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Relevance and Importance

When some people speak of “making Christianity relevant”, they are referring to demonstrating Christianity’s importance and applicability. They fret over the fact that unbelievers and the wider culture dismiss Christianity and religion so easily. Secularism provides people with enough food, shelter, conveniences, comforts and sufficient diversionary amusements to keep them from truly investigating the claims of Christ or the importance of ultimate questions. It is too easy to ignore Christ today, an attitude which was more difficult to previous generations who felt their mortality more acutely. When noticing the disturbing ease with which unbelievers ignore God, some Christians feel that ‘the church has become largely irrelevant’ and that it must establish its credibility and demonstrate its relevance to unbelievers.

Here is jumble of truth and error. On the one hand, it is clearly true that few ages in world history have possessed such irreligious attitudes. Today, you can grow up in a secular culture and live most of your life feeling that religion is a strange practice performed by strange people. It’s undeniable that the average secular unbeliever does not see how church, Scripture, or worship is germane to his life. In that sense, the things of God indeed seem irrelevant to him.

On the other hand, the Bible explains this phenomenon. It does not say that the fault is with the church for failing to contextualize the Gospel adequately by adopting every available cultural form to clothe the Gospel in. Instead, it describes human beings as intractably set against the lordship of God. Romans 1:19 explains that the knowledge of God is part of created human nature. John Calvin put it this way, “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.”

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What does man do with this knowledge? Verse 18 tells us. He suppresses it. What dictators do with bad press, is what the human heart does with continual evidence that God is, and God is a judge.

In other words, the problem is not that an unbeliever cannot see how Christianity is relevant to him, because of some inadequacy in Christianity or its evangelism. The problem is that a man cannot see Christianity’s relevance after deciding that he will not see its relevance. This is a willful overlooking (2 Pet 3:5), a chosen rejection, and a blindness by shutting one’s eyes. And if this natural, stubborn blindness isn’t enough, Satan compounds this with added blindness (2 Cor 4:4).

When a man is blind, we don’t speak of making potentially dangerous obstacles in his path relevant to him. They are relevant to him! Given his propensity to injure himself by walking into them, nothing could be more germane, important, applicable or relevant to him than those obstacles. A neighborly thing to do would be to tell the blind man what he’s about to walk into.

Christianity does not have to be made relevant. It is relevant. Nothing is more relevant to a creature made in God’s image than his standing before His Creator. Matters of life, death, eternity, goodness, evil, justice, and the soul are relevant to every man. Christians cannot make these things more relevant than they are. We can only speak of them clearly, and live soberly and righteously in this present age. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can change their perception of the message from foolishness (1 Cor 1:18) to wisdom.

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Having said that, there are ways that the church can make the message of the Gospel seem less relevant. When it clothes its message in trendy slogans and commercial schtick, it appears as if it is one more product being marketed. When it uses entertainments and amusements to create interest, it appears as if its message is weak and in need of marketing props. When it tries to appear wise and noble in the world’s eyes (or cool, hip, trendy, sick, whatever the word), it appears as if it is a sycophant of the world, limping between two loyalties. All of this shouts louder than words can say, “Yes, unbeliever, your dismissal of God is justified and normal! We, too, are bored with the plain Gospel! But look! We have some shiny attractions which we’ll give you, if you deign to patronize us with your attention!” Instead of confronting the believer with his moral rejection of God, we treat his sin as natural and normal, and beg him to come for other reasons. Christianity does not become less relevant when Christians act this way, but it does compound the problem by giving unbelievers even more hardness to their hard hearts.  The unbeliever intuits, “The Christian doth protest too much.” Such ways and words do not sound much like Paul:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn currently pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

One Response to Relevance and Importance

  1. “Christianity does not have to be made relevant. It is relevant.”
    “Having said that, there are ways that the church can make the message of the Gospel seem less relevant.”

    So true. However, you have stuck to the usual culprits in expounding on the latter thought.

    One big area that the church indulges to the detriment of the Gospel, particularly in the US, is Politics. Christians all too often conflate their political conservatism and political activism with their Christianity. I believe this is a huge blind spot and stumbling block.

    We should not muddy, mix, relate, nor make our political arguments such an integral part of our Christian message. All too often, the message seems to be: “Become a conservative Republican, or you are condemned”.

    Many people are not Republicans in the first instance, simply because they feel some empathy and duty towards others and their communities over corporations — not because they are part of some Anti-Christ agenda. BOTH sides of the political aisle are part of the world! BOTH sides are anti-christ.

    The resulting polarization, lack of common empathy, lack of communication and common courtesy is completely out of proportion in the United States. This situation is quite incomprehensible to Christians around the world.

    Elsewhere in the world, the relevance of the Gospel is perhaps more clearly revealed in how Christians live under and respond to political situations that are not ideal or what they might ultimately prefer. Are we good citizens and neighbors, content no matter who is in office?

    Just as it is not our job to try to make the Gospel relevant to each culture or age, it is not our job to try to transform the political climate or system, and to somehow make an outward acceptance of various behaviors more acceptable to Christians or more like church life. This is asking for trouble — as is now evident in the US in particular. The atmosphere everywhere seems very toxic — which I believe is due in large part to Christians making Politics a primary part of their message and daily concerns.

    Apostle Paul enjoyed the benefits of Roman citizenship; he did not care about, nor campaign for, either a Republic or an Empire, etc. The political backdrop should be irrelevant to the daily life and message of the Christian, not be a primary concern.

    If we show some contentment, and some empathy toward our neighbors, communities, and immigrants, then maybe the Gospel will suddenly seem a lot more relevant to everyone around us, not to mention ourselves.

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