May 27 2008
What is your reaction when you see the bumper stickers and window decals with the frilly fancy lettering that upon closer inspection reveals the moniker, NOTW? I used to ask myself “What does that stand for?” and “What does it mean?” After all, I saw so many of them I figured I must be missing out on something really great. I wanted to be in on the secret along with everyone else.
So I did some research and when I found out it stood for “Not of This World” I still didn’t quite know what to make of it until someone told me that it was “a Christian thing”. I consider myself a Christian, so now I was really curious. I investigated further and was a little disappointed when I found out that ” ‘Not of This World’ is an alternative lifestyle brand that goes beyond the norm. NOTW is an identity set apart to save and empower lives.” That is a direct quote from the notw.com website, which makes it clear that they are Christian based and ready to sell you shirts, hoodies, pants, shorts, shoes, hats, beanies, belt buckles, bags, wallets, sandals, purses, socks, keychains, decals, and more via their christian clothing chain of stores – C28, the name of which is a reference to the Bible verse Colossians 2:8.
I went to my own NIV Bible and looked up the passage:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
Well, at least I was starting to learn the origins of the statement “Not of This World” and why people might think it was a Christian thing. Let’s look at the same passage as written in the New King James Version of the Bible:
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
And different still the New Life Version of the Bible states:
“Wisdom Of The World Is Empty. Be careful that no one changes your mind and faith by much learning and big sounding ideas. Those things are what men dream up. They are always trying to make new religions. These leave out Christ.”
There is a pattern here and one that I actually agree with wholeheartedly. This passage basically advises us against taking the ideas of man and man-made notions of the world as our religion over the teachings of Christ to be found in the Bible. I agree with that as a general statement of truth. As a society on the whole our concerns do not genuinely begin and end with Christ no matter how much we call ourselves a Christian society. And certainly given the fact that there are other faiths and religions throughout our planet that do not adhere to Christian teachings it would not be feasible to claim that every nation on the planet conducts itself based on the teachings of Christ. So let’s be clear about something from the start where the statement NOTW is concerned and where this passage of the Bible is concerned. I have no doubt that the creators of the NOTW movement would like to see their products in every household and I’m sure that as Christians, we would like everyone to believe as we do. But the book of Colossians is a letter from the apostle Paul and it was written to the members of the church in Colosse. Thus, historically the verse while perhaps meant for all, was certainly directed specifically to Christian men and women. It is not (for example) directed at the Buddhist or the Muslim, or the Hindu, or the Jew, for these faiths are not based in an adherence to the word and teachings of Christ. This statement is directed to Christians and those who wish to live a Christian life.
The websites for NOTW and C28 indicate that through their branding and commercial ventures their goal is to bring others to Jesus Christ and the joy that awaits those who accept and invite Christ into their lives. That’s great, and I do believe that the intentions of this enterprise are sincere. The problem is that they only push one half of their own message and in doing this they don’t actually practice what they preach. My reaction to this moniker has always been the same, “Why aren’t you part of this world? What makes you think that you are above others?” Here and now is exactly where God wants us to be, and exactly where He wants us to represent Him and show others the joy to be had through a life of service to Jesus Christ.
The rest of the statement found at notw.com is this – “Living in this world, but not of this world.” The emphasis is mine but the complete phrase puts a very different spin on things. The complete phrase refers more to the passage from Colossians 2:8 and that the apostle Paul advised the Colossians, against being spoiled, deceived, or led astray by the ways and imaginations of men so much so that they forget their relationship with Jesus Christ. To do so would be to follow (or worship) the ways of men above those of Christ, i.e., to be consumed by this world and forget the world of Christ.
So, now you are probably wondering to yourself, so what’s wrong with this way of thinking? And the answer is nothing if your thinking is complete. The corporate choice to emphasize the more catchy and compact “not of this world” carries with it the potential of leading those that buy these products to think that as Christians they somehow rise above the rest of the world, only to await the promise of salvation, simply by being Christians and affirming their belief in Christ. It is an arrogant and misinformed position.
Simply wearing a shirt or putting a decal on your car – or for that matter, wearing a big cross on a chain around your neck – won’t enable you to put the aside ways of men in favor of following the ways of Jesus Christ. Nor should you want to or expect to. These things may serves as a reminder that in your daily life among men, you need to remember the teachings of Christ and pray that those teachings guide your actions. But do not expect these things to simply lift you above the fray that is the real world and the world or which we are a part.
Not of This World and C28 are capitalist enterprises with the express goal of making a profit. This use of a very significant and potent biblical message for such an earthly goal (with “a certain percentage of all purchases to evangelical outreach ministries”) is in itself, no better than that which it warns against and their intent rings rather false. I’m not saying that their intention to help people understand Christ isn’t a good one, or that they haven’t had some success in this goal. Their own websites would indicate that they have had an influence and there can be no question about the visibility that their logos and products are enjoying in neighborhoods across the country. What they haven’t shown is any evidence that the message is really being received. We can certainly see that money is being spent, but are hearts really being changed? Are behaviors really being changed? Are minds really being challenged ?
So many people already believe Christianity is a religion that is more about putting on a good face while nourishing your sins in private. This has been the case as we’ve watched one religious leader after another condemn every one else’s sin, only to be caught in adulterous affairs, in financial scams, and in the exploitation of those that have placed their trust in them as men and women of God. When Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, it was because he’d received word that the members of the church were in danger or relapsing into paganism. His letter was intended to reaffirm the sufficiency of Christ as the Son of God and as their Savior. The Colossians needed to understand and accept (as we need to understand and accept today) that following ones faith is not an easy proposition in the world we live in. Our choice and our calling dictates that we put our faith in the supremacy of Jesus Christ. It is because of this choice that we are able to live in this world and hopefully by example others will want to know and experience the joy of loving Jesus Christ. How will they know of Christ and Christians if we put ourselves above the rest of the world?
Some research for this article was found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library