Home christian living Are We Too Relevant for Piety?

Are We Too Relevant for Piety?

by Kelly Crawford

I’ve been perusing the book of love letters from Stonewall Jackson to his wife. Besides the tender affection this man obviously had for his “precious little darling”, I was equally impressed by his notable piety.

Piety…a word we hardly use anymore. A word, in fact, that has collected criticism from most, even Christians. Why? Why are we afraid of it? What does it mean?

Piety: “Religious devotion and reverence to God.”

I’m not talking about hypocritical phariseeism here, but a real, true character marked by the above definition.

So many of our spiritual forefathers and mothers were marked by their pious living. Just a little study into their lives reveals a devotion to the things of God many of us can’t even fathom.

They were men and women of stout conviction, resolution and determination to put God above all else.

This sentence struck me from a description of Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson:

Jackson sought to keep the Sabbath day holy…Worship, rest, bible reading, and meditation on the glories of Christ were the order of the day. He, in fact, would not mail a letter if he thought it would travel on Sunday.

And this:

“…the first resolution he made regarding his goal to love God fully was to ‘never violate the known will of God.’ “

And another thing struck me in one of his letters to his wife upon the news their baby girl had been born:

“Do not set your affections upon her, except as a gift from God. If she absorbs too much of our hearts, God may remove her from us.”

Whether or not God operates as such is left for debate (which I don’t see necessary here.) But this understanding he had seems to illustrate his fear of idolatry, and realized even his own precious child could be erected as a higher love than his love for God. He was determined in every detail of his life to keep his devotion to God in check.

As the Christian church loses more and more of that flavor that once so distinguished His people from the rest, who is more concerned with “being relevant” than being righteous, may we pray that God would give us the same passion and zeal He gave those before us.

Interestingly, if “being relevant” is so powerful an evangelism tool, while being pious is a complete turn off to the world, then why are the lives of those pious men and women the ones that were recorded and are still bearing witness to Christ today?


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Bethany Hudson March 24, 2009 - 2:48 pm

Kelly- I read the same book you’re reading a few months ago, and those same passages stood out to me then. This is something I have thought a lot about. I wonder if one ingredient that has changed the “flavor” of the church today might be our seeker-focused church mentality. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all called to evangelize, and that is wonderful. But, sometimes I wonder if the sermons we hear and the attitudes we often take on Sundays are so seeker-focused that they are no longer as believer-focused as they once were. This sort of seeker-focused service requires what you called “relevance”, whereas a believer-focused service is centered more on piety. Before the 1970s or so, every American church functioned on the basis that church was primarily for church-goers. Seekers came to churches, not necessarily to be preached to directly, but to see how Christians lived and worshipped. This is something that the American Catholic Church struggled with a lot after Vatican II. Eventually, it was determined that while Mass should be open to everyone, including seekers, the orientation of the service should be upon the faithful: that they might worship the Lord and be encouraged and upheld as they strive to serve Him faithfully.

Dunno…just pondering.


Word Warrior March 24, 2009 - 2:58 pm


Your point is so true and has stunned me for a while. We (as a whole) have so lost our understanding of what church is for, that if one says “it’s for believers, not the lost”, you might as well have spoken blasphemy…but clearly, the church–that is the institution of worship–has always been for the believer (Paul’s letters “to the church”)…”dear bretheren in Christ”…

And that’s NOT anti-evangelism…it’s the irony of the gospel. Live it, preach it, and the true “seekers” will see and be astounded because “his word will not return void”.

Kelly March 24, 2009 - 5:10 pm

This is a very awesome point! Unfortunately, in the American Churches’ quest (in general) to become relevent to unbelievers we (as a whole) have become irrelevent. When we take away the fullness and completness of the gospel, and don’t teach ALL of what Christ did and taught, and don’t operate in the ways He instructed to, we have made Him to be just another man, unworthy of our devotion, reverence, obedience and love! No wonder the people around most “Christians” don’t see anything different and worth seeking. We haven’t given them something TO seek! I know this is not all professed believers in America. But I am looking to the day when revival ignites in the hearts of believers and turns them into Christ Followers in everything they do. Thanks for bringing this up…I pray God will guide many Christians over to ponder this point.

