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Relevancy Doctrine Diversions

“We don’t believe in organization, in liturgical tradition, in man-made rules. We just believe in Jesus. Let’s refocus on Jesus and forget everything else we’ve added to the plain and simple gospel.” So opines the “emerging church” dogmatists. And it does sound seductively good. After all, haven’t all the “add-ons” clouded and encumbered the purity of the gospel? Haven’t we piled manuals, resolutions, procedures, standards, bylaws and protocols on top of Jesus and effectively suffocated his message to the world? It would seem, then, that the relevancy doctrine only seeks to present a fresh Jesus to the world, unobscured by the trappings of obsolete Christianity.

We’ve heard it before. Remember “No law but love, no creed but Christ?” Or, “accept Jesus as your personal savior?” Or, “once in grace, always in grace?” Platitudes like these have an appealing ring to them. Cosmetically, they look good, but their infrastructure is deficient. When one scratches beneath the silky smooth surface, the appealing ring becomes hollow in a hurry. The truth is that one simply cannot preach a true Christ to this world without the nuts and bolts that give the gospel its substance. While the gospel may indeed be preached on a rudimentary level, it is both dangerous and ludicrous to filet this veneer off of it and cast aside the essential underpinnings that make it strong and define its meaning.

What if I said that all you need is food to survive? Cake is food. Ice cream is food. Candy is food. So are sauerkraut, anchovies and chocolate-covered ants. Well, you protest, food is lot more than that. You would be right, of course. Any diet that consists only of these “foods” would lead to serious health problems. A well rounded diet must include food groups like dairy, vegetables and fruit, meats, grains and foods containing fats, oils and sugar. Obviously, we have to qualify the term “food.” Many similar illustrations could be used to demonstrate the same principle. Does it matter what you study in school? If it does, then education needs to be defined. Does it matter whether you fly in a jet or ride a bicycle? If so, then transportation needs a definition. Religion, philosophy, family, career…there is no end to the list. The definition of marriage is in the throes of controversy as we write. Anything left undefined will almost always sink to the lowest common denominator. This is precisely why those who wish to disencumber Jesus from scriptural parameters that they find too restrictive will end up with a belief system very different from Apostolic truths.

I can make a safe prediction about any group that rejects the essentiality of water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fewer and fewer people associated with its congregations will be baptized or be filled with the Spirit. As Brother Tenney has often said, “What goes unpreached will soon go unpracticed.” One large Pentecostal group has already proven this. After they determined that they would not require their members to receive the Holy Ghost baptism, the incidence of this experience went into serious decline. Only seventeen percent of their constituents now claim to have received the Holy Ghost baptism. 

The driving force behind this doctrinal shift is the desire to be relevant to the present generation. Flawed thinking like this leads to reconfiguring Bible doctrine, or inventing new interpretations to scriptures for the purpose of relevancy. But truth does not permit itself to be conformed to popular opinion. Truth worships at no man’s altar. If we would know truth, it will not slink down to our level and grovel in front of us. It will not be beholden to any man. Truth always makes us rise to its level

The Old Testament story of Naaman seriously challenges the notion of the “relevancy doctrine.” A “relevant” prophet would have tried much harder to be nice to this important man. Instead, Elisha didn’t even bother to personally go out and talk to him. He sent his servant to tell him to dip seven times in the Jordan River to cure his leprosy. Naaman didn’t like it at all. “But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.” 2 Kings 5:11-12. But a man with leprosy is in no position to demand anything. Finally, Naaman’s servants prevailed on him to get over his wounded ego and obey Elisha. “And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” 2 Kings 5:13-14. Man’s prideful heart may scream for relevance, but God demands submission. Always has. Always will.

In the New Testament, Jesus did not seek to be relevant and sensitive to Nicodemus. This Jewish leader risked his reputation to meet Jesus. That’s why he came at night. But, Jesus did not even answer the question put to him. His answer to Nicodemus was cryptic, radical and demanding. “You must be born again!” We’ve heard this phrase so often that it has little shock value to us, but, to Nicodemus, it was brutal, even demeaning. A high-born, registered Pharisee was not used to being so dissed or so snubbed as he was by Jesus’ answer. Actually, few people could hope to have a better birth or better life circumstances in terms of Jewish tradition than Nicodemus. He was at the top of the heap.

