The Emerging Church (part 2)

feature-article.gifThis article is continued from the last issue of the Visitor.

The Emerging Church is hostile to traditional evangelism.
Bible-believing people have traditionally been soul winners. They have believed in testimonies, tracts, street meetings, and personal evangelism. While I am not a proponent of “easy-believism” or seeking simply to get a person to say a prayer and then pronouncing him saved, let me just mention three essentials of the gospel. To be saved a man must know he is lost before a holy God and openly repent of his sin. He must understand that Jesus Christ made atonement for his sin at Calvary, and the death of Christ alone is the foundation of salvation. He must wholeheartedly place unfeigned faith in Jesus Christ.

What does the emerging church say about this? I have already quoted McLaren’s scoffing remarks about the simple gospel given to Africans. Let me go further. Gibbs and Bolger quote with approbation the words of Debbie Blue of the House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota:

“We preach that God acted uniquely in Jesus to redeem the world and that we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. We acknowledge that trying to figure out what that means, especially in relation to our activity in the world, is a little bit of a wild ride. We are definitely not out on the streets trying to get people to accept Jesus into their hearts so that they can be saved from hell” (123).

That final sentence is a definite slur aimed at devoted witnesses. In the next paragraph the same authors quote Brad Cecil of Axxess in Arlington, Texas as saying:

“We are very aware that we have a faith construct that works for our community…that means we have a community of strongly held historic Christian beliefs, but we are always aware that we could be wrong. We are not foundational empiricists who feel that we have reduced our faith to the point of irreducible certainty. So we engage in a very broad spectrum of discussions for such a small group, yet without fear. We engage. We do not do any intentional outreach to engage other religions.”

Notice the doubt in the first sentence. The way of salvation is not a fact, but a “faith construct that works for our community.” How can a saving faith say, “Lord, I believe, but I might be wrong?” I have been called many names, but I never knew I was a foundational empiricist. However, I will proudly bear that title, because I do believe our faith can be declared as an irreducible certainty.

The emerging church sees salvation as an invitation to join their community instead of an invitation to have your sins forgiven and your name written in heaven. This is clearly stated by Kimball: “We must speak about the kingdom in our evangelism because post-Christians are more concerned with the kingdom in this life than with the kingdom in the next life” (203). To clarify, he makes five statements defining evangelism for the emerging church. Look at the first three. First, evangelism offers an invitation into the kingdom instead of a way to get to heaven. Second, evangelism is less of an invitation to an event and more of an invitation to enter into community. Third, evangelism is more dialogue and listening than preaching and telling (203, 204, 206). Gibbs and Bolger reflect this phobia about evangelism by saying, “Emerging churches also have a strong desire to distance themselves from the prevailing models of evangelism, which they regard as intrusive and manipulative” (153).

Conder cleverly adds social action to the Gospel when he states: “The firewall between evangelism and social justice has been almost entirely obliterated” (181). In fact, the thought of a missionary going overseas to present the message of salvation is described as an absolute danger. “A Western-dominated perspective on mission that emphasizes the international, individual, and eternal aspects of the gospel at the expense of the gospel’s local, community, and present-tense attributes can be irrelevant, incomprehensible, and even offensive to postmodern and emerging culture persons” (171).

All of this thinking is in direct contrast to Scripture. In Matthew 28:19, Christ commanded, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations,” not invite all nations into community. Jesus Christ invited Nicodemus to everlasting life, not membership in a community. Paul and Silas did not answer the Philippian jailor, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt enter into community.” The logical end of these pronouncements of the emerging church is the death of sending missionaries to seek the souls of lost men. The emerging church is hostile to traditional evangelism.

The Emerging Church reshapes traditional worship.
We learn the elements of worship from our Bibles. Acts 2:42 teaches us that the newly formed church continued in the apostles’ doctrine (teaching and preaching), fellowship, breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper), and prayers. Later in the epistles we learn they used psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The whole purpose of worship was to express praise, honor, and glory to the God who saved them. What was done in worship was done to please God, while in the emerging church what is done in the name of worship is to please men.