Kelly March 24, 2009 - 5:11 pm

yikes…sorry for the novelette. ;}

Karen (Canadian Soldier's Wife) March 24, 2009 - 7:06 pm

What a great post, Kelly. Lots there to chew on… 🙂

Have you seen Internet Monk’s post about Christless Preaching? You’d probably enjoy it.

abjmama March 24, 2009 - 7:06 pm

Wow, it is funny that you posted this because I have been having a discussion with a friend about piety and he seems to think that if you do good works in devotion to God then you are being pious and it is seen as negative from what I understand him to say. I think that is the world’s view of piousness and that they don’t see a real need to be devoted to God or do deeds in His honor. That is what I believe piety is, honoring God with our deeds in order to serve Him, not as a means of salvation which can only come through Jesus Christ. I think of the verse that says that children and grandchildren of widows should learn piety at home. If piety were a bad thing, then why are we commanded to learn it when widows are concerned? I think that too many churches today want to leave out the teaching of devotion/piety because it is something that would require the new believer too much effort. Instead, they want to march as many people through the doors as possible. Faith without works is dead and believers will do those works out of devotion to God out of a thankful heart for their salvation in Jesus Christ.

Leslie March 24, 2009 - 8:13 pm

Kelly and Bethany,

I wholeheartedly agree with both of you….

For some wonderful reading on Stonewall Jackson, you might want to check out STONEWALL JACKSON, THE SPIRITUAL SIDE by Dr. David T Myers. You can get it at Sprinkle Publications.

Quinn March 24, 2009 - 8:47 pm

I love reading about Stonewall Jackson. My sons middle name is Thomas after Stonewall. It’s my prayer to be able to raise godly men such as he was.

As a side note, I think that he was concerned with idolizing his wife and child because his first wife and child both died not necessarily because of anything specifically mentioned in the Bible.

Kate March 24, 2009 - 8:49 pm

Worship is always an interesting topic. It can also be a subject that causes tension. In fact, the first homicide reported in the Bible was due to a variance on two brother’s worship practices. 😉

Seriously, I believe a business model is incredibly difficult to justify as a cross over evangelism ploy…foe instance, Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek model, as well as other’s seeker-sensitive driven worship models.

I have a MA in Christian Ministry; I still remember the four hour “discussion” (read argument) on the Willow Creek model.

“I’m going back to the heart of worship…and it’s all about You, Jesus–it’s all about You.”

Great discussion, my sweet sisters.

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer March 24, 2009 - 10:15 pm

Funny world we live in. Piety is almost a dirty word, righteousness has morphed into self-righteousness, desiring to obey His commandments is perceived as legalism. How many people do you meet who are earnestly endeavoring to become more holy?


faithforlife March 24, 2009 - 10:45 pm

This post and these comments are great. Beth the chief cook, you are very right. Obedience is seen as legalism, a call to obedience seen as a desire to control. Obedience is no longer seen as something that is done out of love and not fear, and works not as a matter or acting our of faith but of trying to buy a place with God. Hence the view that all we have to do is love.

I do not oppose reading other things apart from the Bible by any means, but so many people would rather read, quote and live by the words of the current ‘popular teacher or speaker’ than the word of God.

I cannot remember if I read this quote or heard it, or where it is from but it went something like this:

Evangelism is not about making the church or scripture relevant to the world but showing the world how to be relevant to God.

Keep up the good work and word Kelly.

formly Patricia in Australia

Terry @ Breathing Grace March 25, 2009 - 5:56 am

Kelly and Bethany, you read my thoughts. I have actually been cotemplating a post about the purpose of the church, namely: for the eqipping of the saints for the work of ministry.

