Can the church of Jesus Christ, who has been bought by his blood, be culturally relevant? What I mean is, can the church submit to the Lordship of Jesus while simultaneously catering to the needs of the culture? Perhaps this is still somewhat broad, so let me narrow it down with a “case study.”
Say you are new in town and as you are searching for a church to visit, you come across one who claims to be culturally relevant. What they mean by culturally relevant is they seek to make the worship service (singing/music) mirror that of the culture. What you will have is the light show, fog machines, and songs that are wanting in content. The pastor will preach a message that sounds like the gospel, but the content more or less focuses upon you doing something (Don’t Fear; Be Encouraged; Love Yourself; etc.). A speaking of the purpose for Christ’s death and why repentance is required lacks, but it seems that these people love Jesus while they seek to be relevant to the culture. Is this possible?
I would suggest no.
First, in order to be relevant to the culture the church must submit to the will of the culture, which is exactly the opposite of what Christianity is fundamentally. Christianity in its truest form has always been counter-cultural. When Christ stepped into mankind he was counter-cultural. When Paul preached in Athens or gave instructions to Timothy in the Pastoral Epistles, nowhere did he mention for the church to include within its meetings pagan rituals. This was the lifestyle that was left behind and not to be included but forsaken. This was counter-cultural.
Second, if the church of Jesus Christ is to be a voice to the world of God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy found only in Jesus Christ, then how can the church imitate the world by being relevant to its desires? Or, how can the church make an acceptable worship service so those who are non-Christians feel less awkward? Have we forgotten the purpose of a worship service is to meet with a holy, Triune God? Should not the sinner find something different than would be found Saturday night at a concert? Must the church look like the world in order to attract the world? Did Christ? Did the apostles in their preaching? I don’t think so.
Third, if the church is to be relevant to the culture then the church no longer is the church. The church that seeks to be relevant to the culture is controlled by the culture. The culture will dictate what can and cannot be preached because what can be preached in the eyes of the culture is only what is truly relevant. Therefore, the culture controls the message of Jesus Christ rather than the church. If this happens, as it has in many denominations and even some within my own, the Gospel is no longer the Gospel according to Jesus.
The church of Jesus Christ has always sought to be distinctly different from the culture surrounding it. Do we limit ourselves with interacting with the culture? Absolutely not. Do we make non-Christians feel welcome in the church? Absolutely. But do we do it at an expense to the message of the Gospel. Absolutely not. The church must stand upon Scripture and Scripture alone, otherwise she will be “carried by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14).