Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Relevance (Part 2)

I was intending to write a lot more yesterday, but I found my thoughts were quickly spiralling out of control. I am convinced the question of relevance is important, but I am also concerned that the answers we generally come up with are at least incomplete, and quite possibly simply wrong. I want to pursue the question a little more today.

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.


The Family Jewels said...

..."we can't neglect personal evangelism and just let the Church do it. We need to be engaged personally, individually."

I am all for doing the things for myself that only I can do. I have joked around with others from church who are not liking how things are going in the church and we have decided to form a "dirty sock committee". The church we have recently joined is very much run by committees and if someone sees a "dirty sock" or something that needs addressing it has to go through the proper committees and channels.

I do not deal well with leaving a "dirty sock" on the floor and waiting for the proper committee to come pick it up.

The church building does not define my relationship with God it is my own job to build and form that relationship. I go to church to be around other believers who challenge me and uplift me and to be held accountable. If I am struggling in my faith it is my responsibility to seek out others who may be able to help me.

I am the only one responsible for forming the personal redemptive relationship with God that I seek. It is also my responsibility to share my faith with unbelievers through my words and actions.

I am certain if God came back today to take me to Heaven I would go because I am not going to conform to the standards of the world or even the church. I live by the standards laid out for me in the Bible.

KingJaymz said...

"We need to be engaged personally, individually."

That is one thing that has radically changed in how I live my faith. I'm actually getiing to know my neighbors and the people who have life roles around me. The only way I see myself being to effect any lasting change for the sake of God and His Kingdom is by being His love active in their lives.

So, you taking on the idea of evangelism next?

clumsy ox said...

tfj, I spent some time in discussion of corporate/individual responsilbities a few months back. I think there is a lot of parallel between your comments and the discussion back there.

kingjaymz, I feel thoroughly unqualified to discuss evangelism in a meaningful way.

KingJaymz said...

At the least, we need to have a discussion on how it needs to be reimagined in our culture or thought of in a new light. That doesn't necessarily have to happen on this blog, but it needs to happen.

Chuck Hicks said...

Power...not proposition.

The best evangelist I ever knew was my Granny. She had a real sense of immanence about the Lord; it caused me (and I'm sure others) to hunger and thirst after eternal life. She never laid out a "plan" or bullet-points of evidence. She didn't even possess the intellectual capacity to be that clever. It would have only gotten in the way; thus, "God hath chosen the weak things to confound the wise."

Darby said God appeals to the conscience, not the intellect (or somesuch). Granny knew that intuitively.

The Family Jewels said...

I am sorry that I didn't get it the first time through ( I actually had read it a couple of times), so I went back and read it again.

The message in church on Sunday was taken from Matthew 5. It was on salt and light. The main focus was on the each of us has an individual light that was created just for us individually. If we conform our light to the standards of the world or those around us our light is not able to shine in the way that it was made to shine. We have to come out of the shadows of conformity and shine our lights for God in the way that He intended for them to shine.

Each of our lights are different and unique so the way that we shine them will be different and unique. My light was not intended to shine from the corner of a busy intersection being loud and bold. My light shines the brightest in my words and actions...quietly and unintrusively

I think I get it now.

clumsy ox said...

tfj, ain't nothing to be sorry for. I was pointing out some stuff I wrote earlier along similar lines.

clumsy ox said...

Chuck, an interesting proposition, so to speak.

I think you've hit the nail square on the head with that one. In fact, that sums up a lot of what I've been trying to articulate.

I think that's what I saw so much in John when we went through it a few years back: those who saw the Lord Jesus when He was walking around down here had no doubt He was from God. Not because He argued brilliantly, but because He lived brilliantly.