The Light of Christian Separation
This article appears in the July edition of Tabletalk magazine.
According to a 2015 article in the MIT technology review, a single candle flame can be seen with the naked eye in the darkness from a distance of 1.7 miles. Even the smallest light stands out because it is so different from the darkness all around it. It must be different if it is to be seen. If it is just like its surrounding environment it will make no impact on an observer. In the same way, as the light of the world (Mt 5.14), Christians must be distinctive in the world—we are called to be holy, ‘set apart’, separated from the world toGod.
But what should that separation look like? What form does it take? Should we retreat into Amish-like communities, shunning anything that is ‘worldly’? The Christian church has a long tradition of this kind of separation, with its hermits and monastics dating back to the earliest days of the church.
For example, in c 429 AD, a Syrian Christian called Simeon found a fifteen metre high column that was still standing among some ancient ruins, built a small platform on the top and lived there for the remaining thirty-seven years of his life, spending his days in prayer, reading and meditation. He became known as Simeon ‘Stylites’ (‘the pillar man’) and inspired a succession of followers who took to columns to separate themselves from the world below.
Simeon has his spiritual descendants today among Christians who believe they should have as little contact with the non-Christian world as possible, shunning all TV, secular music, film and literature and friendship with unbelievers. After all, referring to unbelievers, doesn’t it say in 2 Corinthians 6.17 …go out from their midst, and be separate from them…?
Is this what it looks like to be light in the world?
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