The Underlying Problem[s] with the Emergent Church Movement?
Questions that are not properly answered do not easily go away. The church has done a poor job explaining the Bible and upholding its eternal teachings and instructions in our day.
The youth who at times are intellectually stimulated are looking for fresh approaches to faith. Many have become discouraged and disillusioned about the way they thought the church should be, it has motivated them to look elsewhere. They have become open to other spiritual paths and have pursued other avenues for answers to a spiritual life. At the same time they are experimenting, they are holding on to some semblance of Christian teaching, adding what seems beneficial, essentially making up their own personal religion. We are seeing a repeat of the same events we had in 60’s -70’s rejecting their parents religion the youth sought spirituality in other places. Severing themselves from the religious traditions they were brought up in; except this time it is orthodox Christianity (historic biblical Christianity).
“Emergents” do not see the written Word as self contained absolutes. They engage in conversation on it, which they believe opens our hearts to progress and brings back “reason.” Those who are most susceptible to this are the disenfranchised from biblical Christianity, which is becoming more rare throughout the landscape of churches. As a movement they are spiritually inclusive, seeking ways to enhance their spirituality that they cannot find contained in the traditional church. They are open to accept other spiritual concepts of God that the Bible calls unbiblical. Many believe that they are on an adventure that will arrive at true faith. They are willing to participate in experimental changes to get us to this place where the church can be more effective to a postmodern culture.
Leonard Sweet says it like this, “Postmodern culture is a change-or-be-changed world. The word is out: Reinvent yourself for the 21st century or die” (Leonard Sweet, Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture (Zondervan, 1999), p. 74-75)
Emergent church leader Dan Kimball writes, 'So, the emerging church is about a re-imagining: re-imagining our preaching, our evangelism, and our worship services. A re-imagining of new types of churches and an opportunity to be rethinking all we do because we recognize that the next generation is at stake if we don't.” (underline mine)
Actually, the next generation is at stake if they do. The idea that the postmodern culture needs to be reached by more than what is written is incongruous and defeats the message in the Scripture that contains the power of God. This emergent movement is not just postmodern, it is post everything- POST gospel.
Every generation becomes postmodern from the generation before to some degree. This whole theme of postmodernism is a fallacy. They present a paralogism as the answer to have the church change.
Sweet challenges the churches reluctance by stating, “So far the church has refused to dip its toe into postmodern culture. A quantum spirituality challenges the church to bear its past and to dare its future by sticking its big TOE into the time and place of the present....” (Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, p. 10)
We can no longer do church the same way because the world has changed is their flawed premise. The world is always changing, its in flux because it is not living by the eternal standards of God. God gave us (the Church) the word – the truth in an objective form so that it can be easily understood, lived and communicated. That it cannot be easily manipulated or interpreted by the genre of a generation.
So what do they do to change the church? Doug Pagitt, one of the early Emergent leaders is pastor of “Solomon's Porch” in Minneapolis. The church sits in a circle on couches and recliners instead of rows of pews. This makes a more informal atmosphere but this is only the first in many steps to change the way the church thinks and acts in today’s world.
Emergent Church promoters are quick to point out the ways the church fails to reach the culture. But the solution they propose is far worse than the problems they see. New Age concepts and practices from eastern mysticism, universalism, and pantheism are part of their program. They are comfortable using non biblical ideas from other religions. To be relevant to a postmodern culture in this manner is NOT the answer. The Lord can reach people in whatever culture they are in- what is more important is what is being USED to reach them. The means is as important as the result. In fact, you cannot get a result from God by using what is borrowed from other religions ass the means. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:19). Of course postmodern pragmatists do not take this into account.
“The church must provide postmoderns with an alterity of rituals by which they can turn and tune to one another and feel connected to the cosmos” (Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, p. 137).
Is this what the church’s obligation is, to have people feel connected to the cosmos? The pursuit to become more relevant to a wayward generation has these churches groping for solid ground.
