A Relevant Church
The other day I came home from work a little earlier than usual. I went directly into the bedroom, sat down on the side of the bed, kicked off my shoes and out of habit grabbed the remote control for the television.
Automatically I punched in 2 numbers that would bring in one of five Christian stations our cable service provides. As the picture became clearer, I punched in the numbers once again, thinking I had accidentally reached MTV or another station like it. I had not. The station was in fact, one of the five Christian networks, the program was a (Christian) youth ministry.
My heart sank as the camera began to pan the band. The lead singer screamed unrecognizable lyrics into the microphone, while jerking his head at a break neck speed and jumping as high as he could. All the members of the group were covered with today's trendy tattoos and the shirtless lead guitar player bounced around the stage showing off his newly pierced nipples.
The show wasn't over yet. The camera then aimed towards the audience, not surprisingly, there was no worship or praise. Hands were raised though, but not in adoration to the King of Kings. The crowd's hands were raised passing a teenage girl over their heads through the audience.
I'm sorry, but the God of the Bible was no where around this demonstration of carnality.
A Deadly Deception
"The Church must become relevant!" This seems to be the battle cry of many ministries today, particularly youth ministries.
A popular Gospel singer has a program on our local Atlanta Christian station. During her program she introduced a local Christian Rap artist. In the introduction she began to upbraid all the pastors who disliked Rap music as a medium of ministry to Christian youth. The battle cry came forth. "If we are going to win the youth we have to become relevant. So get over it"!
A famous Evangelist's son was interviewed several years ago on the Larry King Show. After years of living a life away from the Lord, he is now in ministry himself. Wearing a short sleeved shirt, you could not help but notice that both of his arms were covered in tattoos. Larry King also noticed and asked him if he had received them while he was living away from God. Some, he confided were reminders of his past, but others he referred to as his "pastoral tattoos". They were the ones he had received since rededicating his life.
Again the battle cry. "If we are going to win the world we need to be relevant."
I find a severe problem in their interpretation of the definition for relevant.
What they are really saying is that when the world sees a Christian, they must see something that they can relate to or identify with in order to want to follow Christ.
Therefore, if it is our intention to win the world, we must dress like the world, we must mark and pierce our bodies like the world, we must compromise our anointed music so it sounds like the world's. So that the world can relate to us and not feel uncomfortable or their lifestyles threatened by us, we should be more like them. This is not being relevant, this is being spiritually ridiculous.
At best it is a demonstration of areas of our heart that have not been totally surrendered to Jesus Christ. They are not identifying with the Gospel, they are identifying with the worldly presentation, and missing the Gospel.
My wife is one of the most humble, and compassionate people I have ever met. Her life, through Christ, is totally given to ministering to people of all backgrounds.
What should I do, if, one day she would tell me that God had given her a burden for the prostitutes of Atlanta and that He had moved on her to begin a ministry to reach them for Christ?
Should I buy her a mini-skirt, tank-top and a wig? Maybe a tattoo on her shoulder or leg. Should I put her out on a street corner so the prostitutes would find her relevant and then they would be more likely to hear the Gospel message?
No, not in this lifetime! The prostitute would not see Jesus, only one of their own.
The same is true in what far too many youth ministries are attempting to accomplish with their worldliness rather than holiness.
I can hear the arguments now. "Pastor, God is a God that looks at the inside, not the outside!" Very true, no argument from me there. The problem is, what we have (or don't have) on the inside will always be reflected on the outside.
How can the world see Jesus in our tattoos? Scripture tells us, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:28)
Cuttings and tattoos were implemented to appease pagan deities. Even if that is not your intention for a tattoo today, two questions remain.
1. If the tattoo was implemented to appease a pagan deity, who is the god behind the origin of the tattoo? 2. How can Jesus get glory from an act that is forbidden in scripture? He can not. If we will tell the truth, we will have to admit that our tattoos only glorify our flesh. Jesus is not the God of the flesh, according to Galatians 5:16-21 the flesh is our enemy.
If God receives no glory from our tattoos, can He be glorified with our pierced noses, eyebrows, tongues, nipples, navels or any other part of our body? No!
