If the church becomes like the world, then the world won’t see the church as a beacon of hope amidst the gloom of a sinful life. This was the basis of what Bishop Sutton shared with the class this evening in providing his introduction to the topic of liturgy and worship. If I was more of an outspoken and vocal individual I would have jumped up with a hearty amen and a rousing round of applause. This has been a soap-box issue for me for the last few years and it is one of the major draws of the Anglican church for Shanna and me.
What about being relevant, you might ask. Relevancy is currently a common banner cry for many churches. Just look at the billboards proclaiming the merits of a local church with the word “relevant” placed centermost on the placard. I find it interesting that the more churches buy into the lure of the relevant-centric ecclesiology of our modern culture the less interest people in our culture have in the church. We often blame such a decline on the media, the political system, or some other influence outside of the church, but I think the blame can be placed squarely on a general movement in modern churches to pursue cultural relevance above all else.
There is a two-fold problem with thinking that the church needs to reflect the culture to become relevant to that culture. The first is the faulty thinking that somehow the truth of the Bible isn’t relevant enough on its own but needs to be aided by the schemes and mechanizations of depraved humanity. A professor of mine asked a poignant question once when he asked, “are we supposed to apply the Bible to our lives or our lives to the Bible?” This is a key question. It is us who need to change and adapt to the unchanging truth of God. Unfortunately, we often think of the Bible as a book that needs to be approached so as to draw out meaning for modern humanity from the cultural depths in which it is mired. Rather than this, we need to approach Holy Scripture with the realization that it is I who needs to be pulled from the cultural bog that festers in every corner of this sin-soaked world.
The second is that we forget that we belong to another Kingdom, a Divine Kingdom, a Kingdom not of this world. As a result, we are merely sojourners in this world as we journey through life. We are called to be counter-cultural as we live our lives in a way that demonstrates that being aligned to this Kingdom provides an enviable alternative to being aligned to the kingdom of the world. When the church pursues cultural relevance as one of its highest callings it quickly loses one of the major components of its identity. It was Christ himself who prayed for His church as it was in this world but not to be of this world just prior to praying that they would be sanctified by the steadfast truth of Almighty God (John 17:16-17).
Realize that I’m addressing this in general terms. Much can and should be written to nuance this issue with the necessity of presenting the truth of God and the worship of Christ’s Church in a language and cultural idiom that is recognizable (hence the translation of Holy Scripture into the indigenous tongues of so many people worldwide). But there is a stark difference between adapting the truth of Scripture and the worship of the church so that is understood by the culture and changing it so it is acceptable to that culture. A great gulf exists between adapting for the purpose of understanding and changing for the purpose of acceptance. When it is changed with the motivation of being accepted then the focal point becomes the fickle culture rather than the Unchanging God; we risk falling victim to the snare of which St. Paul warned of worshipping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25).
This whole concept is one of the primary elements that drew my wife and I to the Anglican Way. When you enter into traditional liturgical worship you are forced to submit yourself to the covenant community of which Christ is head and, in so far as the liturgy is rooted in Holy Scripture, to the Word of God. The result of this process is that my wife and I feel like we worshipped God for the first time once we began attending a liturgical church (more on this in future posts). I challenge you to shed the call of being relevant to the culture and embrace a life that is submissive to Christ even though it is contrary to the cultural perspective.
“General Prayer for the Church” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (page 37):
O GRACIOUS Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldst be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.