It is the word of God- the living epistles are to be used to bring the message of God’s love and grace to people. Instead of catering to postmodernism by adopting its principles or ways they should be learners of the word –equipped to give answers and disciple this generation.
Leonard Sweet states it like this: “Postmodern missions must have a geomantic imagination and geomantic design. What I am calling a geomantic style of evangelization will ensure harmonious habitation patterns as the gospel interconnects and interacts with all life-and landforms” (Quantum Spirituality, p.168).
There is the answer in emergent church language, but what does it mean in English? I don’t really know. What I do see is a pattern in Sweets “Cosmic Christianity” that is laced with eastern thought and environmental droppings.
Geomancy means divination by geographic features or by figures or lines (American Heritage Dictionary)
divination by means of signs connected with the earth (as points taken at random or the arrangement of particles thrown down at random or from the configuration of a region and its relation to another) (WordNet 3.0, 2006 by Princeton University) http://dictionary.reference.com/
The gospel is to save humans from their sins, that is Jesus’ style of evangelizing, but now we have a new emerging evangelization.
The Emergents make the point that sacred and secular has no division in this world. In the book Emerging churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger -- Postmodern Christianity exposes the lie of “secular space” and celebrates the reign and imminence of God everywhere and at all times. They claim the church created the distinction of the private sector and secular space. The modern church’s message is come to us to find God. Instead, they view the world and all in it belonging to God as the Psalms declare, the modern church created “God's house.”
They fail to see the distinction of ownership and influence. God may be the owner of the world but is he the peoples infleunce?
“all life is sacred” there is no such place as a God’s forsaken place, this world is God’s”(M7 Conference)
While the world belongs to God it is not under his influence but Satan’s. The distinctions are made by God in the Scripture, not the church. God says the world hates us that we are not of the world. John writes the world and the believer are at odds with each other: I Jn. 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-- is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
This is why it says in James 4:4: “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Jesus said: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19)
I Jn. 4:4-5: “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.”
We are also told the nations do not worship God. That Satan is the God of this world, that he has power and influence over the things that are in a sinful condition, which is nearly everything except the believer that walks in the Spirit. I Jn. 5:19: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”
In fact we are told in Rev 11:15 when the seventh angel sounded: then “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ…” in the meantime Eph 2:2 Tells us the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” To conclude that the secular and sacred are one is hardly what the Scripture portrays. For “the Spirit of truth” the world cannot receive” (John 14:17).
Acts 26:18 Paul explains it is the gospel is the tool God gave us to rescue those in darkness. There are God events everyday, divine appointments for those who feet are shod with the gospel of peace.
The world is one of the territories used to tempt us (it was used on Jesus) we are in a spiritual war with the world, the flesh and the Devil. None of these have been defeated in a completed or final sense. To adopt the ways of the world to reach the world is antithetical to what the bible teaches.
Since doctrine is diminished the emphasis in the emergent church movement is spiritual experience. In the Emergent church we find them using contemplative prayer, in yoga positions, eastern type meditation, walking through labyrinths, and other alternative non Christian practices to induce for themselves a spiritual experience. But when discussing the word of God they view it as if it is not absolutely true. When you deny the importance of doctrine or question it as the emergent church does the only thing left to pursue is experience, which is the modus operandi of worship in their gatherings. This is a religious Pollyanna movement where they accept other methods and practices, believing it will enhance or improve their spirituality without any consequences. By using these other religions practices it will make you more like Jesus. But when you open yourself up using other spiritual methods to produce an experience you are no longer practicing the way of Christ Jesus, his Spirit is not involved.
For example In Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, he tells us that the Bible is a “human product... rather than the product of divine fiat.” So he has come to the conclusion that “Everybody’s interpretation is essentially his or her own opinion” which means no one can be sure they have arrived at the truth, which the word is called by Jesus.
When doctrinal teaching is put in practice it will manifest the power of God in those who walk by faith and in the Spirit.
