Pastor Tom Skiles and the Spirit of St. Louis Church are hosting “Easter In the Octagon: The Ultimate Fighter,” this coming Sunday.
You may wonder why a church would be doing this for Easter. The interviewer, Keegan Hamilton, for the River Front Times, did. So he asked a really good question to the pastor:
“Now then. The two big questions: Is this actually going to be in the church? And what does two nearly naked men beating each other to a pulp have to do with Christ’s resurrection?”
Here is the pastor’s answer:
“We want to make Easter relevant again. We don’t want to make it about lilies and nice dresses. When they walk in we’ll have a chain link fence set up, it’ll be set up like an octagon. We’ll talk about fact that Jesus didn’t tap out, he was an ultimate fighter.”
The interviewer’s question makes the point: “What does two nearly naked men beating each other to a pulp have to do with Christ’s resurrection?”
“Relevance and what is helpful must be defined by the gospel.”
The idol of relevance is making the church totally irrelevant in authentic gospel ministry. Gerhard Forde’s comments in his book, The Preached God, is apropos:
“It was Karl Barth, I believe, who said that trying to make the gospel relevant to the contemporary age was like running after the train that has just left. ‘The World’ that we are supposed to address with the gospel, that is, is a moving target. By the time we think we are finally getting to understand it, it is too late…When a historical, tragic accident occurs we investigate the causes. We search the wreckage for the ‘black box.’ We understand, if at all, when it is too late…
The fact that many churches – even of our own – do not seem to have learned the simple but apparently hard lesson is no doubt the reason for the transformation of many churches into service organizations, social reform clubs, and support groups, rather than proclaimers of the coming reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Seeking to be relevant to the age, they just succumbed to it. Claiming to be wise, as St. Paul put it, they became fools. The most serious mistake of theological attempts to understand the age is the assumption that the gospel could somehow be made to appear relevant to old beings.
‘The unspiritual’…, Paul tells us, ‘do not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to them, and they do not understand because they [the gifts] are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14)- always a favorite passage used to caution against being overly optimistic about appeals to relevance,” (pp. 165-166).
Relevance and what is helpful must be defined by the gospel, as Graeme Goldsworthy points out in his book, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,
“The gospel not only defines the problem and God’s response to it, it should also define the Christian buzz words that we use to assess sermons and talks. One might be tempted to say that two thousand people at a convention can’t be wrong when there is almost total approval of the speaker’s addresses. At the risk of sounding a little cynical, I would have to say that it is entirely possible for them to be wrong. So much depends on what people have been taught to expect. It is not only possible but highly probable, unless we are constantly vigilant in this matter, that human nature will take over. In short, what is relevant is defined by the gospel; what is helpful is defined by the gospel. The first question we all need to ask is not, “Was it relevant?”; “Did I find it helpful?”; or “Were we blessed?”; but “How did the study (the sermon) testify to Christ and his gospel as the power of God for salvation, (p. 62).
“The method (proclamation/preaching) cannot and must not be separated from the message (God’s Word/gospel) without risking irrelevance.”
God relates to and rules His creation by His word. And preaching is the method God has chosen to disseminate His word/gospel and thereby establish His rule in the hearts of men (“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” 1 Cor. 1:21).
Graeme Goldsworthy makes an important observation when he notes that though the foolishness Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 1:21 refers primarily to the content of the proclamation, the message (i.e., the gospel) cannot be separated from its method (i.e., the act of proclamation). Thus, not only the message (gospel) but also the method (proclamation) defies the logic of man’s wisdom yet it is God’s chosen way (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 45).
The method (proclamation/preaching) cannot and must not be separated from the message (God’s Word/gospel) without risking irrelevance.
However, the ever present tendency of man is to assert his independence from the authority of God’s Word. The Serpent’s question, “Has God said,” not only characterizes man’s desire to reject God’s rule but also includes the rejection of God’s ordained methods.
In his wisdom, man challenges God’s rule and questions His ordained methods. The lack of emphasis and valuing of preaching in the church today is nothing more than a rejection God’s wisdom. It is the assertion of human autonomy from the authority of God’s Word and the sufficiency (relevance) of God’s methods. To put it another way, the “relevance” of preaching doesn’t make sense, octagons do.
The implications then of 1 Corinthians 1:21 for “relevant” ministry need to be considered very carefully. Paul defines the parameters of “relevance,” namely, “…it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” (emphasis mine).
What is more “relevant” to the conversion of a sinner than a clear, faithful proclamation of Christ as revealed in the gospel?
The preacher’s task of proclamation is sobering (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1) and must be carried out faithfully (2 Tim. 2:2).
Every Evangelical preacher and church ought to seriously ponder Goldsworthy’s question, “How does our preaching testify to Christ? That is a solemn and challenging question that we cannot avoid,” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 45).