Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Thoughts on the Emergent Church

In case you haven't determined from my other posts, especially those about "Changing Church," I have some serious concerns about the evangelical Christian Church in America. A year ago I led a Bible study. And it is a symptom of the problems with evangelicalism that I must clarify: that means we took passages of the Bible and studied them. We figured out what the words meant, how the passages were connected with other parts of Scripture, and how to apply them. The topic was spiritual gifts. One of the primary passages on spiritual gifts in the Bible is 1 Corinthians. Typically a theologian would point you to select verses in chapter 12. However, spiritual gifts are the topic throughout 12, 13, and 14. This information fits because, in context, we saw that spiritual gifts are (this is so obvious) part of Church structure and purpose. Our group ended up discussing and discovering a lot about how the Church was intended to "run."

"from Whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." - Ephesians 4:16

Ephesians 4, also a defining passage for the Church, is another chapter describing spiritual gifts. There are also passages in Romans and 1 Peter. In none of these do we see church buildings. The four-point sermon is not described, nor the "invitation." Come to think of it, a weekly offering wasn't part of the instructions. There is no gift for "treasury," though there is one for "giving."

To some extent, I am still trying to figure out what the Bible teaches about the design for the Church. What did Paul tell Timothy the Church should look like? How should the assemblies go? Who should assemble; when; where; how often? Is it like a network of small groups that interact and overlap? How do elders fit in? What does an elder do? How many elders did God plan for churches? Do they need to be formally ordained? Does a teacher have to be an elder? Does an elder have to teach? If they do, is it every week?

*Deep breath* I have a lot of questions. And I have some ideas I'm exploring. Some might ask how relevant my search is to real life. Occasionally God reminds me He is more important than a completely worked-out theology. He'll teach me what I need to know. Mostly I need to know I should trust Him.

So I read up on these things. And I try to have an application-oriented study. But I'm not pragmatic. Truth is more important to me than success. I won't take a group that "does it right" without believing the right thing. I'd rather not be part of a church that is high on creeds and low on follow-through. For one thing, that is my tendency, and I need influences to counter my laziness.

I'm not alone in my dissatisfaction with the Church. A lot of people my age leave, and I can't entirely blame them. For one thing, my friends and I want challenged. We want examples. We need interaction across generations that is generally unavailable to us at traditional churches. Some who leave their childhood churches gather with others craving spiritual experiences though they were raised outside of church. An overall term for these gatherings is the "emergent church."

This church and its leaders tend to have embraced a unique philosophy/theology. It is unitarian, communal, experiential: meaning respectively that there could be many roads to salvation and a relationship with God, evangelism and the Christian life should be more about serving the poor and building real there-for-you relationships, and worship must be a multi-sensory encounter.

One of the most frequent things I hear is an emphasis, almost a demand, for "alternative worship." There is also contemplative prayer. The idea that conversion is a process can be found. In a book I am currently reading, a missionary is encouraging Muslim converts to keep the Koran, keep the the mosques, and be "Messianic Muslims."

Here's the thing. Most of these emergent believers and former evangelicals (and some others: family-integrated church members, some house churches, other conservative "fundamentalist" movements) are identifying real problems in the Church. The difference is the source of their solution.

I am searching for a back-to-the-Bible approach such as advocated by the New Testament Reformation Fellowship. The other options would be slight reform (as explained in the Purpose Driven Church and other such books) or theological abdication for what works. These alternatives are man-centered, offering either that which appeals and entertains men, or that which men think will work, borrowing "truth" from "wherever it can be found," including pagan religions, popular psychology, New Age spirituality, Hollywood, and ancient mysticism.

Back to the topic of spiritual gifts, one oft-overlooked and even supressed gift is that of discernment. "Discerning of spirits," can mean telling whether a spirit (message or soul) is from God or not. John MacArthur has compiled an entire book on the subject for contemporary issues, entitled Fool's Gold. There are websites like Let Us Reason, Apprising Ministries, and the Christian Research Net. I believe this is one of my gifts as well as a topic I believe to be vital to the Church.

So I feel obligated to warn you about reliance on The Message paraphrase of the Bible, Brennan Manning's writings, Rick Warren's writings, anything Emergent Church or "Christian mysticism." The argument that one must have read a book to denounce it, or have met a person to know that they are false teachers is invalid. The spiritual gift of discernment comes from God, and is primarily a testing of spirits against the pure, absolutely true Word of God. For specifics of why these people, books, movements, and ideas are unbiblical, please consult the links above. I have personally had exposure to each of these, but not immersion. However, the links provided do go into detail, with quotes and point-by-point refutations.

