This is a continuation of the ideas in yesterday’s post, That Hideous Strength, wherein I discuss how we are doing church without the Holy Spirit.
Paradoxology, a great site I never fail to read, has brought up the issue of the American Church’s fascination with being culturally relevant. This is an issue I feel very strongly about, particularly since it has been pushed for the last two decades as being the solution to drawing in the lost. Making our churches look like the world so we don’t scare off seekers, or preaching only to topics that directly incorporate pop culture, or immersing ourselves in culture so we in the Church don’t look hopeless un-hip are typical manifestations of the quest to be culturally relevant.
Yesterday, I wrote concerning a relatively new movement within the Church in America called “The Emerging Church” or “Emergent.” Being culturally relevant is one of the foundational premises of Emergent theology. Emergent is rooted in sociological study more than any previous church movement, finding the work of scientists who study human behavior to be the figurative “elders” of the congregations that arise from Emergent thought.
But what did Jesus say about cultural relevancy and its ability to draw in the lost?
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
What are seeking people going out to see when they show up in church? In their deepest hearts they are not going because the church meets in a Starbucks. They are not going because the teaching is on how to have a better marriage. They are going because they truly want to see a prophet, a real live person aflame in the Holy Spirit! To be around transformed people who know God intimately! To actually have an experience of Jesus in all His glory!
It is said of the great preacher George Whitefield that the reason thousands came to see him preach, draining the populace of towns where he preached as they packed out the rural places he spoke, was that they came simply to see a man on fire. Whitefield’s ministry had a profound effect wherever he preached, but none more than in America, where his legacy formed the Christian backbone of this country.
The great revivalist Leonard Ravenhill once noted that you never have to advertise a fire. Do our churches realize this? But what are we giving instead to those who are seeking Jesus? Why do we so often bait and switch when they come hoping to meet up with Jesus and instead we give them a supposedly relevant dog and pony show?
Relevance is only relevant when the Church in America has nothing else to give people. If we have spurned the Holy Spirit in our midst, then what rushes into the vacuum He leaves behind is our fascination with cultural relevance.
What if the cultural relevancy in our churches today looked like this?
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
The apostles here gave the man exactly what he needed. They could not have been more relevant. But an outsider watching them approach the man would certainly not be considering this outcome, rather that the two would simply drop a few coins into his cup. That’s the relevant response, right?
No, we are not here to dispense silver and gold. We have got to be meeting people where they are by being filled with the Spirit, not by being filled with the latest bankrupt cultural phenomenon. What this lame beggar needed more than anything was Jesus, and that was what the Church gave him—and he was healed in the process.
There is never a reason to advertise a fire. Forget cultural relevance. The Holy Spirit is always relevant. Let’s be filled with His holy fire!