Heb 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen., it goes on to say by faith we understand… faith comes from hearing the word, which I find is scarcely taught in this movement. When you base a movement on re-evaluating the word of God under the auspices of progress it is Doctrinal anarchy, rebellion. The Bible does not need to be discussed by groups to try to decipher what the stories mean to them.
They are so open minded in their thinking that they don’t even see the lines they have drawn replace God’s instructions. New interpretations justify the new concepts they are introducing to the church.
Tim Condor at the M-7 Conference (Mission 2007 Church of the Nazarenes Feb.19-21 2007):
“Doctrine has functioned as the boundary to our community. “I think that putting doctrine at the fence-line has a bunch of challenges, one challenge is a theological and biblical challenge, is that doctrine sometimes works that way in the New Testament and Old Testament but sometimes it doesn’t. I alluded to the story in Mk.2 this morning where Jesus stands up to, or the 4 men have lowered the paralyzed man at the feet of Jesus and Jesus looks at the man that been lowered and how does Mk record the story- he turns to the four and says because of your faith I forgive his sins. The man doesn’t confess, Jesus affirms the missional community who has lowered him at his feet and that is the dynamic by which he dialogues about his ability to forgive sins, and forgiving sins is essential to the story because that’s what he’s fighting with the Pharisees about at that moment. So that’s a moment where prescriptively it doesn’t fit perfectly probably in the theology that you and I most live by.
“and there are many stories in the New Testament and the Old Testament where the baptisms the conversions, invitations, the salvations all of those things do not perfectly fit in our story. So I would suggest that using doctrine as the boundary of your community is in some ways theologically and biblically challenged, at least in this way, it doesn’t seem to work in every circumstance. I would also say, … it is functionally challenged, it, it isn’t working in the sense that we have so much disagreement in our Christian communities, its hard, this is not a bad thing, it part of a postmodern world. One definition of a postmodern world is a world that believes in lots and lots of stories rather than one big story.”
Consider the statement “doctrine sometimes works that way in the New Testament and Old Testament but sometimes it doesn’t.” What other Testament do we have? The ODD Testament? If doctrine is not the fence which the Bible clearly states it is, then what is? Someone’s personal opinion? This makes their position equal or more important than what God and his word state, that which we know is good or true. Clearly this is the Bible trapped in a relativistic box of men’s rules.
Though Mark 2:5 does say “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” Perceiving what they said in their hearts Jesus made the point right after with a question - “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'?
Condor presents to us that “because of your faith I forgive his sins.” It is by proxy. Subtle as this may be, he misses the point. There is no such teaching in Scripture of forgiveness by another’s faith. They brought the man to the house believing Jesus can HEAL him ,they did not bring him for his sins to be forgiven. Jesus introduced the forgiveness of sins to demonstrate that he is able to do the greater-forgive his sins, because he is God. There is no conflict of theology or doctrine.
Mark 2:9-10 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'? “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”-- He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go your way to your house.”
He healed the man to prove he had the power to forgive sin- the greater work which is unseen, proving he was their Messiah.
Emergent teachers use a philosophical framework that leads to new interpretations which are of no advantage to learning the objective word of God. The Emergent teachers have invented their own way to interpret scripture and language to describe their activities (much in allegory and story form). Multi-syllable rare or invented words are used to describe what they are doing, one has to wait for a “new dictionary” to be published to understand what they mean. It becomes more confusing, despite the Pseudo intellectual veneer. They complicate what the Bible gives as a very simple approach. Seeing the Bible as short stories not recognizing the continual theme that is weaved through them all (letters, prophets) by the Holy Spirit (prophecy and fulfillment). Their conclusion- theology is failing because of disagreements (part of a postmodern world.) there is a better more accurate conclusion, unless one has the foundation of orthodoxy they can not have a accurate interpretation. This can avoid causing any division –and the word brings right orthopraxy.
