“WE MAKE CHURCH RELEVANT, NOT RELIGIOUS” reads the marquee of the popular church down the road from my school. I drive by it everyday on my way home. The content of the all caps sign makes me think “What does that even mean?”, “What is a relevant church?”, “Is being religious bad?”, “I wonder if their attendance is up because of that sign.”
I believe the message on this particular sign stems from the popular thought/belief/desire of “I want Jesus, not organized religion” or “I want Jesus, not church.” But when you read through the New Testament it is impossible to separate Christ from His church.
In Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then tells Peter in verse 18 that upon the rock of Peter’s confession of Jesus as Christ, He will build His church and the gates of hell (literally Hades in Greek) shall not prevail against it. Jesus says “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18 emp. Added). Notice who the church belongs to, it belongs to Christ! The church isn’t the invention of some bored 1st century Palestinian fishermen. It is the product of Christ, who is God in the flesh (Jn. 1:1-3, 14).
In Acts 20:28, Paul is exhorting a group of elders in Ephesus and he encourages them to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Notice who possesses the church—God does! And how was the church purchased? By the money of a millionaire oil mogul? Through the hard work of a few faithful men? While men do labor for the cause of the church, they didn’t purchase it, God did! Not only did God buy the church, but He bought it with His own blood—the blood shed by Jesus in John 19:34. Is the church which Jesus shed His blood for irrelevant? Or do men make it irrelevant when they water it down with their own doctrines and traditions (Mt. 15:1-9)?
Is it even possible for the church which Christ established to be irrelevant? If the good news of Jesus saves souls (Rom. 1:16) and if responding to the good news adds you to the church (Acts 2:38-41, 47) then how could this divine institution be irrelevant?
The only way that the church can become irrelevant is if we make it irrelevant by adding our own laity, creeds, doctrines, confessions, etc. The Scriptures are “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and in John 17:17 Jesus prays to God the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” If the Bible is inspired by God, and if God’s word is truth, and if those truthful God-breathed scriptures describe a church, then every ounce of logic tells me that that church will be relevant. But when we wander from the path set forth in the New Testament, when we decide that we can do whatever we want, and worship God however we want, and add things not even mentioned in the Bible into Christ’s church; then and only then does the church become irrelevant.
Truth is universal, objective, and relevant. God’s word is truth, and within that word we can read of the founding, organization, and activities of the church which Jesus said He would establish. A relevant church is a church that was founded by Jesus (Mt. 16:18), can trace its beginnings in the New Testament (Acts 2:42-47), is comprised of those who obey the gospel (Acts 2:37-41), speaks where the Bible speaks, and is silent where the Bible is silent, has no laity or additional creeds, and has Christ as its head (Col. 1:18).
Truth will never be irrelevant. Likewise, a church founded on the truth will never be irrelevant. The relevant church is the church that Jesus established! “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).