Christian Relevance, not Cultural Relevance

     Last week Calvary Chapel hosted its annual Senior Pastor's Conference in Murrieta, Ca. It's generally difficult for me to get a whole week off from my secular job and still keep my Sundays free, but the Lord worked it out perfectly and I got to attend the entire conference. It was a real blessing, and I'm thankful that I got to be there.

     The theme this year was "Continuing in the Spirit." The Calvary Chapel movement was born in 1965 when Pastor Chuck Smith accepted the pulpit at a small fellowship gathered in a Costa Mesa trailer park. The little church was named Calvary Chapel. Chuck had no idea that the Lord would use him and this tiny ministry of 25 believers to become a world wide fellowship with well over 1000 individual churches, numerous outreaches, and a tremendous presence on the mission field today. Calvary Chapel is now recognized by the Pentagon for service in the chaplaincy corps. As Pastor Chuck enters his final years of life, his heart's desire is that the movement not become like so many other spiritual movements that have died the slow and painful death of denominationalism, a common church-malady endemic to the western world over the past century. He wants the greater Calvary Chapel fellowship to be led and guided by the Spirit of God, not the rules of man, and to remain as flexible and as fluid as the Lord would determine.

     It's so easy for us as people to establish a "religious system," and then to fall back on the written rules of the road by which to navigate our congregations. The work of God dies, ossification sets in, and the fossilized remnant of a once vibrant work of the Lord is catalogued, recorded, and placed in a museum. But God is dynamic; He's always moving and always doing a fresh work, and it's our job, especially as pastors, to stay in line with what the Lord is doing in and around us. Too often we have a tendency to invite God to our party instead of following Him to a heavenly banquet. It's tricky, because it's almost impossible to come up with a 5-year and 10-year plan when we don't know exactly what the Lord will do next. Spiritual sensitivity and organizational flexibility are key to succeeding in this type of Spirit-led ministry. It's a type of "expeditionary-force" mentality - always being ready for a new chapter and a new experience anchored in an historic example and an established truth.

     So we take Chuck's admonition to heart. "Don't get stagnate, and don't fall back on the methods and means of man to do the work of His Holy Spirit." And in that vein, it is my heart that Calvary Chapel Turlock will be a defining example of how to hang on to the timeless truth of the Gospel while presenting it to an ever-changing culture by new and relevant means. It's got to be the most precarious balance of human history. Ministries have historically tended to languish and die as succeeding generations entrench themselves into the synthetic foundations of the movement. They rely on the systems of man and not the Spirit of God.

     But as I look around at what's popping up on the scene of American Christianity today, there is quite the opposite danger rearing its ugly head. We can become so relevant and so new that the timeless Word of God gets left in the dust. We can blend in so well with the world in the name of "creative-missional evangelism," that we eventually become the world. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Christians have a flesh-nature too, and we have to constantly discern between the spirit and the flesh. Tattoos and piercings and ghetto-rap and gangster-wear and pseudo-homosexual nuances and coarse language and immodest hair and trans-gendered styles that collectively and uncritically elevate and extol the modern secular age, are just as detrimental on the other end of the spectrum. All of it makes the Gospel look like a flaky, consumer-driven, pop-cultural fad.

     Take for instance the young mega-pastor whose South Texas church sponsored a mega-raffle to attract the "unchurched" this past Easter. Apparently "The Ultimate Giveaway" featured "15 cars, 300 bikes, furniture, flat-screen TVs, and 15,000 gift envelopes stuffed with coupons for goods and services valued at $300 each." He defended this gimmick for reaching the "unchurched," i.e. unsaved, as a means to expose people to the Gospel. At first take, it sounds justifiable; people are hearing the the Word right? But on second look, did Jesus ever appeal to the flesh to get people to listen? Did He dangle prizes and cash giveaways at the Temple to attract a crowd? Did the Apostle Paul advertise a raffle at Mars Hill to generate interest?

     Some have argued that this is simply speaking the edgy language of modern culture, so why not use materialistic greed to get their attention? The world speaks the language of pornography too, so is that the next tactic? A stripper's pole behind the pulpit to lure single men? Not hardly. We need to be relevant to the culture, but more importantly, we need to be relevant to God. He requires holiness in every endeavor.

     So it is my aim, for our fellowship, to find that perfect balance. We can never stagnate and die by placing our faith in the rote procedures and institutes of man, but neither can we push ahead into cultural absurdity to achieve something new. I won't be break-dancing with a dragon tattoo for Jesus on the platform anytime soon. Some things from the world are redeemable and some things are reprehensible. Thanks Pastor Chuck for challenging us to be led by the Holy Spirit, because only God's Spirit can decipher between the two and gives us the God-ordained balance.