Conforming to the Culture (Edward Bernays, Popular Culture, and Christian Worldliness)

Conforming to the Culture
Robert Wurtz II

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2 NKJV)

Our Greek word for “conformed” is syschēmatizō and it is in the present passive imperative with meœ, meaning “stop being fashioned or do not have the habit of being fashioned.” (A. T. Robertson) To fashion something is to make it after a similar pattern. In modern times we might say, don’t be a copy or a clone of this present evil world. Peter also wrote along this line, Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation. (1 Peter 1:13–15 KJV) The Greek word for “fashioning” in this passage is the same word translated as “conformed” in Romans 12:2. An easy deduction from this text is that obedient children do not fashion themselves like the world. Rather, we are called to be holy and to do that means we have to “stop being fashioned or do not have the habit of being fashioned” like this present evil world. In fact, it is the destiny of the saints to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29b NKJV)

Evidence of False Regeneration

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17 NKJV)

A person who loves the world is devoid of the love of God as the ruling principal of their life (Vincent). Therefore, one canot have had the love of God poured out into their heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) if they are still loving this present evil world. One cannot be motivated by the love of God and love for the world at the same time. They are as different as light and darkness. Loving the world will accomplish the aims of the god of this present evil world. (2 Cor. 4:4) The love of God will compel us to do the will of the One True God. (2 Cor. 5:14) Again, this is what Paul said, 
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. A person who conforms to this present evil world is proving the will of Satan — not God. This is common sense.

Contemporary Expressions of an Ancient World System

Every culture, past or present, no matter how uniquely it is expressed, is still an expression of the spirit of this age (the spirit of antichrist). From the many splendorous cultures of India and China to the Native American Indians or the Muslim’s in Sudan. From Ancient Egypt and Babylon to modern New York City and Dubai. Each culture is a microcosm of this present evil world — no matter how differently it expresses itself from the rest. They are moving in the same spirit of antichrist. The primary difference rests on each cultures ability to pursue the triune vanities John listed in 1 John 2:15-17 (power/popularity, pleasure, and possessions). Some cultures are very poor and lack the means to fill to the full the will of the god of this present evil world. Some cultures struggle for mere survival; but even there the world exists however it may appear to be diminished.

The god of Popular Culture     

If we were to travel back 100 years we would be shocked at how different things were compared to today. I believe that if we could transport some men of God from the time of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, D.L. Moody or Charles Spurgeon to observe our culture (and how many professing Christians are conforming to it) they would be mortified. And the problem is growing by the day. Many professing Christians have no higher standards than the average sinner. Keep in mind that many of the common behaviors and deeds of people today would get a person locked up 60 years ago. It won’t be long and Marijuana will be legal in all 50 states. Then other drugs will follow. And we have only begun to loosen standards on sexual immorality. I suggest that behaviors that are a crime today will be celebrated in 20 years. 

If you or I are the type of person who adjusts their standards of holiness to whatever popular culture is doing there is a strong chance that we are not saved. There is no sense in lying about it. Things are way too far off course to put the blinders on. Worldly people need to be told they are not serving the One True God — they are serving the god of this world. We need the clear-cut language of John the Apostle: If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. If you or I love the world we will share this present evil world’s fate. If you are telling yourself you are right with God because you come to a meeting, raise your hands, sing a song and feel goosebumps — those bumps are 99.9% probably not the Holy Spirit. They are a spirit, just not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not at home in the life of a person who is in love with this present evil world. The devil is expert at manufacturing goosebumps.  

For the vast majority of people living in the Western World, theirs is a culture containing within itself a “popular culture.” This system is such a finely tuned machine that it makes 1 John 2:15-17 sound almost like a prophecy. In fact, I believe it is a faithful saying that the culture that America experiences today is the greatest expression of this present evil world to date. In other words, “the world has never been as “worldly” as it is at this present hour.” There has never been a time, at least since the biblical flood, that the world has had the resources and technology to express it’s rebellion against God as it does today. Our modern culture is an exaggerated version of anything the world has ever produced. Again, our culture is so radically different than it was just 100 years ago that the people of 1800s could not relate to the 2000s. 

Today all kinds of things that were considerd illegal or taboo in previous generations have been normalized. In the 21st century there is so much money to be made on sin that the only thing that seems to be taboo today is to speak against the compromise going on. Think of how just 50 years ago it was illegal to gamble in most cities except “sin city” (Las Vegas). Ultimate fighting was a crime relegated to to empty warehouses — much like dog fighting and cock fighting is today. Abortion was illegal 60 years ago, now abortionists are selling whole dead babies to researchers for profit. Fornication used to be taboo — now it’s practically a sport! 

A soon to be reality show lauds a woman going to lose her virginity on TV. Forty years ago tattoos were taboo in so much that mainly soldiers, bikers, and convicted felons had them. Now parents will sign for their teen-aged children to have them. In fact, there was a time when it was taboo for women to smoke. Now they die of smoking at about the same rate as men. Same with the taboo of women and tattoos. That taboo was broken in the last 20 years and women have them as often as men nearly. Just as teens used to smoke in the boys room — now they permanently mark up their bodies. The time would fail to list all the examples. We must digress. Yet how did the world succeed in breaking all these taboos? How has the world normalized so… much… sin? How could this happen? You really want to know? Keep reading. 

