In Dallas Willard’s Book Renovation of the Heart he talks about the confused state of the world and how that confusion (about life, spirituality, purpose, etc) that surrounds us can so easily influence our own thinking that spiritual transformation becomes difficult. He goes on to say that the church has not adequately addressed people’s confusion. Here is what he wrote,
“Frankly, our visible Christian world is not too far from helter-skelter (confusion) with reference to its understanding of the makeup of the person and therefore of the spiritual life and spiritual formation. We need to access the fullness of biblical teachings on these matters. We suffer far too much from the influence of a surrounding culture that thrives on confusion…This may seem like a harsh thing to say about our ‘Christian world,’ and I am sorry to say it; but the issues here are too important to mince words.
Accordingly, much of what we do in Christian circles with very good intention–hoping, we say, to see steady, significant growth in Christlikeness–simply makes no sense and leads nowhere so far as substantive spiritual formation is concerned. What a brutal thing to say! But we need to recognize this, or show why it is not the case.”, 44
In a couple of sentences Willard has summed up one of my greatest frustrations with modern Christianity. We have grown to assume a comfortable position of relevance in a world that views us as increasingly irrelevant. Now in some ways it is to be expected that the world hold the church at arm’s length. It did it to Jesus and Jesus said the world will hate us because of Him. But what I fear is not so much that we are relevant in developing the souls of those around us but the world doesn’t get it. I fear that we actually have lost much of our relevance and the outcome is a decreased impact on the world and community all around us. Our salt is losing its saltiness and our light is growing dimmer and dimmer.
There are several reasons I think this is true. We aren’t reaching people like we used to. If there was ever a kingdom that shouldn’t be in decline it is the church. We have the answers to life! And yet the Western church is steadily declining. What is more people have stopped investing their time in ways that advance the kingdom and give more and more of their time to distractions. For instance, we aren’t studying one-on-one with people like we used to. Instead we have gotten passive. How many hours do we spend watching TV compared to how many hours we spend nurturing the souls of our children and others in our lives (please realize, I am speaking to myself as much as anyone else here)? How do our actions show our priorities and are the priorities we find godly? Have we gotten lazy?
I think there is a dangerous assumption that floats around that as long as the doors are open we are relevant. Can we prove it? I think the church today has some parallels to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3. Do we have a reputation for being alive? Is that reputation founded on the truth or like the church in Sardis is it a reputation that is not based on the fact. Christ told them that they had a reputation of being alive but the spiritual reality was they were actually dead (Rev 3:1). Maybe we need to hear Christ’s call to the church in Sardis again today, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Rev 3:2-3).
There is hope. I believe more and more people are realizing this and are moving to action. Jesus told the church in Sardis there was still hope for them, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 3:4-6). Jesus tells them that all is not lost. There is still hope. There are still those who keep the light burning, keep the salt salty and are still strong in the faith. The call remains to the rest, “Wake up!” and obey what Christ commands of us. I think we need to hear those words today just as much as those in Sardis needed to hear it then.
I have so much hope for the future of Christianity but I think we run a great danger when we assume relevance rather than demonstrate it. We can’t assume any of our ministries are relevant just because they exist, have an official title and are run by a deacon, elder or minister. It is important that we demonstrate our own effectiveness and relevance to the broader mission of the church.
So what do you think? Am I just paranoid or have you had similar thoughts? If this is accurate what do you believe the church can do to regain and maintain its relevance in the transforming work of Christ on the world?