When the church ceases to distinguish itself from the world, it no longer has anything to offer the world. Apart from the bare promise of forgiveness of sins in Christ alone, the church has nothing to offer unbelievers that they don’t already have and pursue in what to them are more exciting, self-gratifying ways. A light that conforms to the darkness renders itself useless. Salt which loses its saltiness is good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
Among Reformed evangelicals today, the most influential 19th-century Anglican is undoubtedly J. C. Ryle. And that is not without cause. Ryle’s work on discipleship and Christian living has represented a remarkable service to Christ’s Church.
But there is another 19th-century Anglican who I wish was a household name in American evangelicalism: Charles Bridges. My acquaintance with Bridges comes chiefly in the form of his classic work, The Christian Ministry. It is a wonderful manual for pastoral ministry that I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone interested in shepherding Christ’s flock.
Particularly helpful was a section he wrote on “Conformity to the World,” and its relationship to the Christian ministry. It’s no secret that many celebrity pastors in contemporary evangelicalism—and, sadly, the many non-celebrity pastors they’re influencing—employ conformity to the world as the modus operandi of their ministries. With a shallow, and rather twisted, interpretation of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, these men embrace—with their actions if not with their confession—the philosophy of ministry that Christians must become like the world to win the world.
And the interesting thing is, that kind of uber-cool, hip, innovative ministry philosophy is hundreds—and even thousands—of years old. Bridges’ commentary on the subject proves that this avant-guard, new-kind-of-ministry of the 21st century was alive and doing damage even in 19th century England. I encourage you to read his comments slowly, as the wisdom to be gained from them is extremely profitable for those who have ears to hear.
The Church is to Be Distinct from the World
The importance of studying urbanity of behavior in our engagement with the world, is sometimes pleaded as an excuse for avoiding the direct offence of the cross. But let it be remembered, that God never honours a compromising spirit. The character of our profession with the world must not be merely negative. It must be marked by a wise, tender, but unflinching, exhibition of the broad line of demarcation, which, under the most favourable circumstances of mutual accommodation, still separates the world and the church from real communion with each other. – 116
That “broad line of demarcation” that separates the church from the world becomes narrower and narrower and is only blurred by ministry gurus who re-imagine the church as a place where one “belongs before he believes.”
No Servant is Above His Master
Bridges emphasizes that truth with these words:
To have attached the world by adventitious accomplishments to ourselves, while the Master, whom we profess to venerate, is still with them a ‘despised and rejected’ Saviour, to a mind, reflecting upon Scripture principles, is a matter of far greater alarm than of self-complacency. If they could not endure the conciliating attractiveness of the son of God, even whilst devoting himself to their service at an infinite cost to himself—if they could count the great Apostle—(endued with so large a portion of his Master’s loveliness of deportment). – 117