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Being In The World, But Not In The World

Rusty - March 14, 2005

Last week between seminary, work, homework, class, homework, seeing our best friends leave New York forever, homework, and homework, I’ve been following an interesting post at Millennial Star about parenting and media. Geoff B makes some interesting points as he lays out his children’s television-viewing schedule (none hours a week). There have been some interesting comments as the post is still moving forward. In one comment Geoff defended his techniques using the Mormon favorite, “Aren’t we supposed to be in the world but not of the world?”

Now, I don’t know who originally penned this silly saying, but it’s not from the scriptures. I suspect it is a modern-day translation/interpretation of John 17:14-16 though I can’t imagine that Christ meant it in the same way in which we express it. It seems that most members interpret “in this world” to mean “on this earth”. In other words, we should live on this earth, but we shouldn’t participate in “worldly” things. I agree we shouldn’t participate in “worldly” things (though that definition is up for debate as well, but that’s a topic for another post) but why do we have to limit ourselves to just being on this earth? Can we not be among the wicked? Shouldn’t a faithful member seek out a job in television so that he can have influence on the industry for good, rather than completely avoid television? Shouldn’t we live in the “mission field” so we may have influence over those in need of a good example, rather than live in Provo?

In verse 15 Christ says, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” I don’t think Christ is telling his Father not to remove us from the earth. I think He’s specifically asking Heavenly Father to not remove us from the wickedness around us, only to help us not be susceptible to it.

1 Comment »

  1. I think it was President Benson, but I might be wrong about that.
    john fowles | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 3:02 pm | #

    I don’t think so. I Googled the phrase and there is no Mormon reference (or Benson reference) up to the sixth page, and that’s where I stopped looking. It seems to be a very Christian saying.
    Rusty | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 3:45 pm | #

    Nibley traced it to a later source, but I’m at work so I don’t have anything to track down the citation (in Approaching Zion?), nor where he’d traced it to. IIRC, he was pretty emphatic that we use it as an excuse to draw too near to Babylon.
    pate | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 3:53 pm | #

    I remember a Bagley cartoon that described Park City as “In Utah, but not Of Utah”

    Mark Hansen | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 4:49 pm | #

    From L. Tom Perry, “In the World,” Ensign, May 1988, 13:

    From the teachings of the Savior we have adopted the common saying in the Church, “to be in the world, but not of the world.” Normally, when this saying is used, we are emphasizing our need to stay free from sin and materialism which are so prevalent in the world in which we live. Of course, this is important—we should continually remind ourselves to keep our lives in harmony with the Lord’s laws. For today, however, I would like to address the first part of the expression: “to be in the world.”
    john fowles | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 5:00 pm | #

    I included the above quotation just to show that it looks like Elder Perry also merely quotes it as a “common saying” in the Church and, if you look at the article, although he attribtutes it to John 15:19 as well.

    For some reason I have President Benson in my mind as saying this as well. I will look around a little on lds.org to see if I can substantiate that, but I admit that I could be misattributing that.
    john fowles | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 5:04 pm | #

    There’s also a great little article in the 1974 Ensign that similarly merely attributes it to a general saying in the Church. See James A. Cullimore, “To Be in the World but Not of the World,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, 119:

    The members of the Church are constantly being reminded that even though they are “in the world, they should not be of the world.” . . .

    President Lee said on one occasion to the youth of the Church: “We don’t pray that you may be withdrawn into a ‘Shangri-la’ away from the evils of the world, because you are to be a leaven wherever you are, to bring about righteousness, but we are pleading with the Lord with all our might that while you are in the world, you may be kept from evil.” (Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973], p. 223.)
    john fowles | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 5:09 pm | #

    Nibley traced it back to Diognetus.

    Elder Benson used it in the 1970s. David O. McKay used it in the 1940s.
    Justin | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 6:12 pm | #

    ok, so it’s been used in the church, but does that mean we should avoid jobs or living in the world.

    It’s hard to avoid living in the world, or for that matter jobs in the world. Both businesses we own are certainly in the world. A movie theater where over a third of the movies are R rated. And a bridal store where 3/4 of the girls are either already living with their fiancee or at least have had sexual relations with them.

    We are part of this world. Do we need to be worldly, or seek after things of this world or allow the thinks of this world to influence us negatively…NO.

    I’m glad I grew up in the mission field, and raised my family in the mission field, there are great blessing in doing so.
    Don | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 8:10 pm | #

    It is something we should carefully consider, that whole mindset of living in the world but not being a part of it. And it’s a very individual thing. I often go to bars to see bands play and have no inclination to drink or smoke whatsoever. Having drunk people around doesn’t bother me (until they get drunk enough to start wanting to blather to me because I’m female). But someone with an alcohol problem probably isn’t going to be well off exposing themselves to that kind of temptation.

    My husband and I always marvel at people who say things in church like, “We shouldn’t have only Mormon friends. We need to be making friends with people who aren’t Mormon.” We always think to ourselves, You only have friends that are Mormon? How is that possible?
    Susan M | Email | Homepage | 03.14.05 – 8:30 pm | #

    Nice post, Rusty. I remember when Bob and I were barely home from our missions we had a conversation about this. (I laugh now when I think about how naive and inexperienced we were back then, but still. . .) We were both excited to realize that we had each learned that even in missionary work itself — not to mention in other aspects of life — having a certain degree of credibility is essential if you want to get close enough to people or situations to influence them.

    One thing I love doing is spending lots of time in the Village. I get my hair cut by a gay guy there, I love shopping for clothes in the vintage/hipster stores and visiting the myriad indie record stores, and like Susan I enjoy seeing live music in bars. I’m not going to tell you that I do all that for the missionary opportunities (or that I’ve necessarily even got very much hipster credibility at all), but I do think people in that crowd take note in a positive way when they realize I’m Mormon and that I’m not just out to condemn every aspect of their lives.
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 03.15.05 – 10:37 am | #

    This is a good discussion. As a mostly irrelevant sidenote, many translations render John 17:15 as “keep them from the evil one” ie. Lucifer, not just general evil. This may have Temple echos, and I think William Hamblin discusses it in his “Temple motifs in John 17″ which is not widely available.
    Ben S. | Email | Homepage | 03.15.05 – 11:08 am | #

    Oh man, Logan, I remember those days… But seriously I remember two specific incidents on my mission where I just listened to Led Zeppelin with investigators for a couple hours. Neither of them joined the Church, but both helped give the Church a good name when it was commonly known as an evil sect in those parts.
    Bob Caswell | Email | Homepage | 03.15.05 – 11:40 am | #

    Yeah Bob, those conversations were great. It’s still fun to tell missionaries in my ward what we distilled from those post-mish days of ours: that obedience is not the first law of heaven. (At least not as that phrase is often understood. Of course, I better stop now before this becomes a serious threadjack with a topic that probably deserves its own post.)
    Logan | Email | Homepage | 03.15.05 – 11:46 am | #



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