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Relevant Arrogance

Several churches in my area insist on flaunting their well-intentioned Christian clichés on the marquees in front of their buildings, and I have to admit, it intrigues me. I’m almost addicted to reading them. I drive by such clever sayings as, “God Answers Knee-Mail” or the even more witty, “ATM Inside: Atonement, Truth and Mercy.” I am amazed at what I perceive to be a total disregard for the unbelievers in our community who have no clue what these sayings mean.

So what do I do? I begin to complain to my wife about how some people in the body of Christ just don’t “get it.” I find myself criticizing those churches for not realizing that when an unbelieving person reads those signs, it further confirms to them that the Christian Church is out of touch with the real world.

It’s at that point that I remember something. The people who attend those churches that I am criticizing are a part of my family. Although sometimes I’m slow to admit it, even the Christians who seem to never understand the meaning of being culturally relevant are my “brothers” and “sisters.” All too often I have become the snobby sibling at the family reunion. Instead of being a loving member of God’s family, I have become aloof and unapproachable.

I’ve discovered that if I don’t watch myself, I begin to succumb to the subtle and dangerous trap of relevant arrogance. Relevant arrogance is looking down on other believers for not seeing things the way you see them. I serve as the worship pastor in a church that is constantly striving to do things on the cutting edge. Because I’m consistently being challenged to think outside the box, it’s easy for me to walk into another church and begin mentally criticizing them for their lack of understanding of the culture. Instead of thinking about how to build the church up, I am tearing the church down in my mind.

Relevant arrogance is ugly and rooted in pride. If we aren’t careful, every one of us has the tendency to be controlled by this attitude. Proverbs 8:13 speaks of pride and arrogance saying, “All who fear the Lord will hate evil. That is why I hate pride, arrogance, corruption, and perverted speech” (NLT). Pride is such a deceptive vice because it poses a triple threat to a Christian. Pride corrupts your heart, causes division in the body of Christ and blinds us to the fact that we have a judgmental attitude in the first place.

Although something like perverted speech may be easy to spot, religious arrogance is not. That’s why it is so essential that in our fervor to be relevant, we don’t forget that God has also called us to love others and be gentle with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

It doesn’t take much to fall into this arrogant way of thinking. There is a segment of the Church at large that is learning once again to speak the language of the culture as they share the message of Christ. However, there is still a large group of Christians who happily remain inside their Christian bubble and speak to each other in what has jokingly been referred to as “Christianese.”

Because I grew up in the Church, I spoke Christianese fluently. I listened to all the right Christian bands. I wore Christian T-shirts, participated in Christian clubs and condemned secular music like I thought a good Christian teenager should. However, when I graduated high school and went to college, I started realizing things weren’t as black and white as I once had seen them. I began learning that if I wanted to reach unbelievers, I would have to start looking at the world and the Church through their eyes.

The more I began to think in these terms, the more frustrated I became with how many churches seemed so comfortable in their inability to understand the very culture they were trying to reach. That frustration over time turned into Relevant arrogance. I unwittingly became infected with this disease and saw many others around me afflicted with it as well.

Since it so easy to fall victim to this soul sickness, we have to ask ourselves what the remedy to relevant arrogance is. The remedy is learning to live our lives with real love for others. I know that may sound simplistic, but it is often the most simplistic things that we tend to overlook.

Do you remember what Paul tells the church in Corinth about love? In The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson interprets a classic portion of 1 Corinthians 13 in a fresh way. “If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (The Message).

It doesn’t matter how cutting edge you are; if you don’t live a life of authentic love, you are “bankrupt.” You can win thousands to Christ, but if you overlook the simple command of walking in love, you’ve missed the point. God is more concerned with what’s happening in you than the work that you are accomplishing. Love is the great spiritual litmus test of the faith.

The apostle John reminds us of this when he asks the question, “If we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?” (1 John 4:20, NLT). You are going to see Christians do some ridiculous things, but always remember they are your brothers and sisters. A family wouldn’t be complete without a difficult family member to spice life up a bit.

We don’t abandon our physical brother because he is doing things that we think are foolish. We love our physical family although we might not agree with everything they do. God has a simple challenge for us concerning our ill-advised spiritual family members: love them.

I’m not talking about the God-bless-them-at-a-distance kind of love. I’m talking about really getting to know them. Go out of your way to build relationships with other believers in your community who don’t see things the same way you do. Ask God to give you His heart for that person from another church that may not be in tune with the latest culture trends, but really has an authentic relationship with God. Allow God to expand your understanding and your love of His people—your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

You may be surprised at what type of doors will open for you to lovingly challenge your God-siblings to evaluate the way they interact with the world. True Christianity is not all about being the coolest Christian around. It’s about demonstrating God’s love all the time, whether you feel like it or not. So next time you pass by that local church marquee and read another creative saying that makes you cringe, remember that you and them are a part of the same family.

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[Jon Elswick is 23 years old, is married to his beautiful wife, Melissa, and serves as the worship pastor and a teaching pastor at Christ the Rock Community Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.]

RELATED LINKS:

THE SABOTAGE OF CHURCH SIGNS

WHAT MAKES THE CHURCH RELEVANT?

RELEVANT, BUT IS IT MINISTRY?

THE RELEVANCE OF CULTURAL RELEVANCE

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