Imagine a young woman approaches her manager to ask for time off. She says to him, “My biological father died yesterday. Can I have Friday off so that I can go to the funeral?”Her manager replies, “I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Of course, you can have the time off.” The young woman responds by thanking him. Before she turns to walk out of the room, the manager asks, “How old was your father?” The young woman immediately looks flabbergasted. “I don’t know.” “Oh,” replied the manager. “Were you and your father very close?” The young woman said, “Since I was adopted as a baby, I did not grow up with my father.” The manager responded, “I see. How do you come to know him?” “Well,” the young lady said, “He contacted me several years ago. He wrote me letters but I never took time to go meet him.” The manager said, “So you got to know him through the letters. What was he like? What did he do?” The young lady became sheepish. “I did not spend much time readying his letters. I read a few lines here and there, but I mostly put the papers in a file and never looked at them. But I know that he loved me and I really loved him. I felt so close to him when I received the letters in the mail. It is an experience that I will never forget.” “I don’t understand,” said the manager. “If you really loved your father, then why didn’t you take the time to get to know him?”
Many of the churches in America are like this young woman. The people in them claim to love God. They gather on Sunday morning to worship Him. Yet, few know more about the Lord beyond ubiquitous Christian clichés. How many Christians could explain the Trinity? How many could explain the two natures of Christ? How many could briefly differentiate the ministry of the Holy Spirit from the ministry of Jesus? How many Christians can define the word, love, according to God’s character? How many people could define omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent?
Why are people ignorant to God’s character and nature? The pastors are not focusing their preaching on God. If we meet together to worship the Lord, then shouldn’t we focus on knowing the Lord we worship? In an effort to be relevant to the culture, some churches have become discipled by the culture in order to reach the culture. The leaders desire to be “a church for the unchurched.” They assume that the lost do not come to church because the church is too churchy. The culture is foreign to them. Therefore, the leadership changes the church to embrace the culture of the society so that the church will attract non-Christians. The music in the service becomes based upon the stylings of the culture. Even secular music is played by the worship band to make individuals feel comfortable. The sermon is condensed to 30 minutes on a relevant topic: money, marriage, parenting, and addiction. As a result, the church practice becomes man centered as it tries to reach the unchurched man. What is the consequence? God is not the audience for our worship. Instead, the unchurched man is. The leadership seeks his approval and not God’s.
By being “relevant,” these churches have thrown overboard the eternal truths of God. In part two of the blog series, we will examine seven reasons why preaching about God makes the church relevant.
1. God is the creator.
What is a more relevant question than this: Where did I come from? Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
2. God has revealed Himself to man.
God showed His character to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” Since the Lord has revealed Himself, a person disrespects God by not studying Him. Besides this, with more light through the availability of God’s Word, we have greater responsibility for not learning about Him.
3. Christians are to be like Christ.
1 Peter 1:14-17 says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” How are we to strive to grow in becoming more like Christ if we do not know what Christ is like? We must learn about God’s character so that we know what true holiness is. Then, we pursue it by the grace of God.
4. God’s Character brings comfort.
Since God is omnipresent, a Christian cannot be separated from God’s love. (Romans 8:35). Since God is omniscient, a Christian knows that His Word is true (Isaiah 46:9-10). Since God is omnipotent, a Christian can trust that He can accomplish His will (Matt. 19:26; Rev. 1:8). Since there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, a Christian can trust that he is forgiven (Romans 8:1). Since God does not change, a Christian ground his life in the promises of God’s Word (Hebrews 13:8). What could be more relevant to every second of every minute of every hour of every day of your life?
5. God’s Character reveals our sin.
John Calvin wrote in The Institutes, “Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility.”
The more we learn of God’s perfection, beauty, and holiness, then we see our wicked hearts. We join Isaiah by shouting out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).
6. God’s Character reveals how He will judge.
Revelation 21:8 says, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Unrepentant sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God. God will show His justice by rightly condemning them to the lake of fire. Henceforth, since God’s law flows from His character, then learning God’s character shows us the perfect law by which all men will be judged.