Body piercing has it's origin, like tattooing, in heathenism and paganism. Anyone who has any background in missions work in the jungles of Africa or South America can confirm that. Yet we attempt to gain access to the throne of a holy God with offerings from the god of this world. It is impossible for Him to accept it.
As I was watching this program the noise escaped the bedroom and drew the attention of my wife's niece who was visiting with us. I asked her what style of music that was. Whether punk, acid rock or whatever. She described it as grunge, and asked why. I informed her that this was Christian music, on a Christian Youth program. Without hesitation she looked right at me and said, "Uncle Chuck, you're crazy! That's not Christian music"!
My wife's niece is not a believer, so she recognized it for what it was, the music of the world, performed in the style of the world, for the people of the world. There should be no surprise that the response of the audience was the same as if it had been performed in any secular venue.
The Style of the Music Doesn't Matter - It's in the Words
Holy Spirit ordained and anointed music and lyrics will always generate a response of worship and adoration.
I love all styles of Christian music. Whether the old hymns of the Church, Southern Gospel or Contemporary. I especially enjoy the music of Hillsong and the style of Lindell Cooley at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensecola, Florida.
Since there are so many different styles of music in today's Church, many will tell you that the style makes no difference, the worship is in the words. The words of the song is what makes it Christian. This is not true! I am not only the pastor of our church, I am also a musician and singer in the praise team. I know the importance of anointed music. I also know that the style in which the music is presented or the way the words of the song are delivered can have a great effect on the spirit or the flesh.
A perfect example is found in a documentary done over forty years ago on the life of former President John Kennedy. During a celebration in honor of the president's birthday, it had been arranged for the late actress Marilyn Monroe to sing Happy Birthday to the president. The actress took this generic little song that every one of us has sung to each other, at one time or another, and turned it into sleaze.
She never changed one word of the song, it was in her presentation. The way she dressed, the style she chose and her delivery changed the atmosphere in the room from one of honoring the President of the United States, to the lust of the flesh. This reaction can be accomplished in the presentation of any song.
We have taken music that is supposed to be an honor to the Lord, and be a path to worship, and presented it wrapped in paganism and flesh. This corrupted sacrifice of praise will always be rejected by Him.
Before every service our praise team meets for prayer. Every time we pray, one request remains constant. That is, as we give ourselves to the Lord, His Holy Spirit will empower and lead us into worship that is acceptable to Him. Our heart's desire is, that through His anointing, every note we play and every word we sing will bring Him honor and glory.
I believe I can speak for all of our praise team members when I say it is not our goal to become great Christian performers or religious entertainers. We want to honor God through His choice of style, and a presentation that is acceptable to Him.
God is very serious, in fact, He is deadly serious in what pertains to Him and the form in which we worship or come into His presence.
In Leviticus 10:1-3 we are told about the two sons of Aaron, the High Priest. "And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified..." (Leviticus 10:1-3)
The son's of Aaron may have gone into the temple with every intention of offering God an acceptable sacrifice. The procedure for the offering and it's presentation had already been established, but Nadab and Abihu did it their way.
The fire of the Lord had been kindled on the altar for the burnt offering and it was the priest's responsibility to tend to it. No commandment had been given for incense, but the brothers, for what ever reason, took it upon themselves to add it to the fire.
Now you have a mixture of spirit (God's way) and flesh (man's way). The two cannot co-exist.
Strange fire is our attempt to perform the works of God our way. It is always self-centered and self-serving and in the end will always be rejected by God. "That no flesh should glory in his presence." (1 Cor. 129)
God is so serious about how He is to be worshipped, as a punishment to Nadab and Abihu, as well as a warning to all those who would follow in the priest's office, he sent fire to devour them.
Our grunge band may have been singing all the right words, but those words were compromised with flesh and paganism. Compromise of God's established order and commands always presents an offering of strange fire.
The spirit of compromise and strange fire is not just limited to music. Multitudes of churches have succumbed to a cultural and social gospel.
