The church, relevance and worldliness

We as Christians no doubt want to see sinners repent and believe, and our churches grow in grace.  We should take the Great Commission seriously (Matt 28).  We should support our church in missions and evangelism.  We should always be ready to witness to our faith when asked (1 Peter 3:15).

God’s sure and effectual means of converting sinners and building Christians up in holiness and comfort through faith is the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word (cf. Romans 10; WSC 89).  In other words, the church grows through the Word and the Spirit.  However, the ministry of the Word and Sacraments is certainly not attractive and impressive by the world’s standards.  In fact, the preaching of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).  As an otherworldly institution and as a pilgrim people in this present age, the church is to go about its ministry in counter-cultural ways – ways that are foreign and nonsensical to the world.  We are to resist the temptation to be like the world in order to make Jesus relevant, as if Jesus were a product or commodity to be marketed and sold.  The church is to resist the spirit of this age and, therefore, what the world values, things like: instant gratification; prioritizing feelings; unfettered individualism; the politicization of everything; self-help; the winner; good looks; therapy; celebrity; entertainment; brand marketing; being hip; moral reformation; big crowds; popularity, etc.

Think of the Israelites with the golden calf; the idolatry of God’s people in Canaan; the thick-headed disciples on the road to Golgotha… We are no different in our tendency to be dazzled by the world and its allurements.  But, Paul exhorts us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

The Word of God makes us and the world relevant to its dramatic story.  The Bible tells us that we all fell into sin in the Garden of Eden (Romans 3).  The playing field is leveled.  We are all losers in Adam.  But by putting our faith in Jesus Christ – the second Adam – our sins can be forgiven and we can find peace with God (Romans 5).  To believe the gospel and to continue to believe the gospel is a work of God through his Word by His Spirit.  Nothing that the world values, nothing that works in the world can make Christ’s kingdom grow.

We don’t have to be wiser than God and be like the world in order to win the world.  We don’t have to spice up the Bible as if it were not powerful and sufficient enough in and of itself.

Consider Paul’s model of faith: “And I, when I cam to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2.2)

The church in the best of the confessional Reformed tradition has historically sought to be counter-cultural and otherworldly in its ministry for the sake of the gospel, because this is the picture of the church painted for us in the Word of God.

The following are links to some of the main Reformed and Presbyterian confessions, which include Scripture references (please note that I do not necessarily endorse everything on the websites that host the confessions/catechisms listed):

Heidelberg Catechism (HC)

Belgic Confession (BC)

Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)

Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC)

Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC)

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