“I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15 ASV)
It has been well said of late that the question of permeation or separation will remain live and relevant for some time to come in the Church. That means that those who recommend “influence from within” and those who advocate “reform from without” will disagree basically in their “world-and-life-views.” And since basic disagreement in the Church often involves agony and struggle for those who take their faith seriously, it is no wonder that the Savior included this very problem in his high-priestly prayer.
NOT OF—ALTHOUGH VERY MUCH IN—THE WORLD!
When Christ prays the wise believer listens! And when the Great Mediator lays bare the lines which our discussions and conversations on the problem of “Church and World” must follow, the Christian talks and walks accordingly.
There is an antithesis between Church and World because Christ gave to his own the Word of God (17:14). This Word has come to stand between Church and World, and the result is that “the world hated them.” Thus it became evident that Christ’s disciples “are not of the world” any more than he is of the world.
It is this similarity between himself and the Church which causes Christ to glory even before he goes away (17: 14, 16). This comparison applies to the life and career of the Christian from beginning to end. Like the Savior, the believer is “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:13). This similarity of origin calls for a conformity to the purpose of his life, “Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory” (17:24). And it is quite in keeping with this pattern that the Christ should pray, “As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world” (17:18).
The origin of the Church, like the Savior, is “from above”; the world comes from beneath. The destiny of the Church is there where the exalted Christ is; the destiny of the world is “the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:13). The task of the Church is to build the kingdom of heaven; the striving of the world is to build the kingdom of the world. Surely these are opposites! Surely these must conflict at every point of contact!
Not of the world…does that not demand withdrawal from the world? That is the obvious question now!
Hear Christ’s prayer: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world.” This does not suggest that Christ is indifferent to the pain of separation which his disciples must soon experience. It rather teaches that he so fervently desires the completion of his redemptive work that he must leave his Church on earth for a short (“a thousand two hundred and threescore days” –Rev. 12:6) time.
Christ prays for the good road of the Church on earth along which he may ride through the world of the last hour (I John 2:18) unto the glorious consummation of his universal dominion. There is an Enemy in that world, and he feverishly labors to break up that highway, knowing that then he might delay the arrival of that Great Day of Christ’s return.
PROBLEM OR RESPONSIBILITY?
“Keep them from the evil one.”
Christ’s prayers are not unrealistic. pious utterances, offered with one eye cocked on the pet interests of the congregation and the other on the clock. It is our custom to say that he suffered all his days on earth—and the day on which he offered this prayer was no exception. The agony of this supplication lies in his candid recognition of the fact that the Church would have to pray and fight with him in order to keep the highway open. When we go along with the Evil One and world we show a willingness to postpone his coming. a disinterest in his Kingship, and an unconcern for the things which Christ in this prayer reveals that he so deeply desires!
“Church and World I” This is not merely a problem for the Church; it is much more of a responsibility. After all, the high-priestly prayer of John 17 concerns us, too (17:20). Every day anew, therefore, we may know that we are here because Christ has prepared us a place. Today he still finds. us indispensable for his service on earth. Today he would walk through the world in us as his Church. In me his prayerful desire must become flesh and blood, and his formula (not 0f but in the world) must be applied in my life.
There is no place for me in the world except the place which Christ has been given for me by the Father in answer to his prayer. ]t is good to be here, then, so long as I occupy the place and serve the purpose which Christ intends! Here I may stand, and here 1 may gladly work for him. r may not shirk my Christian duty, which is to live vigorously and faithfully in this hostile world. Nor may I seek sweet rest outside of the world, desiring a speedy exit from it,. not even in the name of “faith” or “spirituality.”
What is the answer now—permeation or separation?
It is separation, of course, in order that Christ may “permeate,” that is, pass through on his way to the perfection. of his mediatorial glory!