“How much is tradition affecting our mobility?” “Are we carrying old paradigms limiting us in this new era?”. These were the questions that were asked in a recent conversation I was in, I did more of the listening than talking. Finally leaving the comfort of the restaurant in which the discussion was held. I walk toward my car contemplating those questions. It forced me to ask new questions. Are “we” as the church relevant? Are we even supposed to be relevant? Does relevancy play a crucial role in the propagation of the gospel? Realizing it or not, these questions enlisted me on the proverbial battlefield many have fought on: the battle of relevancy.
Before we start I’d like to state that the rest of this post presupposes that you’ve settled core doctrinal tenets. In our defense for truth we can sometime engage in friendly fire, causing spiritual casualties because we become trigger happy. Quick to discredit and destroy someone with genuine questions and concerns because we perceive their questions, as doctrinal retractions. Let’s get this clear. There is no question about the doctrine. Apostolic principles and doctrines will forever maintain their relevance. They transcend culture and time. In fact, that’s what makes them apostolic. I’m not talking about attempting to hide heresy under the disguise of relevancy. In most discussions dealing with relevancy, the central concern is not the message, but methods.
Methods and boundaries act as extensions to apostolic principles. It attempts to take the universal truths of scripture and give them specific cultural application. The issue occurs when we can no longer distinguish the extension from doctrinal truth. Then what once served a purpose, has the possibility to become a hindrance. It is comparable to the serpent that Moses erected to bring healing, but years later brought about idolatry. This occurred because the medium to God became as important as God Himself. The opposite can be just a detrimental. When men with week spiritual eyes attempt to remove traditions not realizing that they’re grasp has extended beyond old boundaries (now current tradition), and into truth. It’s the “Eve syndrome”. Eve touched the fruit before she ate it. The “touch not” was established by the man of God to inhibit the “eat not” settled by the word of God. Adam understood that connection would validate consumption. Those inflicted with the Eve syndrome ignore the fact that boundaries acknowledge that the external touch will affect internal desires, causing relational damage, with God and others. Both the veneration of the serpent and the underplay of boundaries can have enteral impacts.
It has been the uptake of numerous cultural and sub cultural groups that has brought relevancy to the forefront of discussion. Consider that for years culture took time to adjust and change. But now culture is constantly adjusting and perpetually segmenting. Because of the fast growth and diversity of culture, we are forced to adjust our presentation of the Gospel. If we fail to acknowledge cultural variance in age, ethnicity, educational status, and geographical backgrounds, we can see very little results in place where there should be success. Not because of WHAT we communicate, but HOW we communicate. I understand that there must be a sense of individuality when reaching people. But culture is the door in which you walk through to reach and deal with the individual.
So, how do we keep the balance of trying to be culturally relevant yet not lose our identity. The answer might be in the scriptural scenario. Jesus making His way to His greatest triumph has an interaction with Simon the Cyrene. Simon is from a different location but possibly a different race. Simon’s encounter with Jesus would cause him and his family to believe. Jesus impacted someone who was from a different place and race. What allowed Jesus to be relevant and still effective? What made his reach beyond what cultural background affective in someone else’s? The cross. The cross allowed him to pull outside other close to Him. The same will be true for us. The cross will allow us to hold on to doctrinal truths, while adjusting our methods to reach various cultural groups. It’s the ONLY avenue that allows us to love God and others at the same time. The cross allows us to both do whatever necessary to reach people – at the same time doing whatever asked to please God. It is the cross that keeps us suspended beyond the world and its desire while allowing us to reach for those condemned to die.
Paul found this invaluable truth while attempting to find relevancy in the cultures he reached with the Gospel. And He listed the result of his finding to be: I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. The cross allowed Paul to fit their cultural context to transform their spiritual state. He only did this because he was cross centered. The cross adjusted Paul so that God could reach others. Paul became broken to become flexible. God’s love for others will break us.
The battle of relevancy is not fought between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is fought by saints who conserve the truth handed down by the ages, to bring liberty to the captive. Young minister, your battle is NOT against your elders. As long as your sword is faced the wrong way you will always lose. Rather your battle is for the lost around you and the greatest tool you have in your arsenal is a cross. It is the catalyst to any method you could use. Be relevant but make sure you’ve find a cross to die on before you make adjustments. Make sure your desire to please God and love for the lost has brought you to your conclusion. Only then can we win the war of relevancy.