Rev Jules Middleton explains why the Christian faith is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.
For those of us with faith the obvious answer to: "is Christianity relevant today?", is a resounding yes. We’ve experienced God in our own lives, delved into teaching and scripture, found comfort in prayer, been supported by our churches and been uplifted receiving communion.
But you could be forgiven for asking the question, after all, in the UK stats for church attendance increasingly show declining numbers; we hear of scandals and safeguarding abuses on a regular basis; the National Secular Society repeatedly call for disestablishment; and high profile Christians are often ridiculed for their faith. How can the message of the gospel remain relevant, reaching out to those who’ve not yet heard it, when we are fighting a tide of negativity and dare I say it, evil?
It does, however feel like rather a white Western question. It’s reasonably well known that the church in Africa and Asia has been growing for decades, with Chinese house churches often cited as being the "fastest" growing. In fact, research from Release International seems to show that in recent years the church has been growing quickest in Iran & Afghanistan, with persecution cited as a key factor in why. Clearly if you would risk facing imprisonment or death by simply having Christian content on your phone, then Christianity has got to be pretty relevant.
In recent years the church has been growing quickest in Iran & Afghanistan.
Some would say though, that Christianity doesn’t need to be relevant, that we are called to offer an alternative to the socially prescribed norms; or that our desire to be a relevant church is our downfall - if we simply seek to be part of the ‘norm’ then we miss our own message entirely. Western culture is obsessed with the individual, the "you do you" attitude, finding your own unique brand of happiness; but surely faith in Christ is about the other – loving your neighbour, generosity, compassion and community?
In my experience it’s the times when those counter cultural characteristics are displayed, that a window to faith can open up. Indeed, this is what the church was known for right from the start – supporting the sick, the poor, the widows, the outcasts from society; where by contrast Greek & Roman culture simply discarded them. However, if we are so counter cultural that people view us simply as bigots and hypocrites then how can we even begin to get our message heard?
The "Talking Jesus" report which came out last year noted that 48% of people surveyed identified as Christians, but of those only six per cent labelled themselves as "practising" – i.e.: going to church regularly, praying, reading the Bible. When non-Christians were asked how they viewed Christians they knew personally, the answers were overwhelmingly positive with words like "caring" and "friendly" coming out on top. Startlingly when asked the same about the church "hypocritical" and "narrow minded" were top.
We could simply ask ourselves: how am I enabling a message of faith to be relevant today?
One of the biggest outcomes from the report was highly positive feedback around conversations with a Christian contributing to people coming to faith. I’ve found myself that I can have a conversation with someone about faith and they are not interested, but share something of my own experience of knowing Christ and they are far more likely to listen. My story is personal and is abundantly relevant to me, so it’s much harder for the person listening to just dismiss it as irrelevant.
So, amidst this era of church division, failing leaders & distrust, perhaps when we ask the question "is Christianity relevant today?" rather than generalising or theologising we could simply ask ourselves: how am I enabling a message of faith to be relevant today?