"Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV)
by David K. Shumate
Every preacher remembers their first sermon. Mine was on July 20, 1980 for the evening service at the Crab Orchard Church of the Brethren in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The sermon, in comparison with those that have followed, was uncharacteristically brief. Twelve minutes passed and we were singing the invitational hymn. The older women of the church, always good for an encouraging word, stated their thanksgiving that I was to the point and did not repeat myself.
These words of the Apostle Paul are among the golden texts of the Church of the Brethren. Brethren believe that salvation involves a change in the behavior of the saved. Paul's admonition to the Romans makes clear that this behavioral change involves non-conformity with the society around us. We are called to be set-apart, different and peculiar when viewed from a societal perspective. This does not involve withdrawal from society nor from the lives of those who encompass our social universe. As the experience of Jesus (Matthew 4) demonstrates, withdrawal from others never removes us from the source of temptation and evil. Our Christian experience is to be in the world and not of the world.