The older I get, the more I seem to hear about Christianity’s need for “relevance.” How Christians are to go about this is widely speculated. The consensus seems to be that we need to progress as a people and reach out to the world. Again, this avoids specifics- that’s where it gets sticky and very uncomfortable. How far should we go to be relevant?
Many Pastors face pressure from their congregations to be, “modern,” “contemporary,” or to “get with the times.” The reasoning is simple: if Christianity does not aim to engage the culture it’s in, then it will die off. Sometimes, the wrong sacrifices are made on the path to relevancy (i.e. No talking about sin, cursing in the pulpit, etc), others, strive to adapt but not change according to the culture around them (e.g. Use modern instruments, Pastor wears jeans, updated Bible translation, etc). Being relevant is more about style than stature- about embracing the good and throwing away the bad.
There’s discussion about whether to modernize the old hymns, or avoid them and write new songs- whether to have fancy stage productions, or stick with simple aesthetics. Pastors discuss whether expository (verse-by-verse) or topical preaching makes a bigger impact on people. Are people more suited to hearing talks instead of sermons- do people really need to hear about the wrath of God? After all, they feel guilty already? Most of the conversations turn into nonsense eventually. It’s all in the name of, “reaching” people, but how are we supposed to reach them?
With all the back and forth going on, the desire for Christianity to be relevant is nothing new; in fact, this desire is good in many ways. Francis Schaeffer is a prime example of someone who was both an intellectual and a Christian, who desired to use his intelligence to speak to the culture of his day about a variety of Biblical issues. I am not arguing against a Christian using his or her gifts in a way that can speak to people on their level. However, I suggest that the desire beneath this desire be examined: that we turn this whole idea of relevancy upside down. I want to challenge this idea of Christianity needing to be relevant, and ask whether Christianity is already relevant to begin with: the answer according to the Bible, is yes.
Relevant Christianity is an oxymoron because Christianity, like its Author, is timeless (Acts 4:14-15, John 17). Christianity does not need to be relevant, because it has always been relevant (Rom. 1:15-17, 1 Pet. 1:20-21) . Cultures have evolved, but the gospel has always stayed the same, it’s never lost its potency. Christians don’t need to try and be relevant, they already are- they were born in the same generations as everyone else (Eph. 2:1-10, John 3:1-17). They speak the same language(s) of the people around them (Acts 22:1-2). They live and breathe the same air, wear the same clothes, and eat the same food as unbelievers (Acts 14). They go to the same schools, drive the same streets, and have human parents (Rom. 5:12-22). Adapting is not the issue, being different (lights) in the world (darkness) is the issue (Matt. 5:13-16). The issue here is not whether you’re relevant, but whether your life is different- that you wear your faith publicly (Jude 1:1-4). The answer is not a relevant Christianity, but to be relevant by living as Christians. The Christian life is relevant, because it is God working out His grace in you right now (1 Cor. 15). Just be who you are in Christ, obeying God’s word, and that is enough to reach people (1 Pet. 3:13-17, 2 Tim. 1:8-10).
Now, I understand that this sounds too black and white. There are grey issues, but the issues that are grey are usually issues involving struggles with sin. In the end, it doesn’t matter how hard the Church tries to be relevant, God is eternal and He lives inside of you. Do you believe God can use you? Just be who you are, and trust in God to attract people. You’re relevant, so stop trying to be something you already are- remember you’re a Christian who has eternal life. Culture will change, but God’s word remains forever.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16, ESV)
Until next time,