“It is high time we broke with our theologically based restraint towards the state’s actions – which, after all, is only fear. ‘Speak out for those who cannot speak.’ Who in the church today realizes that this is the very LEAST that the Bible requires of us?”
“The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together to do this.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The church can be only as relevant as God divines it to be, and in Truth, I’m not so sure that God really gives our relevance to the contempory world much thought. We should be wary of our relevance for within it, we run dangerously close to becoming relaxed in our faith and within a relaxed faith, compromise will not be far behind. The Truth that Jesus Christ loves us, died for our sins, defeated the grave and rose again couldn’t be any more revelant then what it is when taken at face value: it is a Gospel of Hope and redemption for a sinful world that deserves nothing short of death and hell. Yet there stands Christ, beckoning us to come and accept His gift of Grace and be transformed and made new.
The contemporary church has always chased relevance and in so doing, becomes like a dog chasing after its own tail. Compromise will always accompany relevance IF WE ARE NOT CAREFUL! Yes. We must be counter-intuitive when trying to reach a contemporary world. The use of archaic symbols and systems mixed with outdated programs and styles severly prohibit our effectiveness in reaching lost sinners living in contemporary times. Yet we mistake too often the Word of God and His Truth as no longer being relevant, mislabeling these Truths as archaic, thinking we can somehow “modernize” the very Gospel and Truth which saved us. Relevance is a tricky business and just as it gave way to the Reformation – not soon after came the Inquisition of Protestantism. Relevance gave us the Great Awakening then lent itself to the justification of Slavery to promote a more prosperous and stable United States. It gave us the great European Theological dominance of the early 20th century then first suckled and eventually succumbed to Hitler’s Nazi party.
Germany was the cornerstone of European Theology and still rode the pride of Martin Luther’s Reformation Theology, which completely transformed Christianity, a change that we still feel today, of course. All of the great theologians in Europe were coming out of Germany or had vastly been influenced by German theologians for centuries. So how could such a nation which birthed the Reformation and had its DNA embedded in such sound theology so easily succumb to a manical mad-man? Martin Luther’s late-life anti-Semitic intolerance had planted seeds for Hitler’s excuse for eradication of the Jews in his own “final solution”. But Germany’s theological climate had been the one institution that had been able to rise above the costly effects of the First World War somewhat unscathed.
There are parallels to the contemporary church of today and that found in the early 20th Century World-Wide, especially in 1930’s Germany. Where they had put their stamp on theological intelligence, we have put ours on theological convenience and in both cases the end desire whether admitted or not was for the sake of cultural relevance. The church today is made to be an easier path to God but in fact doesn’t scripture say it is easier to pass through the eye of a needle then come before God?
In Germany, 1930, the church had become an intellectual pillar of lofty status and high standing. They indeed had much to lose. Then, like now, the church had lost sight of what the church must be built on: Christ and Him alone. When the church is no longer built on three of the most essential elements, namely prayer, confession and love the church is a tyrant away from selling her self like a prostitue to the first of many slick suitors to whisper in her ear. We make ourselves open to the compromising of our doctrines, our beliefs and our faith and slowly… The very fabric of our faith, our doctrine, and ultimately our very Hope in Christ is stripped away one compromise at a time. We have begun our journey down hell’s path and we don’t even know it.
My brother Joshua Gutteridge, himself a pastor, was the first person who really made me begin asking this question of myself, personally. Ironically, we weren’t debating anything at all, we were just discussing the state of today’s contemporary church. Yet, as we talked into the night, I began to question my own role that I’ve played in all of this. You see, I reach a different breed of cat at my church. They are real, rough around the edges, raw, down to earth kind of people. Like me. I’m reaching people like me. Works in progress, people not afraid to be themselves, people looking for something authentic and real. I dig my people because, well… among them, nobody’s rougher around the edges then me. I don’t fit in at other churches. This is the only church that ever would’ve hired me to begin with. Without this church, I’M not in church never mind actually MINISTERING in one! So where relevance is concerned, my church is relevant to the people who come here. They are drawn to this church. So where do you draw that line? If you’ve heard me saying relevance isn’t important then I’ve not articulated myself very well. It is important. But cultural relevance can never take the place of the Absolute and Eternal Relevance of Jesus Christ. When Cultural Relevance is added to the Gospel of Christ, it can become an effective tool in ministry… but make no mistake about something: this culture needs Christ, Christ does NOT need this culture to become relevant. The two can only be separated one way – with Jesus Christ at the uppermost focal point. And that’s where the contemporary church seems to continually make it’s misstep: by pushing Christ and His Absolute Truth further and further into the background until there’s nothing left but a faint hint of what it was we use to be preaching. How many churches are tackling tough truths about sin? Or forgiveness? About suffering, about money or finances? You know, those sermons that make you squirm a little in your seat. What will happen when a government begins slowly putting laws into effect that not just run contrary to our beliefs but begin to encroach upon our freedoms? What happens to the church when it becomes even unlawful to speak about sin or even about believing in our one true God? Will the church stand? Universally… yes. The True church body will stand, but not collectively. The contemporary church has already begun down it’s own, destructive path to hell. Honestly, that’s how it always is and has been throughout history. The question remains: as individuals, will we follow? Either we or our children or perhaps our children’s children will ultimately be forced to choose who we not only will follow but whether we will stand for Christ when it could hurt the most.
Listen: following Christ MUST hurt! It has to be painful; there must be a sting when we choose Christ over the path of no resistance.