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.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.