The Emergent movement puts the emphasis on man and takes the focus of learning off of Christ and the word. In fact, I rarely hear the word quoted or spoken accurately in this movement, especially by the leaders. So how can there pupils be different? How can God show up as they say if they are not honoring His word?
The postmodern approach to learning differs from the method of logic or doctrine. Postmoderns would rather have an experience than think something through to its conclusion. Experience, instead of knowledge, becomes the basis for truth. Leonard Sweet expresses the dissimilarity this way, “People today are starved not for doctrines but for images and relationships and stories.” (Leonard Sweet, Andy Crouch, et al., The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives, Leonard Sweet ed. (Zondervan, 2003) p.35).
Leonard Sweet in his book “Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture” says: “Postmoderns want a God they can feel, taste, touch, hear and smell--a full sensory immersion in the divine.”
There is no such immersion in Christianity, but there is in eastern religions. Like mystics in past ages the spiritual “experience” replaces the importing of truth. Doctrinal “truth,” is not considered superior to experiencing “truth” in this manner, but a subjective spiritual experience. Discerning Christians know that this does not necessarily put one in touch with “truth,” it must always pass the test of doctrine.
“The words modern and skeptic went together in the same way postmodern and spiritual go together. Postmodern culture is hungry for the intimacy of psychospiritual transformations. It wants a “reenchantment of nature.” It’s aware of its ecstasy deprivation. It wants to know God “by heart.” It wants to light an inner fire, the circulating force of divine energies flowing in and flowing out. The primal scream of postmodern spirituality is for primal experiences of God. George Gallup, Jr., believes that this is the most important discovery the Gallup Poll has uncovered since its founding in 1935. Religious experience is the focal point in faith development” (Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality, p. 56)
Should we to listen to secular polls or the Bible for our direction? Sweet’s descriptions sound like the yearning of occultists who elicited a deeper and direct spiritual encounter by mysticism. The Emergent Church movement intentionally breaks ranks with the church whose growth can only be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, by learning doctrine. One cannot use an “unbiblical practice” to bring a “true” spiritual experience. Experience then becomes the teacher, and one is moved away from objective truth that is in the word of God. Instead of enhancing their spiritual growth for creative thinking to advance the gospel, the truth is crippled. The Emergent Church is more like an experiment by the architects for a “new Christianity.” It is where they can implement their innovations on the naïve and unsuspecting youth by reshaping their thinking of God and the Bible. This is done by using the dialectic process to create a new synthesis. They diminish and at times scorn the objective teaching of the word of God and present mysticism as a better means for communion (see part 1.)
But the Postmodern Christians are also in a constant state of revising their beliefs because the culture is never stagnant. The problem is that our society has always been what is termed postmodern in every age. Since when was culture such an issue? It wasn’t to the first century church that lived under Roman rule. The apostles lived in a Roman society; they did not come up with the idea of learning the cultures ways to reach out to it. Do we see any suggestions of reaching out to the Romans by using their cultural icons? I’m sure there are some people who would say-- this is what Paul meant when he said I become all things to all men. No it is not.
It should be obvious that we need to address the needs of people from a biblical point of reference not from their a non biblical view which is present in every generation. If the culture starts wearing there pants backwards or there shirts inside out are we to try and understand them or do the same to reach them? Truth cannot be conformed to fit the current cultural slant, it (sometimes, not always) can be delivered to the culture by using its customs to associate an example but it cannot be dressed in these customs. This is like trying to see the sun on a rainy day; it is restricted from being seen.
The Associated Pressed reported (June 2008 report released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life) that “57% of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life.” How can the emergent movement improve this view when they are the ones incorporating these other religious practices into the church? In fact they find themselves in the category of 68 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation that believe there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion. We are drowning in a plethora of opinions.
