Like almost every area in our culture, church life has changed rapidly and dramatically in the last twenty years. “We have to be relevant” is one of the buzz-phrases to promote change. Admittedly, there were a lot of old ways in church life that didn’t make sense – it needed some overhaul. But sadly, the word “relevance” provides no theological teeth to help cut through the difference between helpful changes and “un-gospel-like” changes.
Too many times, “relevance” has collapsed into nothing more than cool music, cutting-edge videos, lots of lights, and slick advertizing. Please, don’t misunderstand – I like cool music and videos. But, shouldn’t our theological discernment and actions run deeper than just music styles, presentation skills, and growth strategies. If “relevance” causes us to diminish the “difference” and “mystery” of the Christian church – then where does it leave our gospel witness that something “extraordinary” has occurred in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Bryan Stone puts it this way, …..”Creative reconstructions of evangelism are being attempted today, and they succeed in expanding the church by adapting it to new generations that are put off by boring liturgies, irrelevant preaching, and stuffy pipe-organ music. But while these reconstructions have triumphed in making the church more relevant to the tastes, expectations, preferences, and quest for self-fulfillment of both the unchurched and the dechurched, they have utterly failed to challenge the racism, individualism, violence, and affluence of Western culture. They in no way subvert an existing unjust order but rather mimic and sustain it.” (“Evangelism After Christendom” – p 13)
It appears that the earliest church was attractive to many because they dared to lived in an irrelevant fashion in relation to the existing order. They attempted to bring Jew and Gentile together (ethnic), men and women together (gender), free and slave together (class). They shared with each other as needs arose (economics) , especially the orphans and widows when there was no profit to be had. They refused oaths to other gods (idolatry) and to the emperor (state).
These are the kinds of “irrelevant” practices that I hope we recover. These kinds of practices may be the most gospel-relevant thing we can do. And I can’t help but believe that it will be more powerful than just lights and sound.