Go ahead. Accuse me of being pragmatic. I’m guilty, just as Jesus and Paul were. I often scratch my head trying to figure out what’s so bad about that anyway. Biblical theology never changes. God never changes in His character and attributes. But culture changes, so the means of communicating the unchanging gospel to an ever-changing culture are also always changing.
I do agree that we can make an idol out of relevance. Relevance is not the primary goal, but irrelevance is inexcusable when it comes to introducing the gospel to our culture. Therefore, I have adopted a whatever it takes mentality, and there is no turning back. But you must understand my qualifying parameter at the outset: Whatever it takes, except for compromising God’s absolute truth as revealed in His inerrant Word.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter nine, the Apostle Paul goes to battle for relevance and offers no apology for his “whatever it takes” attitude. He had been accused of all kinds of things, and he was guilty of some of them, especially the accusation that he was willing to adapt to his surrounding culture in order to communicate the gospel. While Paul enjoyed being Jewish, he let his readers know that he was willing to be a barbarian if it meant reaching barbarians. And his ultimate conclusion created a “whatever it takes” bottom line:
“…Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NLT
Unselfishness is required for a “whatever it takes” attitude. The blessings of the gospel are not simply ours to enjoy, they are ours to share, and we should do whatever it takes to share the Good News!
God wants a church for ALL people
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile,t slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~ Galatians 3:28 NLT
Jesus opened the way for all to come. The cross completely levels the playing field, and demonstrated God’s love toward sinners of all backgrounds. He is now assembling to Himself a people called out of every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth. We need to reflect that by embracing all people as well on the grounds of the gospel.
Therefore, we are required to adapt and to be flexible – to be pragmatic and practical. The gospel needs no assistance being relevant – it already addresses the deepest possible needs of any age. But I, on the other hand, can certainly use some help remaining relevant (just ask my wife where my wardrobe would be without her intervention).
We are FREE yet BOUND
In western Christianity, we often spend time trying to figure out what we can get away with and still be faithful, or what rights we can claim. Paul’s attitude was rather, “though I am free…” what can I give up? How can I go the extra mile? What can I do to further substantiate the claims of the gospel to you?
We are bound to keep our integrity – Paul had been accused of preaching for the money. He lays down a great argument for paying those who preach, but then delights in his ability to charge them nothing so that they could never hold this accusation against him. In other words, there are times when our integrity matters more than our rights.
We are bound to lead people to the cross – We are free, but we have a huge and heavy responsibility to utilize our freedom as an opportunity to tell the world about Jesus.
God wants us to S.T.R.E.T.C.H. ourselves to reach others
How can I stretch myself for others? Or better, how can I allow God to stretch me to expand my influence and help me to make a real difference?
S ~ See people as Jesus does
T ~ Touch the untouchable
R ~ Reach outside my comfort zone… of familiarity, of tradition, of safety
E ~ Engage people where they are
Jesus demonstrated an amazing ability to do this. In John chapter 3, He is conversing with Nicodemus, an expert in the law. In chapter 4, He is at a well with a “common” woman who was rather mixed up religiously. Whether to lawyers or prostitutes, Jesus knew how to meet people where they were.
T ~ Try many methods to reach many people
Methods are many,
principles are few.
Methods always change,
principles never do.
C ~ Create relational bridges
Find ways to allow people into your life. Open up! Be transparent! Be authentic! This one is, admittedly, tough for me. I didn’t grow up with a model of authenticity so I find myself challenging myself now – how can I be more open?
Here’s a truth I needed to hear a long time ago – People need to relate to YOU before they relate to the gospel. You are the bridge to the gospel.
H ~ Hand all the credit to God
We can’t do the saving. By ALL means, SOME might be saved. In other words, the results of our efforts are not ultimately up to us. We do the best we can to STRETCH ourselves, but it is in the power of God alone to do the work of saving. And He will, in response to our faithful proclamation of the gospel, which begins with an attitude… whatever it takes.