How “relevant” was God to Saul of Tarsus? He knocked him down in the middle of the road, he afflicted him with blindness for three days and he totally rearranged his life’s purpose. Somehow, relevance didn’t seem to describe Saul’s treatment. How “relevant” was Jesus to Simon Peter? He called him a devil, he told him he had no faith and he basically told him that if he didn’t submit to the Master’s demands that he would lose his place in the kingdom. In the end, Jesus even told Peter to mind his own business and not worry about the lives of other disciples. Many different instances throughout the ministry of Christ show that Jesus did not treat his disciples with kid gloves nor did he try to make things easier for them. He presented them with truth. It was up to them to accept or reject the terms of the Lord.

Regardless of how noble their intentions may be, those who gravitate away from true doctrine in the interest of befriending seekers and facilitating their acceptance of Christ do them no favor. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “cheap grace.” Such an approach may very well have the opposite effect. It is one thing to upgrade our methods, modify our language and even sing newer music, but these are non-essentials in worship styles and church tradition. It is something else to decide against preaching New Testament doctrine simply because we don’t think it is relevant to today’s society. The Apostle Paul warns us against the slightest attempt of any man or angel to lead us into heresy. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:8-10.

What is the “gospel” of which Paul speaks? Again, definitions are paramount. We find the answer in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Any preacher who professes to preach the gospel must preach the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. He must also instruct people how to apply these truths to their lives. That leads us directly to Acts 2:38. If these steps are eliminated from the message, there is no way to appropriate the gospel to a person’s life. The only alternative is to spiritualize every ordinance of scripture that a believer is to fulfill. When doctrines are spiritualized, that is when they are only given metaphoric value and are stripped from any practical application, only a small step exists to the virtual elimination of the ordinance from the salvation experience.

If nothing matters, then NOTHING MATTERS! This fact seems to be lost on advocates of the relevancy doctrine. When they reap the ultimate harvest of the “nothing matters” gospel, they themselves will not matter. Neither will their pulpits, their remaining doctrines, their church congregations and their livelihoods. That’s the nature of the beast. Tell people they don’t have to obey the laws and you reap a nation of lawbreakers. Tell people they don’t have to pay their taxes and you can be sure that no one will pay their taxes. Tell people they are okay without baptism and without the Holy Ghost and no one will be baptized or receive the Spirit. Tell people they don’t have to come to church, and guess what will happen? That’s right. Either turn the sanctuary into an entertainment center or else lock the doors, sell the place and go home.

I receive Paul’s admonition to the church elders as a solemn charge. “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Acts 20:26-28. The relevancy doctrine is at best a diversion from the true mission of the church. At worst, it is a heretical doctrine that must be exposed for what it is.

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Reader Comments (2)

Amen brother. not the time to mince words while Words are being minced

November 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterP. Fullam

If you tell people not to pay taxes, they will not pay taxes? True. :) On the other hand, paying taxes is not an end, but a means to end, and it has no inherent virtue; the end is to provide common services, so it would simply be counterproductive to meeting the purpose to tell people to quit paying taxes without substituting a superior way.

The same can be said for doctrines and traditions and rules that are not fundamental, but derivative. They are a means to an end (union with God), and if they are no longer relevant, then they are useless.

Jesus himself did this by supplanting the old covenant with a superior one. The law, Paul says, was a "schoolmaster" to "bring us to Christ." Thus, it was relevant for its time, but no one is suggesting that it is necessary now, except orthodox Jews, I suspect. =]

On the other hand, the model provided in the scriptures for such changes in relevancy is always a "moving higher", not a regression. Jesus did not destroy the law, but rather he elucidated a larger and deeper and higher vision of it, and one that if people really truly appreciated, would actually bring us in closer compliance to it, not further away from it.

October 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Garcia

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