The Seeker Friendly churches have eliminated any portion of the Gospel that some would find offensive. Since Jesus is called, in scripture, the Rock of Offense, when His name is used it is probably in theory only, justifying their disobedience and being ashamed of the Jesus Christ of the pure Gospel. "...but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient..." (1 Peter 2:7-8) "As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:33)
We seem to think that we have to make the people more comfortable and feel more acceptable in our churches by never addressing sin, holiness or accountability to God. Friend, this is not being relevant.
What Does it Mean to be Relevant
If it is truly our intention to become relevant in order to spread the Gospel, we must understand that being relevant does not mean that we have to present a Gospel that people can identify with. The world cannot identify with the pure Gospel because they are spiritually dead. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63)On another Christian program a local Christian Rap performer was interviewed. The host was excited over the guest's style of music because viewers had called in praising the fact that the program was now playing music that they could identify with.
The problem is that they were not identifying with the Gospel (the Word), they were identifying with the worldly style of music. "...the flesh profiteth nothing..."The word relevant means, "Having to do with the matter at hand." (The American Heritage Dictionary p.696)
Jesus had a mission, He reveals His mission in Luke 19:10. "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
The matter at hand was that His people had turned their backs on Him and through the teachings of the religious hierarchy of Israel, were now following the traditions of men, rather than the Word of God.
The matter at hand was that His people's sin had broken their fellowship and relationship with God.
The matter at hand was that if something wasn't done His people were doomed for an eternity of torment in Hell.
His message to His people had to be one having to do with the matter at hand. It was a simple one word directive from the creator of the universe; repent!
From the prostitute to Pharisee - repent! From the leper to the Levite - repent! From the tax collector to the teacher - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Not a very palatable message for the comfort driven church of our day. Nonetheless, it is the only one that will produce Godly change in a lost world and a compromising church. Jesus' message to the Church continues through the New Testament into the book of Revelation. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:" (Revelation 3:15-17)
The Church of Laodicea is a church of compromise. It is lukewarm, a mixture of hot and cold. Like today, a mixture of man's way and God's way, a combination of flesh and spirit. The mixture of the two cannot ever expect God's anointing. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; and God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
There is no possible way for any Christian to clean up, dress up or rearrange the world, the flesh, an idol or a demon to make it acceptable to God.
It's like coming home for supper to have a wonderful meal waiting for you, only to have it served on the inside of a filthy garbage can lid. It doesn't matter how good it looks, or smells. We would not care how much trouble the cook went through to prepare it, or the sincerity of the cook's heart. It would not get eaten!
There is a story of the famous evangelist Smith Wigglesworth being invited to a BBQ and asked by the host to pray the blessing over the meal. He refused, because the main course was a roasted pig. His explanation was simple, "How can I bless something that God has already cursed?"
Our compromise may have gained us numbers, along with newer and larger buildings. It may have even given us the sensation of having finally arrived and achieved a successful ministry. Yet Jesus warns us that since we built it on a foundation of compromise it is, "...wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." (Revelation 3:17)
A relevant Church is not trying to get people to make decisions for Christ. The preaching of the pure Gospel brings about dedication to Christ. A compromised gospel may produce a reformed drug addict or alcoholic, but the purity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will produce a transformed addict. That's the foremost purpose of the Gospel! Its purpose is not to cover over man's sin with a veneer of religion. The pure Gospel has the power to uncover the deepest depths of our hearts, revealing every sin and offense to God, then to wash it clean in the blood of Jesus Christ. God isn't satisfied with just a changed person, He wants us converted, He desires to make us a new creature in Christ Jesus. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." ( 2 Cor. 5:17)
If we will allow Jesus, through His Word and Holy Spirit to expose us, clean us and change us from the inside, then and only then, will the outside fall into place.
As we allow Him to change us, and as we move closer to Him intimately, our love for the world and the things of the world will grow weaker and weaker.
I believe, one of the darkest sins of our time is that we have raised up a generation of unconverted church members.
They have gone to the altar, asked God to forgive them, joined the church but have never shook off their love for the world. They have never allowed the Holy Spirit to change them. Jesus describes this group in Matthew's Gospel.
