A question I’ve pondered recently in light of an ever diminishing American moral meter is “are we as the church in the present day to present ourselves as a living sacrifice or as a vessel that’s relevant and relatable to a withering world? The answer, I believe, is not quite an either/or, black and white resolution, but has to do with finding a balance between the two. There are certain pros and cons with each that we must tackle, something I’ve compiled below.
The Pros – Relevance seems to have a place alongside effective evangelism
– Winning over the lost – If maintaining relevance causes the lost to come to know Jesus, as it did with Paul, then ‘relevance’ gets a thumbs up from me. It’s important to note that Paul, in becoming a slave, Jew, etc. for the purpose of winning them over was not an act of compromise, but rather an act of evangelism. [see below] I hate to use the trite phrase that’s overused and misapplied in the church, but Paul was simply meeting them where they were. He became that which was familiar with them, while not changing his own identity in Christ, in order to lead them to the cross.
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1ST CORINTHIANS 9: 19-23)
-Love transcends- Love is bigger than any chasm or dividing line drawn or caused by culture, or any other force (or principality). If reaching those who have no such reverence for Jesus weren’t important, then Evangelism wouldn’t be one of the five-fold ministries or something mentioned frequently in the Bible and church history. Because love transcends these surmountable boundaries, becoming “relevant” to the non-christian or the adolescent christian quickly becomes beneficial to the cause. Besides, how shall we effectively evangelize and teach cultural people without any knowledge of the culture itself?
-Evangelistic shrewdness- Consistent with the theme of relevance in relation to effective evangelism, I believe that becoming learned and ‘in touch’ with how things actually are in 2015 is simply smart. Being “out of touch” for opposing the doctrines and policies of the proud and lawless is one thing but I don’t ever want to be labeled “out of touch” for merely choosing not to be in the cultural loop. Perhaps that is even a form of pride, as we are indeed called to snatch our brethren out of the fires of coming judgment.
The Cons – Walking the tight rope between relevance and compromise
-Separating culture and truth- Our paradigm for truth must always be the word of God and the voice of the Holy Spirit. The moment real truth is traded for culture’s truth or even mixed or combined, compromise occurs. In the Corinthians verse above, Paul felt compelled to mention that although he was appealing to those under the law, he himself was under no such law. This is an important realization as we minister in a culture that is many times preaching something very much polar to the teachings of Christ. Let me put it this way: I want no partnership, in theory, with a culture that’s removed God from its decision making, yet I also want a heart that aches for those entangled there.”
“I want no partnership, in theory, with a culture that’s removed God from its decision making, yet I also want a heart that aches for those entangled there.”
-The danger of conforming to the world- Friendship with the world results in enmity with God. The biblical evidence stacked up against worldliness and its trappings is enough for us to avoid it at all costs. The costs, though, are great seeing that we’re steeped in the world and surrounded by its many methods for compliance (i.e Media, Government, & Education). We’d do well if we were ‘relevant’ yet Godly, in contrast to relevant and worldly. If our plumb line is Christ in this decision then we’ll project His love and gain respect and influence in the process. If Christ does not remain our barometer, and we’re consumed with relevance and lacking in truth, we’ve landed ourselves in the category of lost sheep.
In achieving relevance we have a chance to influence many, but we also invite the danger that in this task we lose the heart of our commission. Being relevant to standard-bearers much different than our own (Jesus, the single, true standard-bearer) is a long way removed from being relativist in our thinking. So, however paradoxical it may sound, I encourage you to find a balance while remaining resolute in the uncompromising truth that you have come to know.
Joe D’Orsie – Communications & Spiritual Life Counsel firstname.lastname@example.org