Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The New Sacraments: Relevancy

There are a few words I believe the church needs to have a moratorium on. These include use of the word "Extreme" in any youth group related activities, use of the word "Victory" in any church names, and use of the word "Relevant" in any form whatsoever.

In a previous post I had begun to address how emphasis on traditional church sacraments, such as Baptism, Matrimony, and Holy Communion, have begun to be replaced by what I term 'The New Sacraments' which include Authenticity, Uncertainty (or Mystery), and today's winner: Relevancy.

Peruse any church website and you are more likely than not to see that one of the church's claims is that it's "relevant". I always find the term amusing myself as my first question is always, "Relevant to who?"

Now, my goal here is not to simply trash the notion of being relevant which is simply "how pertinent, connected, or applicable something is to a given matter". Matter of fact, Paul the Apostle paved the way for "being relevant" when he wrote the Corinthian church and said,
"To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some"

When Paul defines it though, it is a straight forward example with his intention being quite clear; the hope that by being relevant some may be saved. That very notion is a stumbling block to an increasing segment of the Christian church today. Some would infer "not all" and thus exclusive. To be exclusive in the church today is even worse than not being relevant. To be irrelevant is to invite pity and perhaps ridicule, to be exclusive is to invite derision.

Also, Paul uses his "relevancy" to get people saved and getting people saved is becoming something the church just doesn't "do" much anymore.

So what does Relevancy in the church mean today?

Well, if you are an evangelical it might mean your church:

* has a really great coffee bar with a high end espresso machine
* has lots of great personal potential workshops so you can be the best God made you to be
* has an "extreme" youth group doing lots of "extreme" things like skateboarding and XBOX 360 Halo parties

If you are a Post-modern or Emergent Christian, relevancy may mean:

* apologizing for things the church may (or may not) have done for the past 2000 years
* having conversations on how we are going to get people to like us and not confuse us with...*gulp*...*shudder*..evangelicals.
* declaring Bono your patron saint

If you are a Charismatic, relevancy might mean:

* A life size portrait of the Senior Pastor and his wife in the church lobby
* A deliverance and healing service complete with holy laughter and departing demons
* Lots of big hair and makeup

Now, I've been involved in a lot of church discussions in my life and quite often hear the criticism that the church just isn't relevant. My thought is, "It is relevant, it just isn't relevant to you".

Often, the biggest critics come not from outside the church but from inside. It is said, "Familiarity breeds contempt" and many Christians have allowed the familiarity they have with the church to become a breeding ground for contempt. One cannot claim to love Jesus and have contempt for His bride. The person who says to me, "Steve, we like you a lot but your wife is a real jerk." is not going to get very far in my book. Its not to say that that we can't have honest criticism of "the church", but that criticism has to be rooted in love, not contempt.

So what does "Relevant" in church circles mean? I know that Jesus says if the world hated Him, at some point if we are obeying him, they are going to hate us too.

For me, that puts a whole new spin on what it mean to be relevant.


Steve Mizel said...

Great post - the "new sacraments" had me smiling (I just stumbled across your blog). It is funny how quickly a good conversation degrades into echoed buzzwords. I think the issue (for Paul and for us today) is how we contextualize the gospel into the cultures in which we are called to move in mission.

Redlefty said...

Lots of great thoughts on that one -- I must ponder for a while.

Bob said...

Loved this. I am a big buzzword guy and it is no better than in church. You hit the current ones head-on. In my young adults days in church, you didn't talk, you "interacted." Every friendship was a "relationship" and you were always "building relationships." And you would never go hang out with someone, you would "spend time." If someone said something in a small group, no matter how assinine, you could always come back with, "That's a good word!" Today in our church, it's all about "landing planes," and "unpacking" e.g. "Today we're going to continue to interact about relevancy and unpack what it means. We will really land that plane." AGHHHHH!

angelphish in co said...

I sure do miss you.