In discussing, as we have been, Evangelisation, one question raised at my church group was that of ‘relevance’. When I explained that to my co-author, Chalcedon he groaned and said that anyone using that word in relation to the Faith should be required to explain in what way the need to repent our sins and live according to God’s laws had ever ceased to be relevant?
Of course, it hasn’t, and yet when we look at the number of people going to church, it seems as though many now do not see the relevance of that to their daily lives. That raises the question of the extent to which church attendance is a sign of the health of the Faith, although it seems to me that its absence cannot be taken other than as a bad sign.
I don’t know when our churches first started talking about ‘relevance’, but Chalcedon (who was there) says it was in the sixties that it first became an obsessive refrain, as part of the need to reach out to the young. That, he explained to me, was when we first had guitars ‘inflicted on us’ and ‘all the rest of the trendy nonsense’. As he seemed to be getting quite cross, and has quite enough to get cross about, I thought I’d leave it there.
This seems not to be a problem for our Orthodox brothers and sisters, indeed, they revel in being what they have always been; but perhaps that is partly because their native cultures are not ones which have tended to be attracted to modernity anyway? It is, perhaps, not surprising that the Orthodox churches have attracted some in the West who do not like what they see as the compromises with modernity made at Vatican II by the Catholic Church, or by my own church at many times and many places.
To what extent have such adaptations been a good or a bad thing? In as far as they have hardly filled the churches with young people, and in as far as they have driven some of the middle-aged and elderly away, to such extents, they cannot be said to have been a good thing. Of course, we can’t know the extent to which these things are the results of other trends in our society; but it does not seem as though the attempt to make the churches more ‘relevant’ have worked terribly well.
Perhaps the attempt was wrong-headed in one way all along? When I talk to friends of my own generation who are Christians, what attracts us is the eternal verities – that Christ died for us sinners; that we are saved by His blood; and that only through Him can we come to eternal life. These are at the centre of the faith of many of us, and frankly, some of the things we get in our churches from men who were trendy in the sixties (and are now in their sixties) seems designed for another era and its preoccupations.
Whoever said that he who marries the spirit of the age is a widower in the next age, may well have been on to something.