Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cultural Relevance - Why It's Best Avoided

rel·e·vance n.

1. Pertinence to the matter at hand.
2. The ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user 

For some reason many churches spend mountains of time and energy trying to be relevant, unfortunately they are exhausting themselves trying to be culturally relevant rather than theologically relevant. You've heard many a pastor make a reference to something that is happening in today's world, a catch phrase, a reference to a popular TV show, something to bring into focus to today's church goer a point that was made 2000 years ago. And if that's really all it is - a passing reference - that's not a problem.

It becomes a problem when cultural references become more prevalent than bible verses. At this point in the effort to feed the goats relevance becomes ridiculous and the sheep starve. Serious nonsense happens in the church when this happens, like a Grinch VS Scrooge Rap Battle, or Pole Dancing for Jesus, or an unrepentant porn star addressing the congregation*, or the pastor entering the church on a zip line.

As I've mentioned before filling a sermon with cultural references will drive me absolutely crazy, it's annoying, but worse it's distracting from God's word. Pastors call this "Giving application", I call it "driving me away". And I'm obviously not alone, look here at the top 10 reasons why the young are leaving the church and you'll see that the church trying to be 'relevant', constantly 'giving application', is pushing away the youngsters, and I can understand why. It's annoying and its an interruption to God's word. Kids know a sales pitch, and I can identify snake oil from quite a distance.

This morning on my drive in to work I was listening to a podcast of a sermon by John MacArthur on the Armor of God.
11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17)
The sermon was one for the ages, even though it was an introduction to Ephesians 6:11-17 I have a better understanding now of the concept than I ever did before, and he did it with almost no 'application'. When talking about evil men John mentioned Idi Amin, which is a pretty dated reference but it was made in passing so it really didn't matter much to the overall lesson.

Later, toward the end of the sermon, I was actually marveling at the message. John MacArthur was able to convey these concepts to me much more successfully than any other bible teacher I've ever heard. It was at that point he mentioned the date he was preaching from: April 26, 1979. I was actually shocked when I heard that date. Other than the Idi Amin reference, nothing John MacArthur said during this lesson dated his words. He stayed pure to God's word and in the end his lesson was timeless.

In April 1979 I was a young airman stationed in Germany with two stripes on my arm, returning stateside was a month in my future, my wife was years in my future, my 6 children decades in the future, and full adoption by my Brother, Christ Jesus, still a long way away. But that exact sermon could have been given yesterday so pure was his message. Sermons by Levi Lusko are so dependent on witty 'relevant' puns and 'application' that two years later they're nearly meaningless, but a 35 year old sermon by John MacArthur is remains a breath of fresh air.

*I have no problem with a repentant former porn star addressing the congregation, in fact I wish more repentant former porn stars would address congregations, but an active unrepentant pornographer? No. 

1 comment:

  1. Great points and a good challenge for pastors: How will your sermons sound 20-30 years from now? If they won't be meaningful then they probably aren't meaningful now.