Sin as an Industry

When the industrial revolution came about, the world became mechanized. Companies learned how to produce goods and mine resources on an industrial scale. At the same time bankers and economists were figuring out ways to finance the purchase of all these goods we were producing. Soon there were plenty of products and a means to borrow money, but there was no demand. The reason for this is that our culture in the late 1800s was a needs based culture. The average worker only bought things they had to have for survival. The rich bought all kinds of luxury goods, but “John Q Citizen” did not. Products were even advertised in newspapers on the basis of need. The emphasis was on quality. “Goods like shoes, stockings, even cars were promoted in functional terms, for their durability. The aim of the advertisements were simply to show people the products practical virtues, nothing more.” (A. Curtis)

A Radical Cultural Shift

Corporations wanted to sell good and bankers wanted to lend money. What happened? “One leading Wall Street banker, Paul Mazer of Leahman Brothers was clear about what was necessary. e must shift America, he wrote, from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs. And the man who would be at the center of changing that mentality for the corporations, was Edward Bernays.” (A. Curtis) 

Over 100 years ago men like Edward Bernay’s began employing psychoanalysts and public relations experts to change the mentality of the American consumer. He also began using focus groups to figure out how to break through peoples’ inhibitions. In a short period of time they figured out how to exploit the lust of the flesh (possessions), the lust of the eyes (pleasures), and the pride of life (power and popularity) until living for selfish ambition and pleasure came to dominate our culture. In fact, these things became peoples primary reason for being and reason for living. This is the culture we live in. It is the fullest expression of man’s attempt to marginalize and replace the Creator to date.

The consumerist machine pumps out propaganda and products at a dizzying pace — sapping up every sale it can get. the world says, “Covet, and get possessions; lust, and indulge in immoral acts; envy, and climb the ladder of popularity and power!” This is the message of our times. This is the mind of the average citizen. In fact, these things are so entrenched into our culture and paradigm that it takes God’s word through the Holy Spirit to point out their influence in our lives. The whole essence of our culture militates against the God. Leonard Ravenhill once said, Paul says that’s what the world is to me; It’s a system of corruption and rottenness and vileness. It’s anti-Christ from the word go!… Is the world crucified to you tonight? Or does is fascinate you?” In Paul’s own words:

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.   And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:14–16 NKJV) 

Paul was dead to the world and the world was dead to him. Dead people don’t respond to stimulus. They don’t respond to anything. He was moved and compelled by the love of God — not love for this present evil world. 

Conformity or Peculiarity?

Conformity or Peculiarity?

Robert Wurtz II

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy (1Peter 2:9-10)

Although God owns the universe and everything in it, He has always desired to separate out and own a group of people in a unique way. This is what Israel was meant to be; God’s special (unique) possession. He wanted them to be a peculiar people; a compound Greek word that simply means over and above. Not that they were better than everyone else, but that they would be a living expression of God’s attributes in the earth.

After many centuries it was evident that they had failed miserably. Within this group of Israelites, Jesus Christ began calling disciples to follow Him. They were the beginnings of what we now know as the Church. Understand that there was a deliberate design to separate men and women from the life that they had been living. They were being chosen for a royal priesthood. They were called to be a holy nation. They would be God’s unique and purchased possession. 

Challenging God’s design these last 6000+ years has been none other than the Devil. In one sense his objective is to tempt God’s peculiar people to compromise and conform to the evil world around them. This is why the New Testament is loaded with reminders of who and what the Church is supposed to be. If we lose our peculiarity we lose our identity and if we lose our identity we have succumbed to conformity,  

The difficulty in convincing most professed Christians that we are supposed to be separate from the world, is that most people came to Christ in an environment devoid of teachings on this subject. Evangelism is almost completely man-centered these days, with little or no regard for God’s purposes. Many people think salvation is simply a means of escaping hell. Multitudes have prayed a simple prayer and have been told they are now saved. Some have been told they can now never be lost. 

The consequence of all this is that Christian standards have been lowered to the point that there is almost no distinction between the lives of Christians and the lives of sinners. We have been in such a moral free fall that we all deserve a certificate in skydiving. A hundred years ago there was a clear line between the Church and the world, but that line is now completely blurred. Just in my lifetime I have watched the churches go from rejecting secular activities as “worldly” such as secular music, the movie theatre, dancing, drinking alcohol, immodest clothing (women wearing men’s clothes, etc.), men wearing women’s jewelry, tattoos, coed swimming, and a host of other things- to embracing them in so-called Christian “liberty.” In some cases they are used as means of evangelism and fund raising. And it only took two generations.

Christian teachers used to say that a person is either sitting in the chair of commitment, compromise, or conflict. In my lifetime the visible church (as it has been visible to me) has moved from chair to chair. Right now we are in the seat of conflict. Why? Because compromise always leads to conflict. The lines are drawn between the people who want to maintain the standards and those who want to compromise it. Often it is between those who remember the way standards used to be and those who were not born yet. The Devil hopes to hold out until nobody remembers the standards of the past.

Indeed, another generation arose that knew not the Lord nor the works He had done in Israel. This has always been the pattern of things. One generation raises the bar and the next generation compromises. The standards that one generation compromised the next generation criticized. The chorus grows so loud that even the compromising generation joins the criticizers. Then the next generation is completely ignorant of the standards of the past. Before long our forefathers are painted as a bunch of backward idiots that were in bondage to legalism, or some other cynical description. Many are so backslidden that they can’t even decide if homosexual marriage is wrong.

Yes, in my lifetime I have come to wonder what Christianity even is anymore. The compromise has led to so much confusion that I sometimes wonder if anyone knows what Christianity is supposed to be. I dare say that we now live in the era of standard-less Christianity. We can do everything the world does and in some cases we can do it even better! We have to ask ourselves a question though. What’s so peculiar or unique about this possession that Christ has purchased with His own blood? In what way is it over and above the world? God has always had a remnant, even in Israel. This is not who I am referring to. The Lord knows those that are His. Nevertheless, we must ask ourselves, have I chosen conformity or peculiarity? Does my life demonstrate separation from the world or conformity to it? Does my teaching and doctrine contribute to God’s design for the Church as an “over and above” kind of people?

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