I have pondering it in response to a comment I received a couple of weeks ago.

This was a good post because a church that is primarily focused on cultural relevance must, of necessity, become less focused on piety.

This is a grave development because the One who redeemed us has said, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” We tread on dangerous ground when we imply to seekers that holiness is unimportant and that their feelings reign supreme.

Truth Seeker March 25, 2009 - 9:36 am

One of my FAVORITE quotes…

“And if you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.” ~ William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

madgebaby March 25, 2009 - 9:55 am

It is so interesting to me that a man of such obvious genuine piety and human devotion could accept slavery. His family owned six slaves at least; apparently they were well treated, but he never questioned the notion that Christians had an obligation to own slaves.

Sarah March 25, 2009 - 10:11 am

I wonder if the emphasis on being “seeker sensitive” is that (a) it takes away the need for each individual Christian to be witnessing (just bring them to church to hear the gospel) and (b) if the service is geared toward the unbeliever, then the believers don’t have to worry about being convicted in church; after all, they’re already saved

Bethany Hudson March 25, 2009 - 11:17 am

madgebaby- Unfortunately, in that time and place, a KIND slave owner was probably the very most Christian thing you were going to see from a wealthy Southern white landowner. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have questioned slavery, but at the time, slavery was looked upon as an economic institution by whites, not as anything having to do with humanity. In the same way that Christians today might not question whether they should work for a banking firm or insurance company that charges interest (usury is condemned in the Bible), I think that is where Stonewall Jackson was coming from. NOT defending his owning of slaves by any means, but just trying to explain a little bit.

faithforlife March 25, 2009 - 8:00 pm

I think Sarah has hit the nail on the head with the thought of lack of conviction if the sermon is always ‘come and be saved’. At church we put it this way. We want Jesus to love us but we do not want His Lordship, we want His blessings but we do not want to have to obey because that is legalism.

As Bethany touched on in her first post, relevance is, as far as I can see, wanting the love and the blessings but not wanting to obey His Lordship. Piety is a willingness to obey Him as Lord in all we do.

I hope I haven’t misunderstood you two ladies.



Kim from Canada March 25, 2009 - 11:26 pm

I would agree with Bethany that Stonewall Jackson probably never did analyze himself over slavery – simply because it was commonplace in his time. However, how many christians today analyze their choices in educating their children, or dating, or – the very topic of this post – the piety of the church of which they are members?

Churches today are so often filled marketing schemes and popularity contests in order to lure believers from one church to another. It is difficult for pastors to preach the whole counsel of God to those who only want to have their ears tickled. The leaders of each church will be held accountable to the Lord for the direction they take their churches, but the membership can (and should) be standing up for righteousness rather than relevance. How many christians really want to hear the whole truth, and therefore the things they need to change?

madgebaby March 26, 2009 - 7:39 am

Interesting. I totally get the rationale behind the beneficent Christian slaveholder mentality, but it does make me wonder what we layer on to Christianity that is really just cultural prejudice.

I mean, of course, the really Christian thing to do would have been to fight for abolition, instead of building a career by defending to the death people who wanted to keep slaves (however well or poorly).

How much of what we do as christians is really our own adaptation of culture–or our own filter of, say Victorian culture or pioneer culture or whatever that we lay on Christianity. (it seems like a lot of traditional christian discussion of gender roles is really one of these two superimposed on some scripture verses.

Slaveholders of that era believed with all their heart that black people were not human in the same way they were–they believed in this way with all earnestness. They backed it up with scripture. They were absolutely wrong. What are we wrong about?

Like I said, very interesting. . . .

The Mangerchine's March 27, 2009 - 5:09 pm

When we try to be “relevant”, is that just a way of us being conformed to the world, which Scriptures speaks against? I understand all of the reasons for being relevant, but aren’t we supposed to live like Jesus, who was radically different in approach, ministry, teachings, etc. When did we (the church as a whole) get so scared to be radical?


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