7. God’s Character reveals His mercy.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” His forgiveness is only accomplished through Jesus Christ’s substitute sacrifice on the cross. He spilled His precious blood for His people. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” What could be more relevant than learning about the Savior who bought you with His precious blood? What could be more pertinent than studying that salvation can only come through Jesus Christ?
God is the most relevant topic for all people. As we gather to worship every Sunday, our services should intentionally proclaim the glory of God’s character. I would challenge pastors to preach God centered expository sermons. In addition, plan a sermon series on God’s attributes. For example, Pastor Curt Daniel preached 55 messages at Faith Bible Church which I would highly recommend.
As we discuss the topic of relevance, we must ask, “What is relevant from the vantage point of eternity?” In 100 years from now, no one living today will find a movie clip incorporated into a sermon as being germane. But every soul, who has died and gone to heaven or hell, will see the relevance of knowing the God of heaven, earth, and hell.
American churches continue to pursue cultural acceptance. Many pastors think that the culture must view the church as being relevant in order to grow their congregation. Unfortunately, some evangelical churches use the term “relevant” as a synonym for cool. For them, relevance means appealing to surface level concerns and desires by using culturally hip methodology.
Here are six examples. Create a sermon series on the family which uses TV sitcoms: All in the Family, The Cosby Show, and Married with Children. Start a church coffee shop to signal to the culture that we know Folger’s is an anathema. Have the pastor ride a Harley on stage with the song, “Born to be Wild,” thundering from the speakers. Begin the service by singing songs from the 90s bands “Boyz II Men,” “New Kids on the Block,” and “Backstreet Boys” with synchronized dancing by the praise band. Reject the inerrancy of Scripture to accommodate the modern man’s views of evolution, truth, and sexual ethics. Finally, refuse to address the cultural sins of the society out of fear of pushing people away from church. As a result, the pulpit is silent where God speaks.
In this blog series, I will define relevance differently. Relevance is not making the culture think that the church is cool and tolerant. Instead, relevance goes below the surface level to address the core issues about God, man, sin, death, salvation, and purpose. These topics matter to every person of every country of every age of every time period in history. As a church, our task is to proclaim the truth even when society does not see the relevance. Their opinion does not make it irrelevant. Instead, it shows their blindness. Therefore, by teaching God’s eternal Word, we trust the Holy Spirit to awaken lost sinners to the pertinence of these truths.
Having reviewed the wrong ways to pursue relevance, what is the solution?
1. The church must be a prophetic voice.
A prophet in the Old Testament had two tasks. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he would forewarn of future events. For example, Jeremiah predicted the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Prophets would also forewarn the people by putting them on trial for breaking God’s law. In Jeremiah 7:9, the prophet confronts the people for breaking the Ten Commandments: theft, adultery, swearing falsely, and making offerings to Baal. By calling the church to have a prophetic voice, I am using the second purpose of the role of prophesy. The church must preach the Biblical truth and call people to repent and believe.
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
God has authority over the church which is the gathered body of believers. He has entrusted the truth of the Gospel to the body. The church is to protect the good news of Jesus Christ from distortion. This task requires the church to speak out against error. Immediately following this section in chapter 4, Paul rebukes the false teaching which forbids marriages and requires abstinence from foods (4:3).
In Acts 20:27, Paul testifies to the Ephesian church “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The word, shrink, means “to cease doing something of presumed positive value because of adverse circumstances or fear.” Paul taught comprehensively. He did not let the fear of rejection silence him from teaching God’s truth.
In addition, Paul exhorted Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). The Apostle commands his mentee to preach without regard to the cultural climate. In this context, “season” refers to convenience. The Bible must be preached when the culture cheers the message or when it rejects it. Society’s response does not change the church’s teaching. On the contrary, pastors are commanded to preach the whole counsel of God, because it is God’s revelation. Therefore, all of it is relevant.
