Much is being said to the effect that the Church is no longer being relevant to the world in which we live. Only recently I heard a prominent entertainer say that the Church has no meaning to young people because it has no answers, either for their personal problems or for the problems of the world.

Where this is actually the case, may not the reason be that the modern Church is abandoning its God-ordained role in the world to become involved in areas to which it is not called and for which its leaders are not qualified?

The Church is truly relevant only when it faithfully witnesses to a message—a message from God to man; when it gives itself to the preaching, teaching, and living of Christ, the one and only Mediator between God and man; when its primary concern is to point men to God’s Son as Saviour from sin and Lord of life.

It becomes utterly irrelevant when it preaches a Christ who is not the Christ of the Bible but has been divested of his supernatural and miraculous nature; when its primary concern is with the condition of the Prodigal in the Far Country, trying to make him happy, comfortable, and prosperous rather than to bring him home to his Father; when its leadership has shifted from a spiritual task to one that is largely political, economic, and social.

The Church is rendered ineffectual and irrelevant when it cuts loose from the anchor of faith in the Holy Scriptures and substitutes for that faith an attitude of criticism of divine revelation, setting up its programs with little or no reference to the plain teachings of that revelation. This becomes an ever increasing problem as seminaries turn out more and more men who have no idea of preaching the Gospel but rather use their training and calling for secular ends.

What could work more against effective leadership than catering to the changing foibles of a “lost generation” instead of offering them a faith to follow, a living Christ to believe in?

I am convinced that the turmoil among young people today has come about largely because we elders have failed them and the Church has failed them. Our homes, churches, and schools are so materialistically oriented, our outlook so fixed on the immediate situation in the world, that young people are crying in vain for something to satisfy their spiritual hunger, though they are not sure what it is they want.

We have lost them in the home by failing to place Christ at the center of every phase of life, and in the Church by increasingly emphasizing this world and its problems without reference to the solutions found alone in Christ. Our schools have become entirely secular and, under the guise of a separation of education from all religious influences, have in fact become hotbeds of anti-God and anti-Christian teaching.

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In shifting the emphasis from the central to peripheral and secondary matters, the Church seems to have forgotten that it is possible to gain the whole world and yet lose one’s soul. It has apparently forgotten that man does not live by bread alone, and that God has faithfully promised to supply every material need if we will put him first in our lives.

In its search for contemporary relevance, let the Church acknowledge that neither science nor human achievement in any realm has changed the nature of man one whit. The human heart is the same today as in the day of Noah, when “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11), or the time when our Lord himself observed that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man” (Matt. 15:19, 20a).

The Church must face up to the question of sin in the human heart and God’s remedy for that sin; it must abandon the attempt to wash the outside of the cup with no thought of the rottenness inside.

Man and this world must be viewed in the light of eternity. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we must “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

To put it as clearly as possible: The Church is relevant when it recognizes its spiritual calling, message, and mission, and irrelevant when it attempts to become an agency for social reform.

To the immediate rejoinder that the Church belies its calling if it is not concerned about the plight of men enmeshed in poverty, blighted by discrimination, and suffering from the age-old problem of ‘man’s inhumanity to man, let me say that it is the Christian’s duty to be concerned about these things and to use every legitimate means to help. A Christian without compassion in his heart is unworthy of the name he bears. A Christian who does not translate compassion into works of mercy is like those who passed by on the other side in our Lord’s story of the Good Samaritan.

But Christians do not just happen. They are people who have come into a vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ. By accepting him as Saviour and making him Lord of life, they themselves become “salt” in a festering society and “light” in a darkened world. This is the Church’s primary task.

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The social order will never be changed by pronouncements of church courts; nor should the Church, in the name of the Church, hope to change it merely through programs of reform.

It is impossible to effect any great or lasting change in society without first changing the hearts of those who compose it. And who but the Church has the necessary message of personal redemption? What other organization is called to summon men to be reconciled to God through faith in his Son and then to be reconciled one to another through the living presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives?

But one is forced to the reluctant conclusion that many who would speak for the Church no longer hold to those basic matters of the Christian faith that have made it separate and distinct from the world order. The transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, which our Lord called being born again, centers in and depends on faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God—crucified, buried, and risen from the dead.

Also involved is the question of conviction of sin, repentance for sin, and conversion. Why is so little said about repentance today, even though Jesus made it a prerequisite for salvation? In fact, why is so little being said about salvation? The only possible explanation is that many who are speaking for the Church no longer believe in the relevance of Jesus Christ for man’s predicament.

Where the Church is irrelevant to the world and its needs, the reason is that it must be it has lost its vision and its message.


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