Christians, thanks to the New Testament image, have come to dislike the Pharisees. To call someone "Pharisaical" is not a compliment. And if someone calls you that, you will likely feel the need to defend yourself. Yet, in our day "relevant" is the key word. Youth leaders try to jazz up the Word to catch the attention of their students. If you looked around recently you would have seen a lack of "VBS" and a substitute of other things because "Vacation Bible School" isn't cool. Now "Summer Blast" is cooler and kids would be much more likely to attend a Mega Sports Camp" than some silly event with the word "Bible" in it. But it's not just the youth in view. Seminaries teach pastors-to-be to make their sermons applicable. Teach doctrine? Not really relevant. You need to provide application. Oh, it's not that it's bad. "God said it, so you need to ____." That much is true. But how often is the pastor right about what God wants you to do with the text he preached on?
Back in 2001 I was attending a rather large church. Pretty good pastor. Preaching through Ephesians. That's good. But I have to admit, on the Sunday following September 11, I wasn't really keen on going to church. I had already endured too many conversations in the media and with people regarding the event and I was pretty sure we'd get it there, too. And then I remembered. The text for this Sunday would be Eph 1:11-12. Hold on! This had real potential! Because what we Christians really needed to hear at this moment was exactly that.
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:10-12)Yes! That's what we needed to hear. God had not lost control. These events, as tragic as they were, were not without purpose. We could trust Him!
Well, the pastor did preach on the text, but didn't expand on the phrase at all. Just read on over it. No help at all. Why? Well, I realized when he started preaching on Ephesians 2 (beginning with "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (Eph 2:1-2)) and taught the entire chapter as a guide to marriage that Scripture had suffered the death of "relevance" here.
Nice idea, but misguided. You see, Scripture is relevant (2 Tim 3:16-17). It is applicable -- applied by the Holy Spirit to the lives of each believer. Peter said, "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." (2 Peter 1:3) What makes us think we can improve on it? Expound on it? Sure. Teach it? Absolutely. Explain it? Yes! What we've tended to do is try to pick out stuff we think would be relevant, blur stuff we think might not be, and even hide some that we consider irrelevant. We've expanded on Scripture to make it more "real" and dumbed it down to make it more palatable. We've become modern-day Pharisees.
It is not our job to make Scripture relevant. It is our job to give them Scripture. Explain it, teach it, cover it all. Sure, some applications are easy. "This is a sin" means "Don't do it." "This is a command" means "Do it." But Scripture is what is needed, not our tricks, our modifications, our creative renditions. Because it is complete (2 Tim 3:16-17) and effective (Heb 4:12) and is not the tool of the pastor or the teacher as much as it is the Holy Spirit (Eph 6:17). It is relevant. We just need to give it to each other.