Do not love the world nor the things in the world If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15--17, NASB
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Colossians 2:8, NASB
The assumption that underlies most discussions of relevance is, that the Church is on earth primarily as an evangelism vehicle. I do not believe this is accurate, although evangelism is certainly important. But if we assume this is true for the moment; I am convinced that relevance is not achieved by imitating the culture around us, but by being fundamentally different. The Church has something to offer that the world cannot have: the love of God. And we have nothing else. Relevance that is attempted through cultural imitation is deceptively pointless: if we look and act and dress and talk like the world around us, we might well find that we have nothing more to offer them than they already have. In my experience, this is generally the case.
Please don't misunderstand me: I am not advocating gratuitous culture fracture between the Church and the people around us. I am not suggesting we ought to dress gratuitously differently (e.g. Christian women only wear skirts, men all have beards); I am not suggesting the answer is to imitate the Amish.
What I am saying is, imitating the world almost invariably leads to having nothing to offer them. If we become thoroughly submersed in the world, we find that we have no real answers and no credibility if we should find some. Further, we find that we are just as useless to the Lord as we are to the world. We can't sit on the fence on this one: it's impossible to love the Father and the world.
I think there are two basic facts that ought to guide our thoughts in the question of relevance: (1) worldliness is fundamentally anti-Scriptural, and (2) monasticism doesn't work.
The Scripture warns us repeatedly against worldliness: the oft-quoted verses from 1 John 2 above ought to be sufficient to make that point. We need to be conscious and vigilant: we are in enemy territory. The world rejected Jesus Christ, and God took their rejection seriously. We're not here to enjoy ourselves, we're here as His representatives. I was explaining this to my daughter once, and she summed it up like this: "You mean, we're here on a business trip, not a vacation?" Exactly! As long as we remember this is supposed to be a business trip, we're all right. But when we forget that, and act like it's vacation, then we have trouble. This isn't home. The constant message the world conveys is, you can be happy without God. It's in all the movies, TV, books, and magazines. And there's very little more tempting and easy than just settling down here and acting like this is home.
Chuck quoted J. N. Darby a few weeks back: "A Christian is one who is waiting for God's Son from Heaven". We need to keep that in mind.
But there is a ditch on the other side of the road too: retreating into monasticism is not our calling either. We as Christians have our Head in Heaven, but our feet are still on the ground. The Lord didn't leave us here because He forgot us; He went to Heaven and sent the Comforter because He has something here for us. (Evangelism is not the only part of that, by the way.) For us to disengage and cloister ourselves away from the world, is simply to fail in our calling here.
The occurance of an unsaved person in a church is something Scripture contemplates (see 1 Corinthians 14); but it's not something that's ever encouraged. Inviting unsaved friends to church is by no means wrong, but it's not why the Church is here. We don't gather so unbelievers can come hear the Gospel; we gather to worship the Lord and edify one another. I think this distinction helps focus some decisions.
One immediate consequence of this observation is, we can't neglect personal evangelism and just let the Church do it. We need to be engaged personally, individually.