To summarize: the Church has problems. The solution to these problems can be found in the Bible, and the cause in how we have sold out to our culture and human philosophies rather than believing the instructions God gave. Some people who recognize these same problems and are very insightful in how they are related to each other and to statistics coming out about the Church have resorted to unbiblical "solutions," which will cause more harm than good. Christians must be on their guard against these philosophies and practices. This is done by being solidly grounded in the Bible, and testing every movement against it.

Colossians 2:6-8, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."

To God be all glory.


ZJRamsli said...

What frustrates me is to see how many times we as Christians are critical of each other when we disagree or see a failing in another. Often we tend to disassociate instead of edifying and building up one another in love. Or sadly the other extreme; to be so wishy-washy that we don't challenge each other to grow in Christ.

C.A.R. said...

I read some of the material at New Testament Restoration Foundation website. They have some interesting ideas and some thoughts I agree with,but I disagree with their central belief-
"In short, we believe that the patterns for church life evident in the New Testament are not merely DESCRIPTIVE but are actually PRESCRIPTIVE."
If you believe the pattern in Scripture is prescriptive then everyone else is "doing church wrong"; not just disobeying the apostles teaching,but God.
If you believe the pattern in Scripture is descriptive then it shows the way the church was meeting at that time.
In my opinion God did NOT command us in exactly how the church should be organized,or exactly how it should be run,but that it should be orderly. We are told not to forsake meeting together,but not instructed where we should meet. Details of how our meetings are organized are of minor importance and open to personal preference in many areas.
I believe what goes on between us,the members of Christ's Church,is the heart of New Testament teaching. God DID command us to:Love one another
walk in newness of life, hold to the spirit of the law not the letter, be fruitful, put off old work,use gifts for building others up,pray, preach the gospel, rejoice in the Lord always, be thankful, have attitude of
Christ,have faith, follow in Jesus'footsteps ourselves and make disciples, serve one another, forgive each other as He has forgiven us, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These are of major importance to our church life. I think we constantly need to be reminded to have love for each other as our primary focus.
"If I have not love..."

Lisa of Longbourn said...

C.A.R. - I RESPECTFULLY disagree, seeing the fundamental difference in our perspectives. In churches today I see many problems that I postulate would be better treated or non-existent if we took the New Testament more prescriptively. In the very least, the instructions I mentioned in 1 Corinthians on church order are prescriptive.

Not everyone is "doing church wrong," as there are house churches and churches in other countries that have used the Bible, rather than centuries of tradition and humanist philosophy as their guidebook.

I cannot believe the Bible in some parts only teaches history. We were told for a reason about the early church - and we were told frustratingly little! Yet we do see interesting results of their meetings and ministry, namely lots of people were being saved.

1 Corinthians 14:24-25, "But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth."

This post is not so much a judgment as a confession to the areas in which I am challenged. I am very aware that God works on different aspects of Christian living in different Christian's lives at different times, and there is no room to be proud.

Philippians 3:11-13, "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before"

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

C.A.R. said...

Hi, It is me again. I just want to be sure we understand each other. I am saying that nowhere in Scripture does the Lord say He wants us to meet in homes as the best way to spread the gospel and minister to each other. Instead Scripture tells us that churches were meeting in homes. It also talks about the church in Corinth, the church in Antioch, the church in Ephesus etc. That would be like saying the church in Aurora-which would include numerous meeting places of various sizes and in various places. We have freedom to meet in homes or rented school buildings, small church buildings or large cathedrals. I am not saying the Bible should only be taken descriptively and not prescriptively when it comes to the church. As far as meeting places I think the Lord is fine with a variety of options. And it seems to me that what is described in the New Testament is small house gatherings (similar to small groups in our church) and bigger city wide organization of some type.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Thank you for clarifying, C.A.R.

I would agree that the Bible does not command either a separate church building or meeting in homes, and say that it doesn't matter as much where assemblies are held as how they are done. Things like plural/equal leadership and participatory family meetings are important to me, so that's what I emphasize in my story.

The main problem I have with church buildings is cost. To own and maintain a building costs a lot of money, and we don't see any New Testament examples of or instructions for spending Church gifts in that way. The Church in America neglects the poor and widows to the detriment of the Church and family, and it troubles me that we are more concerned with investing our money in parking lots, buildings, carpeting, paint... instead of care for the poor and missionaries as instructed in the Bible.

There are other positives and negatives of having a church building, but that's the main one. It buts me every budget meeting at my church.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn