Relevance v. Reverence: Can a Church Choose Both?

Tuesday Re-mix –

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. I Corinthians 9:22-23

We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. I Thessalonians 2:4-6

Every once in a while, an athlete comes along who changes the way we think about a sport.  Deion Sanders did that.  Remember this commercial?

People like Deion remind us that our assumptions about settling for “either/or” are sometimes wrong…that sometimes we need to be demanding “both”.

There is a debate among churches today regarding the importance of being relevant versus the importance of honoring tradition and preserving doctrinal purity.  The implication, of course, is that you have to choose…that you can either be respectful of tradition and dogmatic about doctrine, or you can change and become culturally relevant and “user friendly”.

The debate rages on.  One church twists and contorts and becomes almost unrecognizable trying to “become relevant” to its culture, while the church across the street stubbornly sits on several generations of tradition trying to “remain pure” and reverent.  And in the meantime, as they each fight to represent their camp in this debate, their common goal of changed lives and Spiritual power are somehow lost in the arguing.

I don’t know where you have stood in this argument, but I suspect I know where Paul stood.  Paul was one who believed strongly in “becoming all things to all people” and in not trying to be something you are not and in never watering down the gospel in order to please men.  Paul stood firmly with a foot in each camp on this issue.  Paul’s writings resoundingly say, “both!”

But Paul was also brutally honest about the issue, never giving in to other, less honorable motives.  For example, many of those who yell the loudest about maintaining doctrinal purity and honoring tradition are arguing more from a fear of change than from anything Godly.  The arguments sound Godly enough, but that is not where they sometimes come from.  And many of those who contend for cultural relevance are motivated more by a desire to please people, i.e., a thirst for the applause of men, than for anything as Godly as “becoming all things to all men so that some might be saved.”  Those extraneous agendas and motives do tend to muddle things up and to preserve the “either/or” mentality.  But when you take those motives out of the picture and look strictly at the two contending positions (as Paul did), you see the flaw in the “either/or” assumption.

So, as your church tackles this debate, when one side asks you, “Don’t you believe we should speak the gospel in a language our culture understands?” you can say, “Yes, absolutely!”  And when the other side responds with “But don’t you believe in doctrinal purity and respect for the traditions which have served us so well in the past?” you can say, “Yes, absolutely!”  And when the two sides force you to pick one or the  other, you can smile at them with the quiet confidence which can only come from the Spirit of God, and you can say…


© Blake Coffee

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2 responses to “Relevance v. Reverence: Can a Church Choose Both?”

  1. Amen, Amen! Christian theology is all about paradox, from the Trinity and the Incarnation on, so why should this be any different?

  2. Blake,
    I so very much agree with you. As the program director of a small church in rural Nebraska, I find that becoming relevant to the younger families while maintaining the traditions of the older families is possible. It is not easy, but I think it is possible and necessary. As we examine any organization that is not willing to move into the future, we find systems doomed to extinction. At the same time, if we forget the past and neglect our ancestors, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes and relinquish our forebearers to the shelf.
    There must be a balance of relevance and of reverence. We must never forget our past, but we must always look to our future as well.

    Thanks for the reminder!

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