There is a lot of talk about the cultural relevant church, but just what does this mean? I have heard it said that we must be culturally relevant if we want to reach the world and I have heard others oppose the notion. I believe our biggest problem is taking terminology that is outside the Scriptures (cultural relevant) to describe mandates derived from the Scriptures. People get confused when this happens and the message becomes unclear. So, let’s look at the definitions of cultural and relevant.
Cultural – relating to a culture or civilization
Relevant – having social significance, some bearing on or importance for real-world issues, present-day events, or the current state of society
One writer said, “It’s about being relevant and engaging culture. The church must be relevant and understand that we live in an ever-changing and ever evolving culture, if we want to reach people for Christ. The methods must change, but the message ‘the Word’ never changes.”
I can agree with most of this statement. We most certainly live in an ever-changing culture and certain methods should change. I do not know of any circuit riding preacher who is still traveling around on horseback preaching the gospel. I like our current mode of transportation, thank you! I’m also rather thankful for the internet. Our church can broadcast the gospel all over the world with a few clicks of a button. To disregard our modern technology simply relates to loss opportunity in reaching out to the lost with the gospel. So what is the problem and where is all the confusion?
It is interesting to note that those that promote cultural relevance always states that “the Word never changes.” I have, however, found this to be untrue in some cases. In an effort to have social significance some will cast off the Word for a more palatable substitute. Sitting around talking about real life issues is not the same as teaching God’s Word and preaching the gospel of Christ.
Another problem arises when we confuse the function of the church with personal evangelism. My husband often reminds us that the church is a people, not a place. The Greek word for church is ekklesia which means a called assembly. The local church is a called out assembly of baptized believers who have coveted together to carry out the great commission. Therefore, church is for the saved. Let me say that again because I believe very few truly understand this. Church is for the saved not the unregenerate world. When we come together in the assembly, it is to worship God. The lost cannot or will not do this. When we come together in the assembly, it is to learn from God’s Word. The lost do not even understand God’s Word. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14. When we come together in the assembly, it is to love, exhort, and edify one another. Without God’s love the lost cannot grasp the meaning of loving the brethren and all it encompasses. And when we come together in the assembly it is to equip us for the work of the ministry. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12.
This is, however, not to say that the lost are unwelcome within the assembly. We should make them feel welcome, but the function of the church is not to bring into the assembly as many lost people as we can find in hopes that they might get saved at the church. If they come in, the purpose should be that they will watch true believers worship the True God, hear the preaching and teaching of the Word, and witness the love for the brethren within the church. Should God draw them and stir their hearts so they get saved within the assembly, praise God. But the churches function is not to be seeker sensitive. We should not adapt the preaching and teaching to their pleasure. (In fact, Jesus preached and taught counter-culturally and was crucified for it. Why would we expect any less from the world?) And while we desire to make them feel comfortable, the truth is that an unsaved man or woman will not be comfortable when the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed. What we need to be sensitive to is God’s desires and His will for His church. The church comes together to worship, learn from God’s Word, and love one another. It is then that we go out into the world to reach and evangelize our neighbors and loved ones. This is done on a personal level, one by one. Once the lost are saved, we should seek to bring them into the assembly so they too can worship God, learn from His Word, and love the brethren.
If the churches focus is always on being culturally relevant, the true “ministry of reconciliation” that we are given will quickly grow irrelevant. When the center of attention is on the culture, often the purity of the church and the sanctification of believers are de-emphasized. The problem with being cultural relevant is that too much attention is being given to making sinners feel comfortable, being seeker sensitive, and fitting in with the world. Therefore, too little attention is given to repentance from sin, being sensitive to God’s Word, and confronting the culture.
The church is to be different from the world. We are not to look like, act like, or live like the world. We are to be holy, set apart, and peculiar. I find that a focus on cultural relevance often ignores these truths. Eric Davis states it plainly, “Christ was so relevant, not because he was methodologically trained in missional living, but because he was so holy. The most effective missional living is not crafting the most culturally relevant outreach technique, but in transformed people who are actually salt and light. Spiritual maturity through sanctification best equips God’s people for evangelism over cultural methodology.” [i]
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2