A Culturally Relevant Church
Few people would argue with the contention that our culture is rapidly disintegrating. Believers and non-believers alike recognize the moral decay and lawlessness which has become so common in our society. While all agree that it is a disturbing trend, few have any wisdom to offer that will be effective in slowing the pace. What role does the church play in our ever changing, immensely diverse culture?
Some insist that the best way for the church to have an impact is to adapt – that is, modify – our ministry and message to the culture in which we live. After all, didn’t the Apostle Paul encourage this position when he said “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some?” (I Corinthians 9:22) They assert that Christ himself set that example for us by eating, drinking, and socializing with those who were characterized by religious leaders as “sinners.” If we wish to reach large numbers of people, we must be willing to provide an atmosphere where sinners will not feel judged, intimidated, or uncomfortable. How is that accomplished? By preaching a message of love and acceptance while avoiding anything that hints at condemnation even when scripture clearly identifies certain attitudes, activities, and associations as being wrong. As one advocate of this position stated “People are not interested in embracing the church’s concept if they feel intimidated or judged by their lifestyle or acts.”
The church, however, has a Biblical mandate to do more than simply make sinners feel comfortable. While the attitude of believers must conform to scriptural guidelines to be kind and compassionate, we must avoid the ever present temptation to trim our message to attain that goal. Boldness and directness without belligerence or condescension is a tall order for any believer. Yet we as Christians must always strive to reach that standard. Without it our message becomes weak and meaningless and our churches become mere social clubs.
The more important question, however, has to do with whether it is wise – or scriptural – for the church to follow the dictates of our culture. When you consider the direction our society is going, especially with regards to ethics and morality, we must conclude that it would be far better for us to run in the opposite direction – which is exactly what the scripture commands us to do. The church should be setting the standard for our society. In too many cases, we have become imitators of society, rather than Christ. We are not to love the world! To do so is to engage in spiritual adultery and place us in an adversarial position with our God (James4:4). We are not to embrace the world (2 Corinthians 6:17), and we are not to imitate (conform to) the world (Romans 12:2).
Does that mean that we will have a more difficult time drawing large crowds? Perhaps, but we must remember that the scripture does not command us to go out and build large churches. Our charge is to reach individuals with the Gospel. The church’s responsibility is to help converts grow to become faithful disciples of Christ so that they can spread the life giving message of salvation. Being culturally relevant hinders, rather than helping that mission.