It is certainly with much frustration that conservative Lutherans are seeing so many children of families who have grown up with us running off in search of more “relevant” congregations; sometimes, in an amazing example of the tail wagging the dog, dragging their parents along with them. This can cause some measure of confusion for we who are left behind, as we scratch our heads and think (rightly), “How can they leave, citing a ‘lack of relevance’, when the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments rightly administered are the most relevant things of all?”
Truly Christ and the Church are of the utmost, incomprehensible relevance. The example is often given that if you have a sin problem – and we all do – Christ is as relevant as the lifesaving medicine for the dying man. I think we Lutherans do a really really good job of proclaiming this. And it’s good and appropriate, if slightly incomplete.
The problem shows up in what often comes next for us sinful humans. When, like with medicine, we end up writing a little label on Christ – one more med for one more malady – and stuff Him in the cabinet along with all the other pills we have for our plethora of pathologies. Maybe we take a dose every Sunday… or maybe only at Christmas and Easter. Or, if we feel like we’re in remission, maybe only when we feel the symptoms every great once and a while. In any case, Jesus is safely contained and organized so He doesn’t get in the way or take up undue counter space, and we can get back to living our lives feeling much better now, thank you. But then all of a sudden you have a Jesus who is only narrowly relevant, and then only when that old conscience starts acting up on you.
Meanwhile, there are churches out there who will tell you that not only is Jesus good for your sin problem, but also your bank account problem, your cockroach infestation problem… heck, he could probably get you whiter teeth and fresher breath while you’re at it! They’ll say, “See? This Jesus thing has even wider applications than household vinegar, or even the wonderful snake oil we were peddling yesterday!”
Boom, now Jesus is relevant again. And in a much broader way (supposedly) than when we thought he was just good for sin splints.
But it’s a sham. And we know it’s a sham. Ironically, it’s a sham in precisely the same place as the “Jesus is simply the solution to my sin problem” view is a sham. They both view Christ principally as the means to an end, the only difference between them comes in at the point of answering what that end (or ends) is.
People don’t need just another pill to take. They don’t need just one more solution to one more problem. Though if they did, it sure makes sense to go with the interpretation of the solution that solves the most problems; the one that is therefore “more relevant”. We Americans in particular are partial towards efficiency, after all.
People need a dead-and-risen Savior who, far from being pigeonholed as Mr. Fix-It, is the very substance of “It” itself.
People need a conquering Christ because, let’s face it, we’re not strong enough to overcome that death thing. And Frodo can cower behind all the distractions he can stack up against that terrible eye, but it will find him wherever he hides, unless he is hidden in Christ.
And most especially, people need a sovereign Lord who is relevant to all because He created all, and still upholds it by the word of His power.
What needs to be done with those leaving our Churches in search of a Jesus that is more “relevant” is simply this: we need to catch them on the way out, explain to them that they will not find relevance in a Jesus who is simply some off-brand theological duct tape – as if relevance was measured in the quantity of problems He is “good for”. Rather, they can only find relevance in the unique quality He possesses, that of being the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Not merely a problem-fixer, but a promise.