The question asked: Is the Church relevant (these days)? In a word, no.
The relevance of the “Church” as an institution in American life passed away long ago. Sometimes Catholics or Baptists or Evangelicals are spoken of as blocks of voters but the terms are so loose these days they are honestly meaningless terms. They are not blocks of uniform believers as evidenced by the fact that so many flit from denomination to denomination – or hold tight to their institution even when they no longer believe a word of it.
We live in a world of choose your own truth. We are diverse, multi-cultural and tolerant which is defined as believe whatever the hell you want and no one has the right to tell you that you are wrong.. A man and woman may sit next to each other in the same pew and one of them may be worshiping Satan, but these days … that’s okay. Maybe that’s a churchy version of don’t ask, don’t tell. We wouldn’t want to be intolerant.
The institution is just a building. It no longer defines the faith. It no longer guides the faithful. It no longer promotes unity. People buy their own snake-oil spirituality these days. The institution called the church is just a big, dead building to house the snake-oil salesmen.
The Church as an institution – a monolithic block of believers is dead.
The relevance of the “Church” as a way to reach the needy and make a positive difference in this world, well, that is no longer a Christian activity. What work has not been bequeathed to the government may still carry the name First Something Church, but it has been secularized to the point where God, Jesus and the gospel are conspicuously absent. We don’t want to offend people who may need help and might not be Christians is one line of thinking (for example). There are plenty of other such thoughts but the result is God is no longer part of the work.
The good work of people may carry on under the banner of the institution and people may claim to be inspired by their faith, but the details are sketchy at best. Our Methodist and Presbyterian and Pentecostal Christian Associations have become the YMCA. It is just so many letters. It no longer carries the name of Christ.
The Church as an avenue to help those in need is dead. It might as well be the Wally World feed the hungry program.
The Church as a community of the faithful is dead. We are talking the individual congregation now of whatever denomination. The Church within a given community has some relevance, but it really isn’t Christian relevance. It is mostly social connections, like linked-in live, all about business and networking, with plenty of facebook live, like what I fixed for supper last night.
Some still go to Sunday School, but for most it is in one ear and out the other. The Bible is no longer the Written Word of God. It is no longer what John Calvin called it: THE story of God and ourselves, though plenty believe it may be one of many such stories these days.
Some still keep the rituals. Grandma insists on the baptism where neither parents nor child have any interest in the church. Susie, who never set foot in a church still wants a church wedding. Louise wants the pastor to say nice things at the funeral of her flaming atheist husband. Carmine eats the bread-cracker, and maybe a spit worth of grape juice because Mama always said it was important. Honestly, for all too many these things mean no more than the Jewish rituals back in Jesus’ day meant to the average Jews. Oh, we have our Pharisees too who can cross the Ts and dot the Is on all this, but that doesn’t make it relevant.
Then there are some who pay attention Sunday morning. They may wander all over town to find a church that “speaks to them.” That invariably means a church that tells them what they want to hear. It may be conservatively clinging to guns and Bibles or some liberal pap about social justice and collective salvation, but Jesus generally isn’t involved except maybe as a bludgeon.
Then, some pick a church for the music, like maybe classical. Some pick the experience, like praising, hand waving, dancing in the aisles. That is sort of like a roller-coaster ride, but when it is over it often doesn’t have any real affect on the rest of life. Then there are the hypocritical parents who choose a church because they want their children to have a good upbringing and solid moral foundation which they have zero interest in for their own lives. So it goes.
Even in the most evangelical, church-growth congregations, people talk about new members, not believers, and they talk about plugging them in, not to the faith, but to some churchy activity or some churchy worky …
All of the above is the church under the sun, as Solomon would call it. In itself it is vanity, which is empty and futile. The wisest man in creation understood that without God it was all irrelevant. God alone can satisfy. If we will be his disciples and follow him, he will lead us to that place of relevance, purpose, meaning and, coincidentally, happiness.
Look, there is only one thing Jesus did. There is only one thing the apostles did – Peter and Paul and the whole lot of them. There is only one thing Christians should be doing today. That is? Make disciples. That’s it. Disciples make disciples. That’s the job. Everything else is under the sun. It is irrelevant. It is window dressing. You want to sing? You want to dance? You want to share some bread and a bit of wine? Great, but that is not the job. Make disciples.
Disciples make disciples. It doesn’t happen in isolation. It is inevitably public (people will notice); but as Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst” That is the true church, the only church. You want relevant? Find two or three gathered in Jesus’ name and become a disciple. Then make more disciples. That is the only relevant church in the history of eternity, and it is the only church the world needs, and perhaps desperately needs.