June 30, 2006
Looking back farther than I would like to remember, I recall as a seminary student reading an article by Richard John Neuhaus (back when he was still a Lutheran) on the issue of relevance in ministry. In essence, Neuhaus argued that the churches most determined to be relative at all costs were destined to be the churches which were actually least relevant of all. Making an idol of relevance is a form of self delusion. Authentic relevance is represented by the transforming Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the faithful witness of the church throughout time.
Mark, I really appreciated your words concerning “assumptions and pursuits.” I think you are absolutely right in suggesting that the big division among evangelical pastors today is between those who pursue faithfulness, assuming that faithfulness will produce relevance; and those who pursue relevance, hoping that faithfulness will emerge out of that quest. You have provided a wonderful description of how this is realized in the ministry of the local church.
So many of the issues we deal with today seem to be focused on those who, in their own way, argue that we should pursue relevance by putting ourselves and our churches out on the “cutting edge” of ministry. If this means taking every opportunity to extend faithful witness and ministry in the name of Christ, then count me in.
Regrettably, it often becomes a rationale for something very different in the end. Repeating that slogan, many pastors and churches, along with an array of parachurch ministries, push themselves into modes of ministry that are based more on cultural analysis and pragmatism than in a clear biblical and theological understanding of the nature and purpose of the church and the integrity of the Gospel.
The other problem with the “cutting edge” is that it really has no edge. The culture is moving at warp speed in so many different directions that absolute relevance is a mirage. Faithfulness to the Gospel produces the only relevance that matters. Of course, we use forms of language and mechanisms of communication that others can understand, but the basic structure of our ministry and the substance of our beliefs are unchanged and unchanging and still ever relevant.
Those who push themselves ever onward toward the cutting edge will find themselves falling off the edge.
Mark, thanks also for your beautiful testimony, “Why I Am a Southern Baptist.” It really is a wonderful piece that reflects your heart and witness. Lig, thanks for taking time out of your summer travels to join me on yesterday’s edition of the radio program. Thank you for your bold witness concerning the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).