As Stuart Briscoe looked out at the church landscape 10 years ago, he had the following to say in a Leadership Magazine interview.
“You need to understand that I am 75 years of age and have been active-and still am-in ministry for more than 55 years. Your emphasis is “the future of the church”, but my first question is,”Are we giving careful attention to the 2000 years of it’s history?” How did we get here? What did the “cloud of witnesses” do right? What are the non-negotiables that cannot and should not be changed? What is good in “old” as well as what is “novel” in innovation? G.K. Chesterton said, “Never remove a fence until you know why it was erected in the first place.” The future of the church needs to be explored in the light of what we do know about its future; the rest is speculation. What do we know? “I will build My church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
Although it may sound like it, I am not resistant to change and regard it necessary on occasion in a changing world. But I differentiate between “style” and “substance”. The former can change. The latter must not. “Has the church affected culture?” Take a trip around many parts of Europe and see if you can find a city without a cathedral or a village without a church, and take a look at the U.S. founding documents. The answer is obvious. But the big issue in both these instances is that those who built the cathedrals and those who wrote the founding documents were not seeking to be “relevant”; they were showing the relevance of an unchanging truth to those who needed to know it.
My concern about many attempts to be relevant to contemporary culture is that we seem to trade some of our uniqueness for acceptance, and in so doing barter some of our faithfulness for relevance. We don’t need to make truth relevant. We need to show and explain and apply it in all its Spirit-empowered relevance and see transformation happen.” Stuart Briscoe, minister at large, Elmbrook Church, Brookfield, Wisconsin.
I love the wisdom and truth of what he said. We want to be relevant, but more than that we want to be faithful. And we might want to look around today, ten years after he wrote those words, and ask ourselves, “What has our becoming relevant, cool, hip, and contemporary as a church achieved for us?” Churches are dying. The percentages of those trusting Christ, those attending church, those who believe in absolute truth, and those who call themselves Christian are all way, way down. We have not produced a generation of Super Spiritual Christians. Instead, we have the unholiness of over 90 percent of those men who do profess Christ saying they view pornography on the internet. In the words of Jim Cymbala in his book Spirit Rising,
“Some might say, “Yeah, but we’ve improved upon that New Testament style (there’s that word again) of Christianity.” If that’s true, I want to see the spiritual fruit our improvements have produced. People may have mocked those first, “unsophisticated” Christians, but thousands got saved in the first four chapters of Acts. The Word of God was treasured. The churches were filled with sacrificial love. A holy excitement pervaded the atmosphere. Have we really improved upon that?”
Of course we haven’t!
Be at Charity tomorrow at 11 am. I will be talking about a lot of these things as we continue in Hebrews 9. It will be all “substance”, “truth”, and hand the style! God bless you!