The spread of Christianity worldwide has brought forth a pressing issue – how to engage with the surrounding culture. In recent times, numerous churches have attempted to boost their relevance in society and attract new members by becoming more culturally relevant. However, this focus on relevance has led many churches to compromise on the biblical mandate to remain distinct from the world.
The pursuit of cultural relevance is not restricted to mainstream seeker-sensitive movements alone. This includes instances such as Andy Stanley’s acquiescence to homosexuality, and mainline Protestant denominations’ complete adoption of social activism. In fact, the endeavor to stay relevant in culture can be found in many subtle ways across various denominations, particularly in Evangelicalism, including such ways as music, preaching style, and most significantly, the church’s attitude toward those who are lost.
In recent years, there has been a growing trend, particularly among mainstream Evangelical churches to be culturally relevant at the expense of the gospel. This should be cause for great concern among those who believe what the Scriptures teach about the role and function of the Church in society. One of the most notable examples of this trend is Andy Stanley’s Northpoint Ministries which has come under fire in recent weeks for embracing homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle in the eyes of God.
But it’s not just Northpoint. Highly influential flagship Southern Baptist churches, like First Baptist Orlando, are actively and regularly baptizing open homosexuals while arguing that they do so in order to make them feel welcome.
Furthermore, the Southern Baptist Convention is currently experiencing a significant divide over whether or not women can preach or hold the position of a pastor despite clear scriptural proof that demonstrates that such practices are not in line with the teachings of the Bible. This movement is driven by the desire to appease the culture and align with its values rather than to remain faithful to biblical teachings.
Churches are not only trying to appease the secular aspect of pagan culture, but they are also attempting to dilute one of the most offensive biblical teachings to the world, which is the exclusivity of Jesus. Jesus himself claimed that there is no other way to God but through him, and this fact is detested by the world. However, many churches and church leaders are engaging in syncretistic efforts to water down this clear biblical fact.
Syncretism is a dangerous form of cultural relevance that undermines the true gospel message by blending different beliefs and practices from various religions. Mixing elements of other faiths with the teachings of Christ dilutes the message and creates a distorted version of Christianity that can no longer be considered biblical. This compromise of the gospel leads people astray from the truth. Syncretism is a subtle form of compromise that can go unnoticed, but its consequences to the gospel are severe.
The biblical concept of God’s people being separate from the world is emphasized throughout both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, Israel was called to be a holy nation, set apart from the other nations around them. God instructed them to follow his laws and to worship him alone, rather than the false gods of the surrounding cultures. In the New Testament, Christians are called to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:16). This means that we are to live and engage with the world around us, but we are not to adopt its values or participate in its sinful practices.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he exhorts the believers to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2). The Apostle James warns against becoming friends with the world, stating that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). The book of 1 John warns against loving the world or the things in the world, as this love is incompatible with the love of the Father (1 John 2:15).
Despite these clear biblical injunctions to be separate from the world, many churches today are seeking to be relevant by adopting the values and practices of the culture around them. This can be seen in a variety of ways, such as churches that alter their worship services to be more like concerts or nightclubs, or churches that downplay biblical teachings on sin and salvation in order to avoid offending people.
Compromising biblical truth to fit into the mold of the cultural zeitgeist—whether it be a softened stance on social issues such as abortion or sexuality, or through various other means such as a Jesus that doesn’t require repentance or our full devotion and worship in spirit and in truth—poses a severe threat to the integrity of the gospel message. The gospel is not a mere suggestion, nor is it a self-help program. It is the very essence of salvation, and it is meant to be proclaimed in all its truth and purity.
Watering down or altering the gospel to make it more palatable to the culture not only diminishes its power but also misrepresents the heart of God. The gospel demands repentance and a turning away from sin. It is not something that can be altered to fit the changing whims of society.
The gospel message is simple, but unalterable, in that mankind has rebelled against a holy, infinite, perfect, and righteous God who requires an infinitely applicable atonement for sins against Him landing each of us a well-deserved place of infinite punishment in a place called Hell. But for those who believe, God provides a perfect and boundless sacrifice to stand in our place as a substitute. Jesus, who is God, infinite and perfect in every way, lived a perfect life of obedience on our behalf, yet, also bore the infinite wrath of God for us. For those who repent and believe in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can rejoice in the fact that we have been forgiven and our sins paid for in full and because of this, we desire to live a life aligned with His will above all else.
But are we truly leading anyone to Christ if we present them with a fake Jesus and a gospel tailored to fit their cultural preferences? If we’re bringing people to church to worship a Jesus who conforms to their ideals—a gay-affirming, social activist, feminist Jesus who likes to be worshiped in man-centered rock music on Sunday mornings and doesn’t mind if you’re smoking weed and having extra-marital sex the night before—then this is a false Jesus who is in direct conflict with the Jesus of the Bible.