As the Scriptures have shown us, pastors cannot be neutral. We are required to preach every issue which God’s Word touches. God did not give us the authority to edit His Word through silence. We cannot avoid preaching on the hot button sins of society. Instead, God has commanded us to warn sinners that they are headed to hell if they do not repent. God has spoken. Your action is a sin. You are condemned before God. However, the good news is that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners. He died on the cross to save lawbreakers from God’s wrath. All people who turn from their acceptance, approval, and celebration of their sin and believe on Jesus Christ for salvation will be forgiven and saved.
What are the consequences of the church not being a prophetic voice?
1. Ironically, the church is not relevant by being silent on cultural sins.
When the pulpit does not address the culture’s acceptable sins, then the church loses its voice. By avoiding the discussion which is promoted on TV, internet blogs, and books, the church shows that it is irrelevant.
2. The church’s silence escalates sin.
After Solomon’s death, Israel split in two. The wicked king, Jeroboam, led the northern kingdom of Israel while Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, sat on the throne of Judah in the south. Jeroboam instituted idolatrous worship in order to keep the people from going to the temple in Jerusalem. He desired to break affection for the temple worship. In response, the godly Jews from the north moved to Judah. 1 Chronicles 11:16 says, “And those who had set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord, the God of their fathers.” Their presence strengthened the kingdom of Judah for three years. As a result, Israel did not have a prophetic voice to warn the people of their false worship towards goats and calves. Their migration removed the conscience from the land.
In the same way, if the church does not speak prophetically, we are like the Jews who moved from Israel to Judah. However, our failure to speak does not come from relocation but fear. When the church is silent, the sons of the devil fill the void by proclaiming lies.
3. The church fails to disciple the sheep.
How are the sheep to know proper sexual ethics if the pulpit remains silent? As the culture bombards Christians with lies, the sheep will be led astray if the shepherds do not teach the truth. Jesus does not give the church permission to be silent. In the Great Commission passage from Matthew 28, Jesus says, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” In practice, everything Matthew includes in his gospel should be taught to disciples.
Does Jesus address marriage? Yes (Matthew 19:1-12). Does He teach on murder? Yes (Matthew 5:21-22). Does He instruct on lust? Yes (Matthew 5:27-30) Does He warn against greed? Yes (Matthew 6:24) Does He warn against false Christians? Yes (Matthew 7:21-22) Does He teach on hell? Yes (Matthew 13:41-43)
Brethren, pastors must disciple their people on the whole counsel of God or the world will disciple our people with Satan’s lies.
What issues should the church address?
2500 babies are killed daily. We must preach the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
Jesus defined marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:1-12). Any other definition is an aberrant fraud.
3. Sexual Ethics
Sexual relations are only reserved for the marriage bed. Therefore, the church must speak against fornication, co-habitation, adultery, and homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Churches need to teach that the Lord is the foundation to any education. Unfortunately, many kids are following two separate antithetical discipleship programs simultaneously. On the one hand, Christian parents along with their churches desire to see their children become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, public schools instruct from an atheist perspective with the goal of implementing a secular worldview. Should we be surprised that so many young adults leave the church?
Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Truth does exist. Everything is not relative. Truth cannot be found in a person’s feelings or desires. It is only found in Jesus Christ.
Americans are obsessed with material possessions. Regardless of economic class, our society covets more and more stuff. We must proclaim the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)
The universe does not revolve around you. It centers on God. He is on the throne. Jesus Christ is being worshiped in heaven by the angels and saints. The culture promotes self-esteem which puts the Napoleon complex on steroids. Besides this example, the transgender movement teaches that a human is a little god who can determine his gender regardless of his anatomy. The church must proclaim that God is the creator. He made us to worship Him and to serve Him. Come! Die to yourself and follow the Lord Jesus Christ!
May the Lord use the local church to trumpet His truth courageously. May the Lord use the proclamation of His Word to instruct the flock and warn sinners that God has a universal moral law. May we beg our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to flee God’s wrath by finding safety in the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.