Does the church need to be relevant or does it need to be true?

Does the church need to be relevant or does it need to be true? March 2, 2017

This isn’t an article about modern vs. traditional church music. It isn’t about steeples or Sunday School. It isn’t about vain repetition or the need to bring back hats in church. It isn’t about any of the silly stuff that should have left a long time ago. It’s an article about why Christianity needs to be set apart if we are going to survive.

I’m a direct product of 40 years of bringing the traditional church into contemporary society. I remember the first time a guy with shoulder length hair brought a guitar into a Sunday night service singing, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”

I remember the awkward transition from slacks to khakis, from button down shirts to polos. I remember when they told my mother not to bring flowers for the pulpit. I remember when they stacked the hymn books in the corner.

Calvary Chapel welcomed the hippies and surfers and Campus Crusade converted the lost collegians coming out of the disillusionment of the 60’s. For the first time in history, the gospel came to the people without reservation.

And then Willow Creek Church and Saddleback Church burst on the scene, spawning thousands of similar churches using the same model of inclusion. They created an entire generation of “come-as-you-are” church attenders.

Millions turned to Christ through these ministries, including many of my friends and loved ones. No one can deny that this wave of evangelism helped us through some very difficult years. But as we have matured, we haven’t always taken up the serious mantle of discipleship. Yes, you could wear your shorts to church, snuff your smoke out in the convenient ashtray, and sit with a latte in the service. But the deep meat of a long obedience was only faintly offered, and so these churches had to keep producing, keep entertaining.

Photo by D. Rupert, with permission
Photo by D. Rupert, with permission

A return to authenticity

I’m beginning to see churches come full circle. Bibles open, they are finding congregants hungry and thirsty. I go to one of those churches that is both relevant and truth-seeking.

There is a trend that is interesting. Like most revolutions, it’s starting with young people. Suddenly, they are finding finding certain elements of the traditional church that aren’t so bad. Hip, modern churches are integrating hymns, liturgy, and responsive readings into their services.

I think it’s because those under 30 long for authenticity.  Since the day they were born, they have been marketed to. They understand the sales pitch and they don’t like it in church.

They long for roots. With relationships blowing up around them, to find a Rock of Ages that never changes is strangely new and exciting. It’s comforting to have something that never changes.

They long to participate. Receiving communion. Walking to the altar. These are rituals that bring people to the fellowship, rather than allowing them to passively participate.

They want to connect. That means rolling up their sleeves and reaching out in tangible ways that transcend traditional outreach methods.

The church doesn’t necessarily need to be relevant to society. It needs to be different, set apart. And we need to embrace that uniqueness, even to the point of being exclusive.

Those who are seeking don’t want us to be just one more sector of a  normal society.

And they don’t want the church to be trendy. They want it to be true.

They rejected him. They’ll reject us.

In Mark 11, the crowd was cheering Jesus. They laid down palms and shouted Hosanna. In chapter 15,  the crowd was screaming for Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be hung on a cross. If the crowd turned on Jesus, who knew no sin, what do you think they’ll do you to you? Forget the crowd.

Sure, we’ll be criticized. That’s the way of the world these days.

Elbert Hubbard said, “There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Funny how the oldest of sayings bring him the deepest truths.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to call us foreigners, exiles, aliens, so we shouldn’t reject those labels. He said this. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world,  the world hates you.”

Commentator Matt Walsh pointedly observed, “Churches increasingly cater to people who hate Christianity but still want to be ‘spiritual.'”  That’s not the call the of the Gospel. 

If you want to follow Christ, you have this much promised to you – You’ll be chastised, ostracized, removed.  You’ll be an outsider, a nobody, a misfit, a lackey. You’ll be the last one picked, the first one thrown out. You’ll be mocked. Your words will fall on deaf ears.

This is the way of the cross. There is no other way.

And this is the key to our survival and true relevancy to a dying and hurting world.


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