"For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should be converted..." (Matt 13:5)
If we have truly repented, it means our minds have been changed, we think differently. Godly repentance always leads to conversion. This is where our lifestyle changes. Conversion is always the byproduct of a truly repentant heart.
In the third chapter of the book of Acts, Luke records Peter, James and John encountering the crippled beggar on their way into the temple. As the cripple lifted his cup in anticipation of maybe receiving alms from them, Peter declared, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I unto thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." (Acts 3:6)
This miracle stopped the service as everyone went to see this once crippled beggar walking, leaping and praising God.
Peter wasted no time with this ready made congregation and began to preach Jesus. In verse nineteen he proclaims, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out..." (Acts 3:19)
We must repent (changed thinking) and be converted (changed lifestyle) this is what Peter is telling the people.
The Apostle Paul says the same thing to the church at Rome. "And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:2)
The word transformed also means changed, but it is more direct. It is translated from the Greek word metamorphoo which is the word we get the English word metamorphosis. This is how we describe the transformation of the caterpillar from the time it closes itself in it's cocoon, until it reenters the world as a beautiful butterfly.
The American Heritage Dictionary gives us this definition: "A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function." This must be the outward evidence of any born-again individual. However, this transformation was not evident in the performance presented by these bands.
A Relevant Church Needs
As a pastor I have learned that it is not so much what I do, as it is how determined I am to finding the will of God and doing what He wants me to do - His way.
The church of today has become program oriented. We have something for everyone and everything. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a program. The problem is, we have become dependent on them, and have come to believe that they are our answer to church growth.
Most programs have enabled us to bring in numbers, but very little else. It seems that we have reversed the fundamental purpose for a program. I would think that it would function to win souls and then train and mature them.
Instead of depending on the Lord to offer the people what He wants, leadership has endeavored to find out what the people want, and then offered it to them in our programs. It seems to be evident that many want the world and the things of the world because they have never been truly converted.
In the book of Ezra we are told of Cyrus, the King of Persia being moved on by God to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and the temple of God. Seventy years earlier God's people had been overtaken by King Nebuchadnezzar and led captive into Babylon. Now, through the prayers, fasting and repentance of many, God was opening the doors for His people to return home to serve Him.
A decree had gone out into all the land of the king's decision. God through His men had organized builders and laborers to rebuild. He had reestablished the line of the Levitical priests, the sacrifices were re-instituted, and everything was set to be as it was before their captivity.
Everything was going according to plan until chapter nine. Ezra got the bad news that not all of God's people wanted deliverance. "Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites." (Ezra 9:1)
Many of the Jews had intermarried into these pagan tribes. Although still Jews, they had assimilated into the false religions and worship of demons through the teachings of their new families while still trying to live as a Jew.
The same is still true today. There is a Christian denomination who will allow pagan converts to mix both Christianity and paganism in their style of worship. If you attend one of their services you will witness a dedication to both Christ and idols. The denomination is cold, dead, sterile and spiritually powerless. In order to increase their numbers they chose a philosophy of compromise.
After hearing the news, Ezra, like Moses and Daniel before him, broke before the Lord. "Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away... And at the evening sacrifices I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God. And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." (Ezra 9:4-6)
A truly relevant pastor will see, then he and his staff will address the people's disobedience through complete humility, and repentance to God for the congregation's sin. Even though they may not be a participant in their iniquity, they will always identify themselves with it.
Pride and arrogance have always been an enemy of God, but He will always respond to a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And He did respond to His relevant prophet. "Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, There assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore. And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to law." (Ezra 10:1-3)
This will always be the result of relevant prayer, and repentance, by relevant leaders in relevant churches. These Spirit filled churches know that to win the world, they must present a Gospel that has the supernatural power to transform a person's life. They will never depend on the acceptance of the world to determine their relevancy, or offend a Holy God with a sacrifice of flesh or worldliness. It very well stands to reason that if the world finds our churches relevant - God does not.
"Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord."1 Corinthians 6:17-18