Reclaiming Relevance: The Timeless Significance of the Church of Jesus Christ in Today’s World
13th Sunday after Pentecost – 8/27/2023 | Matthew 16:13-20 ESV
Our Message, Our Rock
Is the Church of Jesus Christ still relevant in our modern era? Can our congregation provide something meaningful to our community? These are crucial questions that demand careful consideration. In the present landscape, these queries have become increasingly important, as multiple surveys consistently underscore the prevailing sentiment that both insiders and outsiders of the church feel disconnected from their lives. This sense of detachment is highlighted by the claims of numerous intellectual figures, including certain liberal theologians, who argue that the progress of humanity has made traditional religious beliefs and practices obsolete.
Navigating Relevance in Changing Times
Within the Christian community, responses to these concerns have been varied. Some advocate for adapting our approach to align more closely with contemporary values. They propose that we must evolve our message to resonate with modern sensibilities. This entails embracing a shift towards a positive and practical narrative, moving away from discussions of guilt and sin, and placing a stronger emphasis on God's unconditional love. In addition, proponents of this viewpoint suggest addressing immediate life challenges, like navigating divorce or achieving personal and financial success. They recommend replacing conventional religious practices with workshops and community-building events and substituting solemn liturgy with engaging and celebratory gatherings.
The Balancing Act: Enhancing Relevance without Sacrificing Identity
However, a fundamental question arises: Will these changes genuinely enhance the church's relevance or inadvertently lead to its irrelevance? The danger lies in turning congregations into mere reflections of current trends, making them temporary rather than timeless. Focusing exclusively on the present moment, on "what's happening now," risks rendering the church irrelevant when these trends eventually fade away. The shift from being "Churches of What's Happening Now" to "Churches of What Was, but is No More" becomes inevitable when the emphasis is solely on staying in sync with the current fashion.
Preserving Distinct Identity in a Changing World
For the Christian Church, our Synod, and our congregation to remain relevant, preserving the unique identity of being followers of Christ is of utmost importance. To hold significance in our world, we must offer something distinctive, invaluable, and unattainable elsewhere. The essence of the Christian message, rooted in the gift of God's grace through Christ, sets us apart. This is reflected in Jesus referring to His Church as "The Salt of the Earth" and a "Light on a Hill," highlighting the transformative impact and distinctiveness that arise from adhering to our foundational message.
Embracing the Counter-Cultural Identity
Maintaining authenticity requires embracing our counter-cultural identity. Throughout history, the Christian Church has often stood in opposition to prevailing norms. The liturgy, steeped in centuries of tradition, has consistently appeared foreign to the world. The Gospel itself challenges societal norms and has, at times, been viewed as subversive. Our strength lies in its counter-cultural message that transcends trends and addresses fundamental human needs.
The Power of Unwavering Truth
Strength doesn't come from appearances, programs, or activities, but from its unwavering confession of the truth. The heart of our relevance resides in the enduring truth about Jesus Christ, His divinity, and His redemptive work. This confession solidifies the Church as a pillar of truth in a world filled with uncertainty. While our message might seem unconventional, it is precisely this distinction that draws people to Christ.
Proclaiming the Eternal Truth
In a society marked by idol worship and conflicting beliefs, Jesus' age-old question to His apostles, "Who do you say that I am?" remains relevant. Peter's profound confession, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God," remains the foundation upon which the Church is built. This unshakable truth doesn't stem from human wisdom but is divinely revealed. Our relevance hinges on firmly holding onto this confession and fearlessly proclaiming it.
Transcending Time with the Eternal Message
This confession not only shapes the Church's identity but also the identity of our congregation. It transcends events and gatherings, constituting the proclamation of the truth that saves souls. The measure of the Church's relevance is not its alignment with fleeting societal trends but its faithfulness in heralding the Gospel. In a world yearning for answers, the Church's relevance is derived from imparting the eternal truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This confession isn't limited to the past or present; it spans all time and generations.
Bearing the Keys to Heaven
As we persist in confessing the truth of Christ, we hold the keys to heaven. Our relevance isn't determined by societal approval but by the transformative power of the Gospel. In a world hungry for meaning, purpose, and salvation, our fidelity to the truth of Christ ensures our everlasting relevance. Let us continue to be the living stones upholding the foundation of the Church, and may our relevance radiate through the timeless message of salvation.
Beyond Trends: Offering Eternal Hope
The relevance of the Christian Church and our congregation goes beyond social events or cultural trends. Our true significance is rooted in the unchanging truth of Jesus Christ, which provides salvation and meaning to a world in need. This confession isn't just a matter of personal belief; it's a powerful proclamation with the potential to change lives and shape societies. Through our loyalty to this confession, we become bearers of the keys to heaven, offering the hope of salvation to all who listen and believe. In a world that often seems adrift, the Church's relevance lies in its unwavering commitment to the eternal truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.