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The Relevant Church

Iíve been asked to address the issue of the church being relevant to the world, and just what that might mean. Many churches are claiming to be a "relevant church" these days, so itís something to think about.

Websterís Dictionary defines relevance as "having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand". So a relevant church is a church that has a significant and demonstrable bearing on the world around it. Simply put, the relative church has a Godly impact on society.

When thinking of relevance, I have two points to consider. The first point is "relevance in our approach to the world". The second point is "relevance in our message".

Relevance In Our Approach

 

Larry Norman, a Christian singer once called hymns "funeral marches". I guess he didnít think they were all that relevant to his rock and roll generation. Since then many churches have replaced hymns with modern Christian songs. With the addition of drums, bass guitars and electric Fender guitars wailing away through a high powered sound system, our meetings have been transformed into an exciting and relevant event.

Drums, guitars, and the latest in sophisticated sound equipment does make church a bit more relevant, but thereís more to relevance than music. Modern music is simply a more viable way to approach the world with our message in this present generation. Iím not opposed to the use of an electric Fender guitar screaming across the spiritual universe. If I were Iíd have to sell my Fender. But I realize that the electric guitar is only one means in helping us deliver the message of Jesus Christ our Lord to the world.

Being relevant in our approach to the world may look different from place to place and from culture to culture. Although I have no problem with that, my poor old banjo does. It gets quite lonely these days because of its apparent lack of relevance in a rock and roll church. I do believe that our approach to the world can change from generation to generation to make things a bit more relevant, but the message we present after the approach must remain constant, and most of all must be Biblical.

Relevance And Our Message

Thereís many issues facing the world and the church today that Christians need to consider and address. These issues include such things as morality, technology, finance, education, politics, philosophy, and religion. These issues relate specifically to our message.

Our attempt at relevance in our message must be based on the truth of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as seen in the Bible, without compromise, and with heart felt conviction. This is absolutely necessary and more important than the way we approach the world with our message. If we fail with our message, our attempt at relevance becomes meaningless.

I feel in some circles we are failing when it comes to our message. This is resulting in an over familiarity with the world, leaving us with little significant impact. This familiarity and the subsequent failure is due to purposely neglecting the more controversial aspects of Biblical truth in order to make our message more acceptable. Failing to address the truth of sin and judgment is one example of this. Thus by avoiding the controversies, everyoneís our friend. In short, many churches have compromised and watered down the gospel in the name of relevance.

The result of this watered down gospel is that weíve become so much like the world that itís hard to distinguish us from the world. I donít mean that weíre like the world in the way we dress, or the music we play. Weíre like the world in the way we think, and the way we think has a direct impact on our message and how we live.

To understand relevance in our message we must first understand the Biblical view of our relationship to the world. The Apostle John tells us not to love the world, if we do, Godís love isnít in us. (1 John 1:15) When John uses the word "world", heís speaking about the world system, not individuals in the world.

The first generation church cared more about the truth of the gospel than it did about what the world thought of them. John tells us to love in action and in truth. (1 John 3:18) Thatís not a sloppy tolerant love where we turn our backs on sin. Thatís love based on truth, justice and the Biblical way. John didnít preach a tolerant gospel.

The early church also had a real disdain for the world system. Peter "warned and pleaded" with those he preached to by telling them to "save themselves from this corrupt generation". (Act 2:40) Peter felt that people needed to be rescued from the world, as one who needs to be rescued from a fire by a fireman. Peter wouldnít think of compromising the gospel to accommodate the world

Paul sure didnít have a lot of positive things to say about the world either, especially the religious world. He viewed such things as "dung". (Phil. 3:8) Now "dung" is an old King James word, not the more relevant word that Iím not comfortable using.

Jesus Himself said that the world would hate us because it hated Him. (John 15:18) One reason why the world hasnít hated us much in western society is because weíre too much like them. Thatís in the process of change for those who stand for Biblical truth.

So thatís the Biblical view of our relationship to the world. We should adjust our thinking accordingly. With this in mind, why should we consider watering down the gospel to make it more convenient for the world to accept. Itís clear then when thinking of relevance in our message, our allegiance is first to Biblical truth, not to the world. When we water down our message, we reap a crop of worldly Christians that may not be Christians at all. Yes, they fill our pews and maybe even fill the offering plate. They are at ease in our meetings, with our gospel rock, comical sermons, and the casual dress. Things are almost as cool as the rock concert they attended the previous evening. Thereís just one problem. Biblical truth has nothing to do with being cool.

Iím not suggesting a return to legalism where women wore ankle length black dresses, wore their hair in a bun, and looked like they were 70 years old when in fact they were only 30 years old. Our approach to the world can be up to date, but the truth of God that He has entrusted us with canít be messed with.

We need to understand the issues of the day and address them with the truth of Scripture, not a compromised version of the truth. Truth doesnít get updated to a newer version every year as computer programs do. The power of God is in the truth of the gospel message, not some new version of the message, and not in the style in which itís presented. (1 Cor. 1:18) For this reason our approach can change but our message canít.

In Conclusion

To me many Christians seems to have a lack of heart felt conviction for Biblical truth these days. Weíre too wishy washy when it comes right down to it. We think too much like the world and so we act too much like the world. Therefore the world doesnít see the truth of Jesus and any significant or demonstrable effect is lost.

A simple example of this can be seen in the move to sing secular songs in our Sunday morning meetings as an attempt to be relevant. One church Iíve heard of likes John Lennon songs. Personally, if I wanted to hear a John Lennon song, Iíd play one of his CDs in the comfort of my home. Thereís no Biblical significance in any of his songs, so why waste time singing them in worship. Besides, the Holy Spirit is available to inspire us with original songs glorifying Jesus and the truth of the gospel. I donít think the Holy Spirit inspired any of John Lennonís songs.

I know secular songs may be a small example of misplaced relevance but a number of small things add up to be big, and thereís a bunch of small things out there. If we think these songs make a significant impact on the world, weíre fooling ourselves. If Biblical truth is not found in a song, whether secular or Christian, why sing it in a worship gathering. Sing these songs around a campfire for fun, but not in a worship service.

So this is my point. The way in which we approach the world can be relevant. Use all the modern ways and means available. Personally, I think Paul would have loved to have had a laptop and email. We should never mess with the message. It doesnít belong to us anyway. Weíre only entrusted with it. Our loyalty is first to the truth of Scripture. Messing with the message defeats the very purpose we set out to accomplish.

The Apostle Paul lived and died for the truth of the gospel, without compromise. When a Roman soldier slid a sword across Paulís neck, and before his head fell to the ground, do you think Paul wished that he had lightened up on his message? I donít think so. It was his privilege, and even his compulsion to speak and even die for the truth. May the same motivation be found in us as well.

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