assumption see my earlier posts on Alcohol in the Bible: part 1 and part 2). But one critique of my style of music has stuck with me for a while. Once in English class, my teacher said that Christians shouldn’t listen to or play metal music because it gives the appearance of evil: it looks like the World.
So I’ve wondered, what does it mean to look like the World? And secondly, I’ve wondered, is this really a bad thing? Why do we want to avoid this so much? Do I look like the World when I wear blue jeans, or have a beard? If girls have more than one set of earrings — or if guys have any — do they look like the world? If I support the San Francisco 49ers do I look like the World? By driving a Honda do I resemble the World? Does drinking Coke through a straw make me an image of the World?
I’ll be honest. I don’t get the problem. Growing up in Las Vegas I was surrounded by “the World.” Yet both of my parents worked as dealers in the Casinos. They’ve done this since before I was born and they continue to do it. Oddly enough they came to know Jesus as their personal savior through fellow co-workers who shared their faith with them. Ever since then my parents have continued to witness and entertain discussions about faith in an environment where they “look like the World.”
Once a friend from Seminary told me that he was applying to get a job as a bartender. At the moment I was filled with excitement for him (a response he did not expect). Although many might see bars as an unnatural place for a Christian, I explained to my friend that this is an incredible opportunity. To my mind bartenders function as priests of the city, and our cities need some decent priests.
In 1 Thess 5.22 we read that we should avoid the appearance of evil, which the example of metal music for my teacher meant that you’ll give off the wrong impression to others. However, the word “appearance” in Greek means “form” (εἰδος), so the idea is “avoid evil in its every form.” So all this verse is really saying is: Avoid evil. It does not mean: don’t give someone the wrong impression about you.
I think we get a great clue about how to respond to this issue from Jesus. If anyone in the Bible looked like the world it was Jesus. Claimed by others to be a drunkard, Jesus was known for hanging out with the worst of society. I believe we can get a glimpse of the missional heart of God through the way that Jesus looked like the world. Paul has a similar missional strategy as well:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but nunder the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Cor 9.19-23 ESV).
It appears then that we are dealing with an important issue of missiology. Let us not think that by being separate we are being faithful. So with Jesus guiding you, go look like the World.