To be encapsulated is to be enclosed - as in a vehicle - and, in that state, given complete protection from the surrounding atmosphere. A picture of this would be of astronauts who have been able to negotiate atmospheres which would have been impossible had they not been enclosed in a capsule - or encapsulated.
It is our desire to pursue this thought as it applies to Christians living in the unfriendly atmosphere of the world system. Is there such a thing as a capsule for our protection?
It is significant that in His high priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus gives such strong emphasis to separation from the world in the following verses.
6 I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.
9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one.
14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
25 Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
A perusal of these verses coming from Jesus Himself leaves us in no doubt that there is such a thing as separation from the world as a Biblical doctrine. This doctrine has undergone many stages of application since the above utterances of the Master. The early expression of this was monasticism.
J.D.Douglas, in his “Dictionary of the Christian Church”, states that this was caused by a growing laxity in the professing Church and imperial patriotism from the prevailing Roman governors, in particular Constantine.
Egypt became one of the favourite areas for early monasteries, one group being known fittingly enough as the Desert Fathers. Douglas informs us that Roman matrons formed nunneries in Bethlehem and Jerusalem in the 4th century.
From the monastic system came orders, notable among them being the Benedictine, Augustine and later the Jesuit orders. While today we generally dismiss the idea of monasticism, we must not forget that it was they who were used by God to preserve manuscripts and knowledge that would have otherwise been lost. Also, among the positive features of monasticism were the matters of discipline, vows, dedication to service and general service to those living within the regions of the monasteries.
Yet, there is no support from either the teachings of Jesus or the apostles for the idea of a ministry or a severely disciplined order separated from other people.
We have already noted that in the teaching of Jesus in this matter of separation, there was no specific instruction of how the said separation was to be carried out. We will now look to the teachings of the apostles for further light.
Standing out clearly from Paul's writings in Rom 12:1 we read, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.
The King James Version translates that last phrase - “your reasonable service”. The word for “reasonable” is LOGOS - a reasoning faculty. In other words, the sacrifice of our bodies is to be intelligent and considered rather than demanded or contrived as in ritual sacrifice made under compulsion. We are to offer ourselves with the spiritual intelligence of those who are new creatures in Christ.
An application of this truth would have greatly helped in the extravagances of monasticism long ago, to say nothing of the exaggeration of the doctrine seen in some of the ideas espoused in more modern times.
Paul comes a little more to the point in Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. The words contain a clear negative in the statement “do not conform”. They carry the thought that the corruption of this world is inimical to a Christian and is to be avoided.
Paul continues to explain that we need the positive transformation of the mind in order to produce the knowledge of the perfect will of God. We may also deduce here that the perfect will of God will never be discovered while there is conformity to the world spirit.
Maybe it is time to attempt a definition of the “world”. Each generation will need to engage in this exercise because there are always Deut 32:17 ...gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. but it is the principle that is important and this is expressed in the word “worldliness”. When we get a grip of this word, we may be able to judge concerning “gods that recently appeared”.
As an illustration, I was conducting a debate in a youth meeting in our church in Brisbane in the 50s before television had arrived. TV was already in Sydney in black and white and some had seen it. The debate moved to the obvious that it could be harmful and/or it could be used to a good purpose. Such a debate would be amusing today even though we have come to see that it can be devastating to spiritual life while advantageous, even to the spreading of the Gospel.
Today the debate would focus on the Internet and other aspects of the multi-media, much of which is damaging to any aspect of spiritual life. “gods that recently appear”
We will take a couple of definitions of the “world” to give us some guidance. Vines defines “world” as “the present condition of human affairs in alienation from and opposition to God”. From the editors of the Scofield Bible we have “The present system organised upon the principles of force, greed, selfishness, ambition and sinful pleasure is the work of the devil and was the bribe offered to Christ in the temptation in the wilderness”.
This is a very enlightening definition and is most helpful in analysing the material brought before the general public under the heading of “entertainment” - TV or internet or another “god newly appearing”.
Returning to Paul and his teaching on separation, we have his most emphatic statement of 1 Cor 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Note the emphatic cannot. We may not understand the implications or detail of these heathen feasts of long ago but they had a spiritual dimension attached to them that must be avoided.
There are undoubtedly parallels today. Cultic feasts and covens of witches sometimes with blood sacrifices are reported. Oaths of secret societies and lodges are suspect for consideration under Paul's prohibitions.
In the atmosphere of the “bleeding heart” syndrome, there is a tendency to overlook personal behaviour forbidden by Paul under the cover of grace and compassion. Paul provides us with a standard in 1 Cor 6 of lifestyles to be avoided - fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers and extortionists, each of whom will not inherit the Kingdom.
While the passage is lit up with the wonderful words of 1 Cor 6:11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God., nevertheless the moral power of the Gospel is clearly set forth in the list of prohibitions enumerated here.
We seem to have travelled a long way from our starting point of being encapsulated and so we must retrace our footsteps in that direction. All forbidden territory in Scripture is written for our learning that we might shun the wrong and do the right and in the doing of it, might live the good life.
Having attained this, we are still harassed by fears, insecurities, uncertainty and the bad news of terrifying inventions, polluted land and waters and the fluctuations of international finance and its possible effect on our personal lives.
I was a teenager in the Great Depression of the 1930s. At that time, there were still minerals aplenty in the ground - iron, coal, gold and silver etc. Arable land in Australia and elsewhere by the square miles was still capable of producing food for the people. Rivers and reservoirs were full and flowing but machinery and factories were lying idle. It was not for the want of workers; they were everywhere unemployed and many were hungry.
What went wrong? It was simply that the financiers at high level who controlled the flow of money through the countries of the world closed it off and everything came to a standstill with disastrous consequences.
It has been said that the above will never happen again and we pray that it won't but there are minor manifestations of the same evil phenomenon coming and going constantly, all a part of the world system and its evil nature.
How does our Christian separation from the said world system cope with these realities? This is not in the realm of moral behaviour but in the realm of whether or not we are subject to fears and insecurities as are others. To some extent we Christians are affected by, i.e. increased interest rates on our mortgages, the farmer with lowering prices for his produce etc.
So where and how does the notion of be encapsulated connect with our realities?
Prov 3:25-26 Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.
Ps 91:7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
Let us take hold of these promises. They are as real today as they were in the times of the men who penned them.
There IS an encapsulation where we are kept safe. Biblical separation contains not only protection from things seen and heard but is a positive capsule designed to survive, like the space travellers, in any atmosphere.