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Church Relevancy and Rapture Speculation Mean Nothing when Compared with the Message and Method for Proclaiming the Good News

May 27, 2011

Wow.

Check out the homepages of these major church denominations:

Methodists: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1353935/k.4713/Our_mission_is_to_make_disciples_of_Jesus_Christ_for_the_transformation_of_the_world.htm
Episcopals: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/index.htm
Presbyterians: http://www.pcusa.org/
Catholics: http://www.catholic.org/
Southern Baptists: http://www.sbc.net/

It is easy to see where most of their advertising and marketing efforts go.

They try to prove they are relevant by showing how they help out in natural disasters, or how well they use technology, or how it is possible to believe in Christianity “Plus” (Christianity Plus Science, Christianity Plus Gay Rights, Christianity Plus Relativism, New Agism, etc).

Now, I’m not out to specifically knock church relevance itself, or Christianity “Plus” – because I also believe that you can have Christianity Plus Science – and that Science actually supports, backs up, and verifies much of Christian truth and the Bible. But what I am out to knock is the fact that the church’s PURSUIT of “relevance” in this modern culture seems to have taken the place of their prime directive (Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”)

Be Relevant? You mean, be like everyone else?

Jesus never instructed his disciples to go out and “be relevant” and “do good works among the people so that they know you are relevant.” He said, “Go and make them like you. Make them Christians. Tell them the good news of forgiven sins and eternal life. Teach them to obey me, and baptize them.” Sometimes, in the pursuit of relevance, Christians forget their message. Rather than coming outright with it, “Jesus forgives sin, cancels the debt of guilt, and gives you a new, free and righteous life – eternally,” sometimes, they seem quicker to say things like, “We care about others, help out in times of need, respond in natural disasters, add witty banter to conversations, understand how important it is to get your life in order, want to help you become successful,” and so on.

But honestly, how does any of that distinguish the Christian church from every other charitable or religious organization out there? Answer: It doesn’t. Is it any wonder then that many people see no major difference between Christianity and anything else out there? People don’t need to be members of a Christian church to give charitably, help others, get help for their own life pursuits, or find friends. What does a Christian church have that they can’t find elsewhere, in an organization that better jives with their personalities? Or so the arguments tend to go.

The problem the church should address is not worldy relevance; the answer is not social justice. There are plenty of secular organizations out there that do just that. The problem the church should address is sinful lives that lead to death; the answer is (and always will be) Jesus alone (John 14:6). And that may not totally jive with what the world wants all the time (John 15:18-19).

Message, Method, or Madness?

Take it from Pastor Harold Camping – the man who incorrectly predicted the rapture – twice. His message didn’t jive with what the world wanted, but it was crystal clear: “Jesus is coming back on May 21st! Prepare yourselves!”

While the whole Judgment Day/Rapture message was pretty irrelevant, Phil Cooke points out that his method was probably the most relevant.

Here is a fringe church, largely unknown before this event, that literally became the “talk of the town” in every town in the U.S., and even across the globe (my students in Korea caught the joke after I said, “I took a trip to heaven this weekend.”). It made front page news in the LA Times, was the top story on CNN, and was one of the most tweeted topics on Twitter during that time.

Why? Phil Cooke writes: “Because Harold Camping and his followers really believe their message. When that happens, you’re not afraid to spend money, creativity, passion, and energy to make sure your story impacts people’s lives. It’s just a shame that it’s the wrong message.”

It may have been the wrong message, but it got out there, it was heard, and it made people talk and think. Which is honestly more than can be said of many Christian churches these days. Camping and his church preached their message with urgency, passion, and conviction. But too many churches (and Christians) these days get so comfortable in themselves that they lose the urgency with which the original apostles preached the Good News (Acts 2:38-40 – Peter literally pleaded with the people there).

What if the Rapture isn’t so much a timing thing as it is a fulfillment of Scripture thing?

But there is one more thing Harold Camping got right: Jesus will return at some point, and the worldwill end. (Even Science agrees with that last one). But, as many Christians have been quick to point out, no one knows when that will be, not Jesus, not the angels in heaven, no one – only God the Father knows that (Matthew 24:36).

Let me end with another verse (about the end) that hasn’t received enough publicity as of late: “Matthew 24:14: And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony toall nations, and then the end will come.” It’s always been my personal conviction that the end won’t come until this verse comes to pass. The gospel must be preached to the whole world, to all nations, and then the end will come.

So, rather than struggling for cultural relevancy, and rather than concentrating on the End Times and the Rapture, Christians ought to spend much more time, energy, and money on the fulfillment of this verse – on striving to reach the many unreached people groups that remain in the world – particularly those in the 10/40 Window in Asia.

Don’t let the Message and the Method get lost in the Madness

If Christians really want to see Jesus’ face on this earth again before they die; if they really want to experience the Rapture (rather than merely speculating about it); then they need to be willing to help spread the Good News to the far corners of the earth. And where Western missionaries are not welcomed, native missionaries are already being raised up and prepared – and Gospel for Asia is one excellent way for affluent Westerners to help carry out the Great Commission even to the “least of these.” And before “all nations” have heard the Good News, I really doubt that we have much to worry about concerning the End of the World.

The Message of the church (John 3:16, 1 John 4:10), and the Method of proclamation (Acts 4:31, Acts 28:31 – to proclaim this truth boldly, urgently, and firstly) must never take a back seat to Stuff Christians Like or Worrying About the Rapture.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 28, 2011 12:12 am

    Thanks for the quote. One thing that supports your post is that chasing relevance is the one sure thing that will make your irrelevant…

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