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Is the Church Irrelevant?
By Jacob Riley
“The church is irrelevant.”
That is was what I was told recently when discussing the reason that so many young people no longer feel the need to attend church. Though shocking and perhaps offensive, this statement needs to be evaluated before it is thoughtlessly condemned. Is there a grain of truth to it?
The most important answer is that the world does not get to declare how “relevant” the eternal body of Christ is. We, the church, have to affirm who we are. As Christ’s blood-bought bride, we will always be relevant because we have the one solution for the world’s greatest need: the gospel. Once we are secure in our understanding of who we are in Christ, we must remember that our relevance comes from Him and His message, not from ourselves or the things we do.
An Eternal Body
The people who call “the church” irrelevant need to understand that they may use a much broader word than they intend. “The church” is more than just a building on their street corner, and it is more than the Christians they know and more than a national denomination. The church was before those things and will exist long after them. The church is the group meeting on Sunday morning on Main Street in a small American town and is also the group of believers huddled together for prayer in North Korea. The church is the sweet-spirited barista working with joy in their heart in urban America and it is the hard-working missionary preaching in India and the worker at an orphanage in Uganda. It is all people everywhere, and at all times, who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord.
Saying all of those people are “irrelevant” is a broad condemnation. When there are no longer lost souls to evangelize, no longer poor mouths to feed, and no longer sins to rebuke, the church will remain eternally as Christ’s chosen people.
The church’s message will always be relevant as well. Regardless of how the world views the church, we have been entrusted with the gospel, the only solution to humanity’s root problems.
We do ourselves spiritual harm when we allow others to tell us that our message does not matter. Sadly, we live in a day in which much of the church has believed that. The gospel is the only way to be right with God and the means that God has ordained are the only legitimate ways to advance His gospel, but we have fallen for the temptation of allowing the world to dictate what is necessary to be noticed. We chase after what we think will gain approval and move away from remembering who we are before God and the message with which He has entrusted us.
It’s subtle, though. It appears when we change what the church does in practice, or what the church believes and preaches, based on what is popular. We are called to reach the world, but we’re not allowed to change the message, whether it’s popular or not.
Adjusting Christ and His good news an easy trap to fall into if we begin to disbelieve who God is. This disbelief begins by simply failing to constantly affirm the biblical truth of His character. Once we doubt who God is, it is a short slide to doubting who we are.
We are Christ’s, and He has pledged to keep us for eternity (John 10:28). We have the Word of God that will not return to Him void. Who we are and the gospel we proclaim will always be suited to the needs of everyone young and old.
Doing Irrelevant Things?
There is, however, a possibility which we must acknowledge: Though the church as the body of Christ will always be relevant, this does not mean that everything it does will be always relevant and necessary. If we focus on non-essentials and work only for our own interests, then we will find that on a small scale we are working to justify our own existence.
There are too many instances to name, but we tend to allow causes that are related to the church or Christianity to become ends in and of themselves. If this happens enough, then we’ll end up miles away from our original purpose and become obsessed with merely one aspect of a form of godliness “but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). Anything we may do to aid in following Christ and advancing the Kingdom may sneak in and become the “main thing.” Everything needs to feed into making sure that the Christ of the Bible is clearly proclaimed as Lord day in and day out.
The church need not worry about its place in the world because it belongs to the One who controls the world’s destiny from now until eternity. As long as He is central and we strive to make His gospel known, we need not fear becoming “irrelevant.”
However, when Christ Himself is not the end, we may find ourselves shouting an empty message to a world that does not want or need to listen.