In its current effort to be “relevant” to the world, the Church seems bent on playing down, if not completely disregarding, the very reason for its existence. And in the cry of a bitterly needy world, one can hear again those words of the weeping Mary, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13b).

There are those in the Church who, while they wring their hands and bemoan the effect of their irrelevance to the world’s need, are unwilling to face the reasons for their predicament.

Are we willing to admit that many of us have never had a personal, converting experience with Jesus Christ? We talk a lot about him as the “Lord of life” (and he is), but before he can be that he must become Saviour from sin, and there are “Christians” who reject the concept of Christ as the atoning Redeemer.

Furthermore, through the influence of some theological seminaries, as well as the Bible departments of many church-related colleges and the official literature of certain denominations, the Bible is now regarded, not as the sword of the Spirit, but as a bent and rusty instrument that has lost its convicting and converting power.

Our Lord said of the Pharisees of his day. “They are blind leaders of the blind” (Matt. 15:14). Are we any better? The first thing the risen Lord stated as Paul’s mission to the world was “to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18a); but there is little evidence that the organized church believes men to be spiritually blind and lost. No wonder it has lost its relevance to the world! The Church has misinterpreted its Saviour and his message. And its attention is focused on the effect of its rejection of the Gospel rather than the cause of it.

But let us who claim to be “evangelical” beware lest we become complacent and critical in our orthodoxy. It is not orthodoxy that saves. The Pharisees were the most orthodox of people in our Lords’ time, but his most bitter denunciations were leveled at them: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The lovelessness and bitterness exhibited by some Christians causes us to shudder. They are like “noisy gongs” and “clanging cymbals,” apparently having never learned the basic truths of Christian love so graphically described by the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians 13. All of us have something of the Pharisee and the Sadducee in us, and when these attitudes dominate our thinking and behavior, our effective witness vanishes.

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Our source of reference as Christians is the Bible. Our message is the Christ revealed therein. Our personal attitudes must be dominated by him.

One reason for the Church’s present ineffectiveness is that it often depends on administrators rather than preachers, on programs rather than the gospel message, on organization rather than the Holy Spirit, and on personalities rather than on Christ. Administrators, programs, and the rest all have their place, but in accomplishing the Lord’s work they are nothing if not directed by the Holy Spirit.

Church leaders spend much time in running hither and yon to attend meetings, councils, and consultations, asking innumerable questions about the purpose and aim of the Church. Yet they ignore the all-important questions about the person and work of Christ. In fact, one of the reasons why the Church is proving ineffective in a time of world crisis is that it is trying to usurp the place of its Lord and Saviour—demanding allegiance to itself while leaving allegiance to him, in degree and in fact, to the decision of the individual.

The Church is proving ineffective and irrelevant because so many of its leaders show an appalling ignorance of the Word of God. There are those who use a small w in referring to the Word. They regard it more as the work of fallible men than as a divine revelation of God’s truth, given to men under the inspiration of his Spirit.

Again, the Church is proving ineffective and irrelevant to the needs of a world steeped in sin because many of its leaders believe in and speak of a Christ stripped of his diety, virgin birth, miracle-working power, atoning death, bodily resurrection, and sure return. If anyone doubts this statement, let him attend the church courts of many major denominations and listen to those who come to the defense of ministers who are applying for admission despite their “reservations” about these things.

Many religious groups are as sheep without a shepherd because of a church leadership that has been diverted from its calling, of church programs that neglect the centrality of Christ, first as Saviour from sin and then as Lord of life. No matter how efficiently we may work, or how well organized various church departments may be, nothing can take the place of the preaching of the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

To shift the Church’s emphasis from the spiritual needs of the individual sinner to world poverty, population explosion, race relations, urban renewal, and war and peace is to build on the sand. To change the figure, it is the “quack’s” approach—treating symptoms while ignoring the underlying disease. This many church leaders are doing, and as a result they are making the Church irrelevant at the point where it is most urgently needed.

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To hold that the Church is called to solve the social, political, and economic problems of society while neglecting the basic need of changing men through the redeeming, transforming, and keeping work of Jesus Christ is to deny Christ and his Gospel.

I am writing out of the deep conviction that unless the major denominations change their present stance we shall find “Ichabod” written across our portals while our Lord turns to “lesser” denominations to fulfill his commands.

We must return to simple faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and his death and resurrection as the one hope of lost sinners. Worldly sophistication and conformity hangs like a death-dealing smog across much that is found in the institutional church. With eyes closed to the reality of sin in the human heart, the Church goes blithely on its way, trying to reform the world without the work of personal redemption by the Saviour. By soft-pedaling the supernatural of Christianity, it is promoting a naturalistic religion that neither saves souls nor brings peace and satisfaction to the human heart.

Do I mean that we should not be concerned about the tragic plight of humanity? Just the opposite! The greatest concern anyone can show to his fellow man is concern over his relationship to Jesus Christ. Once that concern is uppermost, we can and should prove our love by acting in compassion wherever sorrow, need, and suffering are found.

The spiritually starved multitudes are crying, “Sirs, we would see Jesus.” Unless the Church preaches the gospel of redemption from sin, it is irrelevant to the world’s supreme need and fails in its calling and mission.


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