1 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”
Is a church supposed to be “culturally relevant” or is it supposed to be “Biblically relevant?”
In the latter part of the twentieth century, an ideological shift occurred in the minds of Western people. A thought process referred to as “postmodernism” swept over the culture. While I do not want to fully address the concept of postmodernism here, I would point out that the authority of the Christian message, and particularly the Bible, has fallen out of prominence. Simply stated, folks living in this current age have a world view in which the Bible is not considered “the truth” nor is it even thought to be absolutely true.
In response, a group of North American pastors and believers formed an association of “emerging churches” which would become “relevant” to a new worldview. Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul declared that he would become “all things to all men” in order to lead them to saving faith. (1 Corinthians 9:22). These contemporary leaders made the commitment to “engage” with the contemporary culture, in order to make the message of Jesus more acceptable to those who no longer view the Bible or Christianity as authoritative. Christians were encouraged to become “missional” rather than “missionary.” In other words, the call to “become all things to all men” took on a completely different meaning. In practice, the “church” left the building, emerged from behind it’s walls and decided to become a part of culture instead of being separate from it.
In many ways, this way of “doing church” has been very productive. Large ministries have grown up, millions of otherwise skeptical unbelievers have been reached and the reputation of the Christian message has been improved. To these things, we say “praise God.” The body of Christ certainly needs to tear down the barriers which exist between church and culture. Indeed, Christ compels us to go out into the “highways and hedges’ in order to bring the lost to Him. (Matthew 22) It is a good thing to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. It is a good thing for local churches to have an active part in community affairs. The body of Christ should be at the front and center of efforts to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. Amen and amen. The scandals and the hypocrisy of pastors and churches has caused irreparable harm to the gospel of Christ over the years. It is no wonder that non-Christians question the authority of our words. Our actions have been inconsistent with our preaching.
On the other hand, this transition to being “culturally relevant” and “emerging” has been costly. The old-fashioned “missionary” approach was not perfect, but it was better. Allow me to explain why.
To begin, the “missional” church has lost it’s Christian distinctiveness. From the conversion of hymn singing and choirs to “praise bands” and “worship leaders”, from suits and ties to tattoos and earrings, from the concept of separation from the world to being engaged with the world, the church is becoming more secular and less “set apart.” The Corinthians struggled to live for Jesus because they could not distinguish themselves as the people of God. In our times, it has become almost impossible to know who is saved and who is not. Church members look, speak, act and behave no differently than non-church folks. While most all of us would shy away from legalism and it’s trappings (dress code, no dancing, no going to the movies, etc) , the people of the Lord have fallen into worldliness and even demonism (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). Some of the same “believers” who raise their hands to praise God on Sunday mornings are raising their glasses in a toast on Saturday nights. A “yoke” was used by farmers to put two animals together in order to pull a plow. Followers of Jesus should be pulling the Lord’s plow, not the devil’s. And yet, many are “fellowshipping” with those who do ungodly things and are having “communion” with people who are not saved. A “missionary” church, on the other hand, seeks to pull people out of the dark, not walk in the dark with them.
Secondly, the “missional” church has lost it’s biblical distinctiveness. While the overall message of the Bible is simple, the Bible itself is extremely complex. God’s Word is meant to be more than just a “love letter.” God intended it to also be a manual for living. In order to accommodate the postmodern crowd, many are ignoring or evading biblical material which does not “relate” to where people live. In doing so, we are robbing ourselves and others of the richness and power of the infallible Word of God. Albert Mohler addressed the state of postmodern preaching as such: “The sacred desk [pulpit] has become an advice center, and the pew has become the therapist’s couch.” In other words, the Bible is viewed not as redemptive, or convicting, but therapeutic; a means to heal people’s hurts or fix their problems. Some of the so-called “emerging’ pastors and ministries have concerned themselves with making the Bible relevant to the culture rather than changing the culture to fit what the Bible teaches, The parts which make people “feel better” are preached. The sections which cause lost sinners to cringe are conveniently avoided. Mohler added that “Time is short, God’s wrath is certain, and eternity hangs in the balance.” To put it bluntly, there is little time to waste. We need to do it right.
I understand that are some who are “culturally relevant”, “missional” and are doing it right. Many of them are successfully winning lost souls to faith in Christ and effectively making disciples for the glory of God. Many are making a definite impact for the Kingdom. Others, sadly, have sacrificed the integrity of the Cross and denied the blood which was shed there. By compromising the holiness of the Christian walk and remaining silent on unpopular biblical truths (sin, hell, God’s wrath and demands for righteous living) many are doing a greater disservice to God than they are doing a service for Him. As for us, we choose to remain BIBLICALLY relevant instead of culturally relevant. We choose to stand upon the proven power of God’s Word and to keep ourselves undefiled by an ungodly culture which rejects the authority of God. (Jude 20-25) All the while, we will be intentionally “missionary” , sending the message of salvation out to the world with the goal of bringing folks out of darkness into the marvelous light of Jesus.