Monday, February 28, 2005


So last week I hung out with some of the coolest folks who happened to be Christian leaders/youth pastors/spiritual directors/book editors/writers/and teachers. This was one creative, passionate and motley bunch. I LOVED THE EXPERIENCE! We came together to discern the direction for a youth curriculum/ study on Spiritual Practices.

So in a heated discussion a disagreement came up. The comment was made that "practicing" our faith gives Christians a language and counter-cultural actions that "set them apart" from the culture at large. Someone else made the comment that the language of being "set apart" was bothersome to him and not effective in reaching youth.

In an interview by Christian Century Magazine with Dorothy Bass, she says, "Practices are the things people do together over time that shape a way of life. One of the short definitions of practices is "embodied wisdom": a certain knowledge of the world is embodied and engendered by the way we go through our daily lives. "

So I throw this out for conversation: Are Christians to be a "set apart" people in the world, living examples of God's Kingdom (even in our imperfect states),


do we blend in with culture and effect change by assimilation with certain standards?


jay v. said...

Ahhh.... the hundred thousand dollar question (as in, you will make 100G if you can answer this question definitively).

First of all, I find myself uncomfortable with the language of "set-apart" even though that is what we claim in ordination. The reason is that the phrase has often been used to justify an oppressive power dynamic that I think is not especially consistent with the teaching and example of Jesus. To claim ourselves as set-apart is to (in a sense) say that we want to be apart from the world, that we want to be segregated from others, which of course completely flies in the face of any sense of mission and outreach.

I find myself uncomfortable with the other option you present -- assimilation, for this represents a compromise of values that may not be consistent with the values of the kingdom.

I tend to want to use the term "counter-cultural" in that we continue as a part of the larger culture, but our values (defined through the practices) are counter to the society at large. Those values of love means that we work to remain connected with the the world, but hold fast to our personal values and mores which are sacrificial.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jay. Great post, by the way. I like the "set apart" language- but I think that I see set apart as counter-cultural. That may be better language in today's time.


gavin richardson said...

can i throw another piece of wood on the fire? we generally live in Christian society, certainly those of us in the bible belt, should the assimilation into society not compromise us because it is a society based on our spirituality? now i know we become more and more a secular society these days, but our foundation can be argued this way. maybe, just maybe, our society is more Christian than we think?

or, instead of being set apart. we talked about being "strangers on a pilgrimage" last week when we got together. can we say that to be Christlike we embody the stranger? one who is walking an intentional life, but it is not a life embraced by all. ???

those are my random 2cents.

Kevin Rector said...

If Christ is in us, then the world will hate us. That's bible.

Our problem is that for some reason we think that we can not evangelize those who hate us, so we must "assimilate" or be "relevant".

God commanded us to be holy. To be holy is to be "set apart". We are to be different. We don't have to use the words "set apart" but we darn well better actually be set apart.

But I don't think that's the question. I think the real question is how do we balance being different while being missional.

The Old Order Mennonites and Amish have set themselves apart and there is a lot to be admired in their community, but they have entirely missed the boat because they are concerned only with their own salvation, they are 0% missional.

By the same token, there are some (especially in the emerging church) who are so "missional" that there is no real discernable difference between them and the world.

Our goal then should be to balance this. We must be different, and we must be willing to give up everything we have for our difference (including our lives). But we must also always be inviting people to join our community of difference. We must have open arms and hearts.

But we must never ever compromise what it is to be holy in order to make Christianity more attractive, which is a false evangelism.

St.Phransus said...

Thanks Kevin,
I have to agree largely with what you are saying. Holiness (which is word that methodists stray away from largely) is a set apartness, which, according to Wesley, comes through the practices/disciplines we do.

The image that I see that shows the set-apartness and the missional flavor/fervor is seen in "The Downtown" Monks of Newark Abbey in New Jersey. This little benedictine monastery began as a set apart community, away from society but as the city expanded and grew, it soon was in the center of Newark.

In the mid 70's it caught a vision to be a set apart community with a mission to the neighborhood. Now they work side by side the neighborhood in ministry to empower the poor, work with kids and see their neighborhood prosper.

Now that's holiness.

SLY said...

I'd have to say that although I don't feel worthy, we are called to be set apart. That doesn't mean that we can ignore what's going on around us, just that we are to be "apart" from it. It kinda sounds stuck up i guess, to be apart from the world. I don't think that's the plan. My brain is mush from youth tonight, so i'm gonna stop now.

Anonymous said...

i don't think any of us are worthy to actually be called set apart, but i agree with you that i lean toward that view.

thanks for posting and stopping in for a gander. how are things in the boro?


stacey said...

Just after Jesus tells us that we are salt of the earth and light of the world, he begins to re-interpret Torah. This re-interpretation, I think, is how we are to BE salt and light. I find it fascinating that Jesus starts 6 paragraphs on Torah with our relationships with other people (as opposed to say how we are to be holy or proper or even 'set apart' -- though you could argue that is what he is actually saying).

For me this is vital. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world in how we relate to one another, within the community of faith and outside of it. "Holiness" and "set-apart-ness", perhaps, are best understood in this way -- we are called to live life differently, by different priorities and values and thereby, become agents of change, like yeast in the dough of society. We do not do it perfectly, but we are always on the journey to do it better and more faithfully.... thanks, Stacey L.

Anonymous said...

Awesome commentary Stacey. Thanks.