“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
More Than Relevant, by Randall D. Kittle
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“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means this …” — James 1:27

Relevance! This word should win the prize for the most common Christian buzzword of the 21st century. Cultural relevance has become a battle cry for some who see embracing it at any cost the only hope for Christianity’s survival in our day.

But churches going to extraordinary measures in attempts to be relevant to society isn’t a new idea. It’s been around forever. In the 1970s, after my family moved to a new part of town, my parents decided we should try a new church in our neighborhood that was known for being more modern (i.e. more relevant to our ever-changing society). This church was very concerned about the environment and hosted folk concerts periodically. Their young pastor sported a long “wishbone” mustache and looked like he might have been part of some rock group. Their service was shorter and much less formal than most typical churches. At the first services we attended, the pastor played the Byrd’s old hit song
Turn, Turn, Turn, which is based on Ecclesiastes 3. Then he did a short teaching on that passage, though he didn’t seem to make any real point besides noting that the hit song’s lyrics were taken from the Bible.

While this church addressed the “outdatedness” of many traditional churches by re-packaging it in a modern, more up-to-date style, they had no substance. They talked some about “faith” but never explained what that was, how you might get it, or why it was important. For all their talk about faith, no one’s lives seemed any different. When I left that church, I wasn’t a Christian and didn’t see any need to become one.

A short time later, I began going to the Salvation Army church with my girlfriend on Sunday evenings. Their service was so far from what we would call “culturally relevant.” They called their ministers “officers” and their members “soldiers.” Most of the congregation wore uniforms like officers in the army would wear. Their worship music was performed by a large brass band in uniform, and much of the music sounded like it was from the previous century.

Beyond Relevance
However, I soon discovered there was something alarmingly different about them. They actually believed the Bible was true! They not only believed it was true; they lived out the teachings of the Bible in their lives. They loved one another and others who would visit. They cared about the poor, the weak, the outcasts, and the widow and orphans. And not just with words but in action. They did this even when it wasn’t convenient … even when it cost them time and money! They shared their faith with others — anyone and everyone. Every week they shared testimonies of what a difference God had made in their lives. These people believed God had changed them, and as I saw how kind and compassionate they were I soon realized that something had changed their lives. By the time I moved away to college and left that church, I was a born-again believer! God had used their kindness to me and the compassion they showed to others as a testimony that He was real and really cared about people … including me.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being culturally relevant, but being relevant won’t save anybody. It only presents a “nicer package.” All the coffees and lattes, all the Facebook and podcasts, all the big screens, special lighting, and modern worship songs won’t save anyone. While these may help some unchurched people feel more comfortable and less out of place (and there’s nothing wrong with the Church being more user-friendly), Christianity is always “relevant” because it is the difference between peace and anxiety … life and death … heaven and hell.

More than
relevance, the believers at the Salvation Army possessed real faith. The authentic Christianity I saw demonstrated in their lives through the compassion and kindness they showed myself and others changed my mind … changed my heart … and eventually changed my life. This shows us the importance of our lives bearing the fruit of compassion and kindness. God wants to use His kindness and compassion to flow forth from our lives to others, helping love this sin-sick world back to life … eternal, abundant life!

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