Monday, July 7, 2014

Retiring the "R" Word

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I saw it again the other day in an article that I read.  I almost blew a gasket.  However, I am also a patient man (well, sometimes) and I am reminded that a righteous man is supposed to be quick to listen and slow to anger (James 1:19-20).

I decided that before I started my rant I should do some research in case I was wrong.  So I turned in my Bible (in this case biblegateway.com) to see if I could find any evidence in the Word of God that this was even supposed to exist.  However, try as I may, the word "revelant" wasn't found anywhere in the Bible concerning the church...as a matter of fact, it is nowhere in the Bible at all.  Just to be on the safe side, I also inserted the word "interesting" in its place and came up with similar results.

For nearly 17 years, through Bible college and nearly every Christian publication that I have ever read, pastors and Christian leaders have been encouraged to make sure that church and the breaking of the Word of God was "relevant" to the lives of the people in the congregation.  Every poll about the church and why people stopped going contains the answer "It wasn't relevant to my life anymore."  Maybe you have heard the same thing.

First of all, "Who talks like this about anything other than church?"

I believe that there are two categories, we as human beings tend to place things.  Sometimes, to our harm, we get these categories confused.  When it comes to the gathering of believers or reading the Word of God, I believe that as the church we have accepted their placement in a category that God never intended.

Let me explain.

Since when have you ever heard someone say, "You need to make math (or english, reading, or writing) relevant for your students to learn it."?  Don't get me wrong.  It is nice to have interesting teachers who make learning fun.  But math doesn't need to be relevant for students to learn it because it is already necessary.  Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing are necessary activities toward living a productive life (at least here in the US).

Any career that you or I choose to pursue have things that are either relevant to that career path or necessary to that career path.  Relevant things are interesting pieces of information that can enhance the necessary things that you already know or stand alone because they are not necessary for anything, just enjoyable to the person who finds it interesting.  Necessary things are pieces of information that are foundational for you to do the job in the first place.  People can still work a job without relevant things (though relevant things may help you do them better), but it is impossible for people to work a job without necessary things. 

Things in the revelant category shift with the whims and fancies of the culture.  They include entire industries.  The entertainment culture is an industry entirely based on relevancy.  However, tomorrow if every sport were taken away, if every television and internet device stopped working, if every video game system fritzed out and every movie theater closed their doors, while there would be a shock to our system because we had become accustomed to including those things in our lives, ultimately, because those things were only relevant and not necessary to living, we would find something else to do.  Our lives would be affected, but not harmed.

Relevancy is concerned primarily with gaining attention by appealing to feeling or felt need (not real need).  But the things of necessity do not care how relevant you think it is, you need them whether you feel like you need them or not.

Let's take the Word of God for another example.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:16-21 and Psalm 78:1-8 make it very clear that parents are supposed to teach children to follow the Lord, to know the Word of God and to speak of it daily in their homes.  This is necessary.  It is a command, not a suggestion.  They are told in Deuteronomy 28 the consequences of both their obedience and disobedience to the command.  Other passages like Psalm 1, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 4:12, show the relevance of the Word of God but do not take away from its necessity. 

And God doesn't let you off the hook only reading some of the Word of God because you think that the other parts are boring, or irrelevant, or hard to understand.  He didn't ask your opinion and doesn't need your input on what should or shouldn't be studied in His Word

The book of Judges shows what happens when a generation grows up that neither knew the Lord nor what He had done for Israel (Judges 2:10).  The only way that could have happened is if the people of Israel were not teaching their children the things of the Lord.  Reading through the book of Judges, one gets a pretty good view of what happens to a culture when they exchange the necessary for the relevant.  The book ends with these words, "In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25)...and its not a pretty sight.

By the same token we are commanded in Hebrews 10:24-25:  "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day (of Christ's return) drawing near."  Throughout the Bible, there is an expectation of interdependency as believers to one another.  Every "one another" passage in the New Testament is the assumption of the church meeting together.  Whole sections of Scripture are dedicated to the different forms and functions the church is supposed to have together (see 1 Cor. 12-14; Romans 12; Ephesians 4).  Every epistle written is to a local body of believers (or multiple local bodies).

And while it is true that some of these representations of Christ had such major problems it would make even some of our bad churches in America blush (see 1 Corinthians), never was the instruction given to stop meeting together or form another entity in its place.  (Obviously doctrinal error to the point of the distortion of the gospel of Christ is an exception to the rule, however, one must be prayerful about that too.)  Somehow despite our imperfections (and there are many), God in His providence has decided that maturity comes only when we are together using our gifts for His glory (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

But with the push for the church to become "revelant" to the culture around us, we have stopped preaching its necessity for the believer.  Not necessary for salvation, but necessary because of other important reasons. 

First, it is the command of Christ.  Christ Himself implies it in Matthew 18:15-20 on how to handle correction within the church.  We are further told in John 14:15-24 that if we love Jesus we will obey His commands.  I can find many places in the Scriptures that speak of the need of believers to meet together, I can find none that exclude this very important facet from the Christian's life.  (If anyone can find Scripturally otherwise to the things I am saying...I will retract this entire post.)

Second, as mentioned before, our meeting together is needed for our maturity.  Ephesians 4:11-16 puts it this way:  "It was He (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of serivce, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."  According to this passage, only when we meet together and work together are we granted maturity in the faith.

Our focus on relevancy within the church has caused us to become consumers of faith instead of committed followers of Christ.  People leave because of conflict, because of work, because of sleep, because what's being taught isn't scratching the itch they have at that moment (or doesn't agree with how they are living), because the worship is too loud, too contemporary, too soft or too old, because the pastor is boring, the teaching isn't dynamic, or doesn't use enough technology, because the children's ministry (or youth ministry) isn't as good as the other churches they've been to...and none of those reasons are biblical!  They are only excuses to get us out of the church, to become church critics (and hoppers) to the point that we realize that the church will never be relevant to our lives, to keep us from using our gifts to build others up and to eventually give up on the church as a whole so that we may remain blissfully in our infancy.

Maybe what really needs to be done is for pastors and teachers to stop trying to be relevant and start teaching our people that meeting together wasn't designed to be optional...it's necessary. 





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