For the last 15 years or so, the main idea for how the church should approach the culture has rested on one word; Relevant. At some point, a lot of somebodies decided that The Church just wasn’t connected to what was going on in our world, so they started changing things. Little by little it became more difficult to see the line between church and culture. Relevance became so important that it became a church catch-phrase, “We want to be a church that’s relevant to where people are in life.” In fact, we started naming churches “Relevant” and in 2003, Relevant Magazine hit the scene and boasts 70,000 paper subscribers, in addition to 500,000 monthly website visitors.
I’m not overly concerned with how the need to be “relevant” has changed the way we “do” church. The model of church matters very little. If you’re following God’s call, preaching Christ and Him crucified, loving and caring for people and making disciples that make disciples, then I don’t care if you use elephants and camels in your sermon. It doesn’t matter how you do church. What does matter is the mindset that “being relevant” has created in the people who proclaim to follow Jesus. Trying to be relevant and love people the same way that Jesus taught, doesn’t work very well together. As the years have passed and the need to be relevant has invaded our church, we’ve began to allow a mentality of relevance to permeate every part of following Jesus. So much so that we’ve arrived at a place where we seek to provide a love that’s relevant to where people are. On the surface that seems like a smart way to go, but it isn’t. As a Christian principle, it’s actually pretty reckless and when applied to the area of loving God and loving others, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because it’s unstable. And an unstable love ultimately disappoints and causes hurt. That’s not the love that God is or gives.
The thing about being relevant is that the culture is constantly changing. Relevant as a principle is the idea that your action or response should be closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand. If that’s true, then as “the matter at hand” changes so does the way we live out our faith and the way that we respond to those around us. That also means that the way that we love God and others changes as the culture shifts. All of a sudden it becomes easier to bow to the culture, in the name of love, rather than be a light to it. If that happens over a long enough period of time, eventually following Jesus gives way to a universalism type mentality that pretends to meet the needs of all people, but actually does nothing for their deepest needs. Jesus didn’t do that.
The things that Jesus taught weren’t even relevant to the culture that He taught them in. In fact, they were so irrelevant to the culture that they got Him arrested, beat and crucified. Jesus wasn’t relevant. He didn’t bend His response to the matter at hand. But, that doesn’t mean that He didn’t meet needs. He did. In deeper way than we can understand. Regardless of the circumstance, He responded in the same way. He healed the blind Jew just the same as He healed the Roman officer’s servant. He didn’t offer a relevant love, he offered a radical love. It was the type of love that changed people and circumstances. It was the type of love that impacted the circumstance instead of being impacted by it. It was that type of love that allowed him to reach across culture and make a difference.
If we’re looking for a principle to describe our love for people, relevant is the wrong word; the word we’re looking for should be radical. So that we’re clear, when I say Radical, I’m pointing to a love that affects the fundamental nature of the culture. It’s far-reaching and thorough in how it fills in the gaps that culture invariably creates. Not only does it fill in those gaps, it covers and changes everything it touches. The culture, and the people in it, are changed on a heart, soul and mind level. If James 1:17 is true, that with God there is no variation or shadow due to change, then God can’t be relevant to any culture and must be the change agent in every culture. We should want to be a church that is unselfishly concerned with the good of others, causing us to abandon the idea of relevance and embrace the action of a freely given, radical love, regardless of circumstance or culture.
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