Lessons in Growth Meditations: 25. The Relevant Church?
Mt 7:6 (Msg) “Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honour to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.
(NIV) “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Psa 1:1,3 Blessed is the one … That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.
Relevancy? I am breaking a habit of a lifetime, for I have a sense of what we ought to be covering and yet I do not have a verse upon which to hang it. In scanning for the word ‘relevant’ it does not appear as such in any translation and the verse from the Message version is the only hit that I could get, and that seems a warning against trying to be relevant! And yet it weighs on my heart. That seems a bit of a leap in the paraphrase from that verse 6 that we probably are more familiar with. Now I’ve got into this conundrum when I finished the previous study with the comment, ‘so often the world considers the Church irrelevant.’ So what, I think, does the Bible say about us being relevant. Well, actually, nothing! So much for those leaders who carry out surveys in their local neighbourhood to find the perceived needs that they can then address! Well, actually there is some value in that, but perhaps we miss a key point.
Goals restated: In case you think I am straying badly from our objectives, let’s restate them. We are examining things that will help us grow. We are now examining that through the perspective of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and we are examining aspects of the ministry of Christ through us in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth through the body of Christ, the Church. Right, we know where we are going.
Threat of the Days: So why am I worrying about being irrelevant or being relevant? The answer is because I believe we are moving in such a time of development in science and technology (and those words are really inadequate to cover this) that for some of us (and this applies especially to the younger generation) there is a very real danger that we will lose perspective and the enemy will lead many to think that the things of the Bible belong to a long-distant past and have no relevance today in the light of modern developments.
Days of Change: It has been suggested that we are living in a period of such dramatic change that is greater by far than the changes seen in the past with the agricultural revolution and much later the industrial revolution and in the last century the technological and cyber (Defn. culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality) revolution. The possibilities that are already realities are likely to mean the most dramatic changes in the lives of probably every human being on the earth. If you doubt these things, as a start try doing a Google search for ‘bit-chain’, ‘quantum computers’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and if you have never been in these areas before, be ready to be blown away.
Relevancy of my Faith? It is at this point that you, and certainly your young people and children, may find yourself wondering, what is all this talk about the kingdom of God? Is it really real? Is it meaningful? I am shortly, according to the preaching rota of our church, to do a sermon on Abram. What relevance has Abram got in my world of cell phones, of new genome projects redesigning the human being, of politics through social media, of computing power that is doubling almost every year, of nanotechnology that looks at unbelievably small cell manipulation, of lives that will interact with ‘smart computers’ or ‘thinking computers’ at every turn, where physical money ceases to be used, and face recognition means accountability wherever you are in the world. It is either here now, or it is literally just around the corner. In the light of this, how relevant is the church, how relevant is the Bible, how relevant is my faith?
For instance, the ‘elephant in the room’, as we might say today, for Abram, was the fact that his wife was barren. If you have ever watched one or more of the Star Trek series, you will have seen a future where sickness has been overcome (today the Gates Foundation is making great strides in this realm in Africa) where injuries are healed up within moments, where violence is abhorred and so on. And yet even there in that fictional future world, people are people and have their personal worries, get stressed with other people and so on. One of the big discussion points at the present (early 2018) could be summarized as the Pessimistic Outlook versus the Optimistic Outlook.
Whether it be scientific or technological revolutions, political upheavals or threats to global existence (nuclear winter, ozone holes, or over population) the Christian is going to be challenged over the relevancy of their beliefs, so let me lay down some markers to anchor our thinking in these days of dramatic change.
First, God is still God. He is there, and nothing changes – except perhaps our perception of Him. Years ago I did a study of developments of inventions etc. through the ages and observed it alongside the development of the revelation we observe in the Bible. When we used to not know things in science, we attributed things to God – the ‘God of the Gaps’. As knowledge increases, science suggests answers for questions about the world, those gaps close up, and ‘scientific reasons’ for the need for God disappear. Let’s get a perspective that is Biblical that sees and understands that a) God created all things and knows all things, b) God has given this world to us for us to enjoy and find out about and, I suspect, nudges inventors and researchers to find ways to make life easier and better for the human race, and yet c) God still gives us the ability (and duty?) to consider how to wisely use these things – to avoid a nuclear winter, or avoid destroying the ozone layer and stop being so self-centred we care little about those who have less than us.
Second, Sin is still Sin: Human beings, despite the fact of their cleverness at developing, researching, at finding out and using knowledge, still struggle with themselves and with others because they have, as someone has put it, a ‘God-shaped hole’ in their life which, unless it is filled, will always cause a sense of emptiness, a sense of questioning and so on. Human beings, until they encounter God through Christ, are still contaminated by this thing the Bible calls Sin, that I define as self-centred godlessness which leads to behaviour that is contrary to God’s design and is therefore destructive.
And So? The things I have mentioned earlier in this study, will certainly change the landscape of human living but God and the human condition remain the same and God’s salvation for us through Christ remains exactly the same. For the record, when I read the Abram story I see a) the effects of living in a Fallen World – barrenness and the anguish it brings, b) a God who communicates with us and reveals just a glimpse of His plans to provide a way for us to be rescued from this godless, self-centredness, plans that give purpose to the present and hope for the future…. and lots, lots more, and every bit of it is relevant to me, to my life, to my plight, today – and to you! I will return to this question of relevancy again and again as we think more and more about being the body of Christ that brings in the kingdom of God. Tomorrow, we’ll show how this can work in very practical ways.