Many years ago I was staying on the Island of Islay; going to Ceilidhs, practicing my then very embryonic Gaelic and enjoying telling people why as an Australian I would want to holiday on Islay (and learn Gaelic), and I remember at Christmas going to a small church service in the main centre of Bowmore. I cannot remember if the church was a Scottish Episcopal Church or a Baptist Church, (actually I just checked and it was the latter) and the service was to my 19 year eyes at the time very unimpressive. The songs were old, played on an old guitar (which I had tuned for them without the minister and his wife knowing it, because I arrived early), and there were not many people there. The minister and his wife were not modern and trendy and with it. The sermon was short and the gospel was preached. I cannot remember the sermon but do remember thinking after the service:
Perhaps if they sung more modern songs, perhaps if they had more modern chairs! Perhaps if the pastor wore more modern clothes. Perhaps if his guitar was modern. Perhaps if he used a modern translation of the Bible!
My thoughts were theologically dissonant. Here I was (and still am) a theologically Reformed Anglican Christian who believes that God will draw to himself those whom before the creation of the world that he has sovereignly elected; who believes that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is nothing to be ashamed about because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16); and yet came away thinking that a service where Christians are gathered in Word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit needs us to help him in drawing people to himself and the way for that to happen is for church, music, the pastors, all Christians to be as modern and as ‘cool’ as possible.
Perhaps some of you have seen this video which I think highlights what I am talking about:
But I ask myself, “Has the church going contemporary really made that much of a difference really? Are churches flocking with young families? Actually is the church flocking with everybody? And if they do flock to a church because of it being cool, do they stay? What happens when they are no longer cool? Actually was does it mean to be ‘cool’? Is it such a bad thing to acknowledge that Christianity began prior to the 1970’s?
What I have realised over the years is this:
When it comes to church, just because something is modern does not mean it is going to attract people.
When it comes to church, just because something is ancient does not mean it is going to turn people off.
I had bought into the lie of our age: Newer = better; desirous, attractive, cool. Older = worse, to be avoided, unattractive, daggy.
When it comes to church, what matters is that we are faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, that disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ love one another, that her ministers proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully and administer the sacraments faithfully (whether the latter be weekly, twice a month, once a month or four times a year); that the whole counsel of God (the Scriptures) are believed and taught faithfully , that we don’t put up cultural barriers that obscure, hide and/or abrogate the Gospel message.
Over the years I have watched, read, or heard Christian church leaders being interviewed and sooner or later the question is asked of them:
Don’t you think your views (the Bible’s views) are out of touch and irrelevant with today’s society?
It actually does not matter what our world thinks, and we should not care if they think the Bible and the Christian faith is out of touch with society. The message of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will never be cool or popular to our world. So why pander to it and try to be cool? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for contextualisation, and even one of my Anglican heroes, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer has something to say about contextualisation:
Of the Traditions of the Church
It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
but there is a difference between contextualisation and chameleonisation; and when it comes to a church being cool it does not actually matter. My old mentor and youth minister said this to me years ago:
What attracts people is what keeps them!
When it comes to church the attraction must be the Lord Jesus Christ and the difference that he makes to the lives of those who know him, the way His people love each other. That is what will attract people to the Kingdom and keep them. As for being cool, it does not matter…and it never did matter…and it never will matter.