Are We Seeking Relevance or Simply Being Ashamed?

All over the Western world Christian churches and organisations are making all sorts of changes. Changes to the way church is done, or how it looks, or how it is named, is part of this. Explicitly Christian names and titles for example are often being dropped for more update and trendy ones.

The reason given for all this is often expressed in one word: “relevance”. Churches and Christian organisations claim they want to be more relevant, more appealing to the secular masses, and more up-to-date. Thus they are making various changes, as part of a new emphasis on marketing schemes and advertising tactics.

Lots of churches for example are coming up with rather trendy names, such as CityLife or some such thing. I am not picking on this particular group, but just using it as an example. My own church some years ago ditched its older, more accurate name, including its denominational tag.

It now has a contemporary name, with at least the word ‘cross’ still a part of it. But many churches are getting rid of any religious or even biblical sounding words in this effort to become appealing, relevant, fresh, and new. It has a lot to do with marketing strategies and becoming more seeker-sensitive and seeker-friendly.

Not only are name changes taking place, but many other radical shifts are occurring as well. Of course long gone are pews, hymnals and the like in many contemporary houses of worship. But so too are things like wooden crosses and other Christian symbols.

A number of churches proudly affirm such changes, citing the need to be progressive and relevant, and to better be able to draw young people. In another example of this, consider something I just learned about from an email in my inbox today.

It turns out that the old Christian stalwart parachurch group, Campus Crusade for Christ, has just had a name change as well. It is now called, simply, Cru. Here is how the story has been written up: “The new name will be adopted in early 2012. The U.S. ministry hopes the new name will overcome existing barriers and perceptions inherent in the original name.

“‘From the beginning, Bill (Bright) was open to changing our name. He never felt it was set in stone. In fact, he actually considered changing the name 20 or 25 years ago,’ says Vonette Bright, who co-founded Campus Crusade for Christ with her husband. ‘We want to remove any obstacle to people hearing about the most important person who ever lived—Jesus Christ’.”

This article, as well as the original press release put out by the group, goes on to talk about a lengthy period of time, and much prayer and thought, which went into the decision. But in none of the literature on this can I find any reason as to why this name was chosen, how it is meant to be an improvement on the old name, or even what it means.

What exactly is Cru? It is not even an acronym, it seems. And if the concern was to remove any troubling or offensive terminology, surely the word “crusade” would have been the obvious candidate. Yet all we have here is what seems like an abbreviation of this term.

Many Christian groups have abandoned what was once a fully acceptable term in order not to offend or appear to be antagonistic. One American Christian college I attended years ago was back then debating whether they should drop their football team name, The Crusaders. Even then it was getting to be a bit too politically incorrect.

This is not the place to go into all the pros and cons about the Crusades. For my thoughts on it, one can go to this article for starters:

Christian groups, especially those seeking to win Muslims, may have good reasons for changing such a name. But in this case, I am still left puzzled as to what exactly this new name means. It has no meaning at all, and no real explanation has been forthcoming.

And even more curious – if not troubling – is why the word “Christ” had to disappear from their name as well. It is one thing to drop a term like “crusade”. But “Christ”?  Was that altogether necessary? Again, the statements made about this gives us little insight into why this term also had to go.

They mentioned that “the new name will overcome existing barriers and perceptions inherent in the original name”. But Christ is always going to be a barrier and offensive to those who reject him. And if clarity in communication is the aim, and the new name is meant to be readily understood by non-Christians, I am at a loss as to how it will even come close to achieving this. At least with the old name we knew exactly where this group was coming from. The new name means and signifies absolutely nothing. It is simply incomprehensible.

Now I have nothing against the old CCC. I had some dealings with it in my younger Christian days and it was a terrific, biblically-based evangelical group. I assume it still is. I trust it is still boldly upholding the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I still can’t quite get my head around their name-change.

Mind you, there can well be a place for changing names. Sometimes it becomes quite necessary. For example, the old Festival of Light group in Australia now calls itself FamilyVoice. Good move. Almost no one today would know about the historical significance of the old Festival of Light both here and in England.

And there can be a place for seeking to be relevant, contemporary, and appealing to modern audiences. But one should only go so far in this direction. Sadly, as I have written elsewhere, sometimes far too much emphasis is put on marketing techniques and management styles, rather than on the need for things like greater holiness and more cross-carrying discipleship.

Many churches today seem to get along quite nicely without the Holy Spirit even needing to be present. As Tozer once put it, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”

And one has to ask about how many of these changes are in fact due to a certain shame about the gospel message itself. Jesus was quite outspoken about this. He made it clear that if we are ashamed of him and his message, he will be ashamed of us before the Father (eg., Mark 8:38; Matt 10:32-33; Luke 12:8-9).

I am not saying the old CCC is now ashamed of Christ. And hopefully most other groups which are making these sorts of changes are not either. But there is a fine line between wanting to be relevant and contemporary on the one hand, and being timid about the Christian gospel and capitulating to the forces of PC on the other.

Every Christian group, church and organisation considering such changes needs to ask just what is the motivation for all this. To seek to better reach people is one thing. But to want to play down our Christian distinctives is quite another. Hopefully the Holy Spirit, and not mere marketing executives and advertising agencies, will be determining all this.

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