The Christian Quest for Relevancy
I’ve often heard that Christianity just isn’t relevant anymore. We’re part of an outdated, archaic institution that has no place in a modern, enlightened society.
I don’t believe that. I believe that the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is every bit as relevant today as it was when Jesus first preached the message in the first century. We are all sinners in need of being saved, therefore we need to hear the message that we can be saved and we can attain righteousness before God.
Once upon a time, people believed that if we preached the Word faithfully, that God would work a miracle in the hearts and minds of the listeners and call his elect forward. The apostles believed it, and that’s why they preached the way they did:
Now when they heard this [Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-36] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)
And when the Gentiles heard this [Paul’s sermon], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. (Acts 13:48-49)
There are numerous other examples throughout the book of Acts, but those two will suffice for the time being. The apostles didn’t strive to be relevant to the times. In fact, if you look closer at the context of Acts 13, you’ll see that Paul was anything but relevant. “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him” (Acts 13:44-45).
So, the apostles strived to teach the Word of God. They didn’t try to make friends, and even a cursory reading of Acts is sufficient to prove that they didn’t. And, if you don’t trust the Bible as historical, look at Tacitus:
But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. (Annals 15.44, emphasis added)
I’m not here to argue for the veracity of the passage. Few scholars have ever asserted that it was a forgery. I’m not here to argue weather it proves the existence of a man called Jesus of Nazareth (though it is a fairly good piece of evidence in favor of a historical Jesus). My only concern is the boldface portions: it reveals that Christians were hated. Not kind of disliked. Not regarded suspiciously. Nope: Tacitus says twice in this passage that Christians were hated.
Knowing this, it amuses me so much to encounter so-called “Christian” ministries that are trying really hard to be liked by everyone in the communities they serve. These ministries strive to be relevant, when there is no call in the Bible, nor any historical precedent for that matter, for Christianity to be liked or considered relevant.
Jon Stewart’s comedy news outlet, The Daily Show, covered a story about an emerging Christian ministry called Xtreme Ministries. They interviewed senior pastor John Renken, who has since moved on from the church to pursue other ministry opportunities. The show aired Tuesday, May 11 and I visited Xtreme’s website and learned of Renken’s departure Wednesday, May 12. Interesting.
What “other ministry opportunity” did Renken leave to pursue? Why, the Clarksville Mixed Martial Arts Academy (“Where feet, fist, and faith collide”), of course! Most churches have Vacation Bible School, but CMMA has Vacation Fight School. Each day concludes with a Bible lesson. So, the bulk of it is about learning martial arts, but a Bible lesson is thrown in as an afterthought. Got it.
I’m sorry, the teaching of Xtreme Ministries and CMMA may be rock solid and grouned in Scripture every step of the way. I don’t know. I’ve never been there. I only raised one eyebrow when I read their statement of faith, but that’s because I’m a cessationist. It could be that this church is rock solid in its faith and its teaching, but it’s really hard to take seriously.
Preach the whole counsel of God. Strive to prepare sermons that are biblically sound, and that build up the church. God will take care of the rest.