It is has always been a concern that the church may be irrelevant to contemporary culture and society. The questions: can the church realistically speak to the society in which it has been placed; can society understand the tenets of faith and the value of belief (in the Savior, Jesus Christ); will the church make a difference that saves the lives of sinners and benefit the world around it?
The church began in the mind of God, and was a part of the kingdom purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and was established on the Day of Pentecost with the power of the Holy Spirit of God (see Acts 2).
Bill Gaither composed a song in the 1970’s called The Church Triumphant. “Let the church be the church; let the people rejoice; for we settled the question, we made our choice. Let the anthem ring out; songs of victory swell; for the church triumphant is alive and well.” Bill Gaither, like myself and many others love the church. We should because the church is the bride of Christ, reflecting his glory in the present world until he returns and we experience the Church Eternal.
The church is triumphant because of one fact: it is the church of Christ. He is the victor; our triumph is based on no other truth and reality than the death and resurrection of Christ to save the church. We are victorious over sin and death. We are freed from sin and live holy and righteous lives in gratefulness for our Savior. We are eternally hailing Jesus for the quality of life that is set in a permanent relationship of love and honor with Almighty God.
Our salvation makes us victorious over our culture, but are we, the church, irrelevant to our culture? Does our faith, our hope, and our Savior make sense to the society in which we live?
The group of churches which I have been associated with throughout my life seems to almost constantly continue to be mired in the past. Though the message does not change, God is Creator and loves us; Jesus is the Savior; salvation is offered to all people regardless of race, gender, status, or anything else, the message we share with the world gets lost in 1950’s rhetoric and 1970’s methodology. In other words, we tend to favor being old fashioned and if it was good enough for my grandpa, it is good enough for everyone. That may be true, but not always.
Then, there are the churches and church groups and denominations whose purpose is less about the message of the Gospel and almost completely about serving and helping others. They go out of their way to provide food and clothing for the needy, and help those who are behind on rent and utilities. They have a comprehensive social aspect to their focus. It is often called the “social gospel.” In a lot of cases, they ignore the Gospel of Christ to serve as Christ served by helping those in need, thereby making the gospel less about salvation and more about Christian service to the world.
Then there are churches who are very concerned with missions. One church I served focused almost 20% of their budget on missions, both foreign and domestic. That is substantial. I have heard of churches that intentionally increase their missions giving 1% at a time (maybe annually, or every five year). And I heard of one church whose missions giving was 70% (I suppose that includes both foreign and domestic missions). Most churches support missions either directly or through a mission organization like Christian Missionary Fellowship International (www.cmfi.org), Team Expansion (http://web.teamexpansion.org/) , Outreach International (http://oionline.org/)or any of a number of other mission organizations. Fortunately, with few exceptions, the churches that support missions at a level of 10% or more of the giving their church receives tend to be very evangelistic.
But the relevance of the church to our society; is it relevant?
How do we become relevant if in fact, we are not?
Let’s consider the three S’s; Send, Serve, Support.
The three types of churches described above tend to focus on one the three S’s, sometimes to the exclusion of the others. Some churches are better at one than the others and some churches have more opportunity with one of the S’s than the others.
But the New Testament Scriptures show us through teaching and example, that all three; send, serve, and support, are essential to the church not just reaching their society with Jesus Christ, but it keeps them relevant to the culture in which they are set.
First, we the church are sent. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples of all people, immersing them in the name of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus the Christ), and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I have commanded you (“you” being the apostles, “them” being the church)” (Matthew 28:19-20; my paraphrase). Jesus has sent his disciples, the church to preach the Good News of salvation in Christ to those we encounter. The church is to go into the whole world with the Gospel.
Second, we are to serve. The model of serving comes from Jesus. He met a lot of people’s needs, many times through healing. He got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciple’s feet like a servant. Paul informs us in Philippians 2 that Jesus came in human form and took on the capacity of a servant. And the early church followed Jesus’ example as they cared for the widows (Acts 6) and sources outside the Bible tell us they saved discarded babies and raised them as their own (no one did that in those days). James tells us that true religion involves not letting the evil of this world spoil our righteousness and to care for widows and orphans. The aspect of caring would be broader if James wrote his letter in the 21st Century.
Third, missions support. When a missionary takes the Gospel to another country: that is their one focus. They usually are unable to have an occupation wherever they are at, either practically or legally. They need support to enable them to preach the Good News in places that don’t have the Bible or haven’t ever heard of Christ. Supporting missions financially is significant and important. Paul received support from several churches (and individuals). There were times he couldn’t work to support himself (time constraints, imprisonment, lacking opportunity) and the church, especially Antioch, provided financial support to enable Paul and his companions to preach the Gospel.
When the church (and we mean both the world-wide church at large and the local church) as they study the Word and put their faith into practice by going with the Gospel to their area (Sent), and helping in big and small ways in their communities (Serve), and provide financial assistance to world-wide missions (Support) God provides a focus that allows them to know their culture and bring the message of Christ to the world in a relevant way.