This open-mindedness is spiritually dangerous for Christians. Once I observed yoga and other religions spiritual practices that I once practiced before I was a Christian, I realized there is something else in operation in this emergent movement. It was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (who some seem to mimic in principle if not practice in this movement) that observed “In this present crisis, in which we can see and feel the confrontation between the traditional Christian forces and the modern forces of evolution, Is simply the permutations of a providential and Indispensable Inter-fertilization” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 176).
There is no question this movement finds more solidarity with other religions and the New Age Movement than with the Bible. Many of the authors they refer to are mystics, who have a non- Christian worldview. They refer to Catholic mystics that were not practicing the Christianity delivered by the apostles. Knowingly or unknowingly, this is building a bridge back to ancient Roman Catholicism and its rituals and sacramentalism. Are we going to see people end up bowing and praying to the Eucharist and statues as Catholics do? Probably so, as the movement takes on the character of those they refer to.
Alternate church practices will always emerge as people who are restless search for answers find themselves looking outside the Bible. They yearn to communicate the truths of Christianity in a new fashion so that it can be understood by this postmodern generation. But they are changing Gen-X to Gen-Z which will yield 0 if they are not careful. They encourage the youth to partake in new ways to worship, ways God never instructed. They are expanding the way miles-wide while it is about an inch-deep. You can liken the emergent church to a tree that would blow over from the slightest wind because it has no root in the ground for stability.
Paul writes to believers that were being influenced by asceticism and Gnosticism in Colossians 2: 8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” All the riches of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ and we do not assess them by mystical methods, He gave us His Word.
The Emergent Church movement is quixotic. To look for a deeper relationship with God is a noble pursuit, but it must be done the way God instructs us. We cannot invent our own new ways, picking and choosing religious practices as if we are at some spiritual smorgasbord. Postmodernism, pluralism, relativism, interfaith are not just classifications but are values that are shaping our worldview and lives. With these influencing the church’s direction one hardly knows where to find pure Christian teaching and practice under the pile of non- biblical additions.
The struggle is really about the word, holding to a literal, biblical interpretation while the Emergent Church is a liberal, mystical hybrid movement that is developing a new paradigm of interpretations, allegorizing the Scripture. One wrong practice leads to another and with each step one gets further and further away from the way and the truth. There is a need to identify these value changes because it is a constant character of those in this movement.
“We have the great opportunity to redefine the church to emerging
This movement is a product of futurists and progressive liberals that have made the Christian faith far too complicated, using words and principles and methods not given by Jesus. We should not be entertained by the spiritual silliness of those who live by trends forged in the world.
In “A New Kind of Christian” Brian McLaren speaks about “people he meets that model what a new kind of Christian might look like. …but they generally agree that the old show is over, the modern jig is up, and it's time for something radically new” “...if we have a new world, we will need a new church. We won't need a new religion per se, but a new framework for our theology. Not a new Spirit, but a new spirituality. Not a new Christ, but a new Christian” (emphasis mine).
There is no such thing as “a new [kind] of Christian,” nor “a new spirituality” for those who have the truth. When you are born spiritually all things become new, you are a new creation. We have the same Holy Spirit that the early church had and his work is the same; conforming us to be like our savior, Jesus. You are either part of the faith delivered to the saints of all time or not part of them at all. Culture does not change this.
To be a Christian without the word is not possible. God gives us objective truth because God is that truth is our standard, Jesus is the word and it has been shared it to mankind by the Bible throughout our history. Jesus prayed “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17) V. 19 “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” In other words he submitted to the word perfectly and his spirit in us should lead us to the same way to live.
In 1 Cor.4:6 Paul instructs “not to go beyond what is written.” Why say this if it is not important. It is what we are to watch so that we do not accept other teachings that are useless.
Finding our spiritual fulfillment and questions answered by the Bible should supercede any of mans reasoning or philosophical viewpoints. Without the Bible we have words and beliefs that sound spiritual but are without any spiritual substance. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). As people left Jesus because they could not understand his words V.67-68 states Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Some obviously do not believe this and think they can find spiritual life by picking and choosing what they want from other religions.