Pertinent and Practical (Newsletter 5-2)

by Simeon Young Sr

Relevance without compromise requires faithfulness to core doctrinal positions, but we must accept that the methods of communicating the timeless gospel are flexible.

The siren song of pseudo-relevance lures unwary souls into the dangerous shallows of compromise. To be relevant is the “be all,” the “do all,” and the “end all” for those who seek at any cost the approval of disapproving critics. Relevance is the unblinking and unexamined commitment of fawning groupies who follow the latest religious craze. No truth is too precious to sacrifice on the altar of relevance for those who pant for society’s acceptance. Mixed metaphors aside, there is an unsettling mindset in many quarters of the Christian community that reveals a failure to grasp what relevance really means. The result is a worldly church-a disappointing contradiction of what its Founder had in mind.

On the other hand, some are so in lockstep with the antiquated methods of the past and so fearful of any change at all, that they would make the church irrelevant.

Somewhere between the extremes of fear of being unpopular and infatuation with man-made traditions and methods is the balance we seek.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “relevance” is “pertinence.” If the church is relevant, it is pertinent in the sense that it relates to its culture but without being absorbed by that culture or taking on its ungodly characteristics. If the church is not pertinent, it is at cross-purposes with its calling to be salt and light, and thus it loses its ability to make a difference. If the church is not salty, “it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13). If the church hides its light by cloistering itself within the walls of “this-is­the-way-we’ve-always-done-it,” it cancels the purpose of its prominence as “a city that is set on an hill.” (See Matthew 5:14.) Neither salt nor light maintains the status quo-both effect radical change. When the church embraces authentic relevance, it touches the culture redemptively and thus faithfully follows the “old paths” of doctrine to its God-ordained destiny.

According to the dictionary, “relevant” is “practical” as well as “pertinent.” If the church is out of touch with its culture, it is not practical, and for the church to be impractical is the height of impertinence.

For the church to be married to methods that may have been effective to another generation is a sin against God and a slap in the face of the present generation. To attempt to use first -century methods to reach the twenty-first century mind is ineffective at the least and at worst counterproductive.

Relevance without compromise requires faithfulness to core doctrinal positions, but we must accept that the methods of communicating the timeless gospel are flexible.

Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The gospel’s power to cross all ethnic and cultural barriers and save the lost was the basis of Paul’s unapologetic confidence in the gospel. The gospel, when communicated trans-culturally and without compromise, is effective in every generation. Each of the four gospel writers, though their words were written for all mankind in all generations, originally had in mind the different backgrounds of their immediate readers. This accommodation to the cultural considerations of the first century should not be construed as an expedient compromise; rather, it should be interpreted as an effective and compelling tool of evangelism.

A relevant church is pertinent and practical without being trendy, enabled to engage the culture in which it exists without yielding its identity to the culture it seeks to change.

JANUARY 2006 3