One of the emerging church mantras is that there is no “secular space,” because all space is sacred. Therefore, in the words of Gibbs and Bolger, “for emerging churches, there are no longer any bad places, bad people, or bad times. All can be made holy. All can be given to God in worship. All modern dualisms can be overcome” (67). As a result, many emerging groups choose to meet in bars, coffeehouses, and English pubs. This is dignified as “transforming secular space.” While it is true that the earth is the Lord’s (Ps 24:1) and every inch of it rightfully belongs to him, it is also true that in this age, Satan is “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). There is much territory in his dominion with which the Christian does not want to be identified.

Kimball spends several chapters to point out that emerging generations desire a “multisensory worship experience.” Simply translated, the emerging church does not want to hear a sermon but an experience which appeals to the five senses. I was shocked to see Kimball argue for this on the basis of Christ’s incarnation as the Word in John 1. “The Word became three-dimensional, living, breathing, able to hear, to see, and to touch. The Word himself ate, drank, tasted, had a sense of smell, felt emotion. The Scriptures present a multisensory, multidimensional Word, but some evangelicals in the modern church have reduced him to mere words and facts to learn” (128). Jesus Christ was fully man and partook of the same senses we experience but this fact does not support “multisensory worship experience.” Kimball mentions the incense in the tabernacle, the taste of the bread and wine in communion, and the color and texture of things in the temple. However, nothing in the New Testament suggests we should follow the Old Testament services or even think about the taste of the elements in communion.

I could write pages about things considered worship in the emerging church. Gibbs and Bolger quote Rachelle Mee-Chapman of Thursday PM in Seattle, Washington: “In emerging churches all things are worship: everyday conversations or watching kids skateboard and seeing their devotion to practice, passion, and skills” (222). Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles, also in Seattle, says: “On one Sunday, we fingerpainted. We made a cloth altar, and everyone put their painted hand on the cloth. This is like ‘godly play,’ like Montessori church” (165). I am no expert in fingerpainting, having given up that career shortly after kindergarten. However, I can assure you that my fingerpainting experience had no thought of worship. I suspect that playing “Montessori church” produced more giggles than godliness.

Gibbs and Bolger recount the testimony of Kenny Mitchell, who described his emerging church leadership in England this way. “We created some new rhythms with the influence of Celtic spirituality. I hosted creative parties and experimented with art, music, and dance. At this ‘clubby worship,’ musicians and fine artists explored spirituality through beats, paints, and praying. It was a cool time of experimenting—this was in 1995 and 1996” (289). Our Bible commands us to be holy since our God is holy (1 Pet 1:16). Can you picture attempting to please our holy God with a “cool time” of “clubby worship”?

Art, or perhaps I should say, the arts, are almost worshipped by the emerging church. I tend to be exasperated by pompous statements that sound profound but have no proof. Here is an outstanding example. The aforementioned Karen Ward said, “Creativity is an expression of being in God. Art is our participation in God” (177). I am not an artist; however, I do enjoy my wood shop. I make things I need or to give as a gift. How does that say that I am “in God?” I have seen art that is religious. I have seen art that is awe-inspiring. I have seen art that is blasphemous. Saying that art is our participation in God sounds like a great philosophical statement, but is in reality nothing more than emerging church baloney. In the words of Mee-Chapman, “I came to realize that artists ought to function as the main leaders of the gathering, setting the tone for worship” (287). While Paul has something to say about choosing leaders for the church in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, he mentions nothing about artists.

I could bore you to death on the emerging church’s mission of “reshaping” traditional worship. I might mention the use of incense, candles, darkness, silence, prayer stations, chants, worship bands, Celtic crosses, mirrors, props, and backgrounds, all used to produce some sensory experience of mysticism or spirituality—a feeling that you have worshipped. Kimball gives a diagram of a sample layout of a vintage worship gathering. Partition curtains are used at the corners to keep the room circular. An artist in charge of decor has incorporated texture, light, fabric and unusual materials into the building. The walls are hung with artwork. Chairs are angled to create a sense of community (there are no pews in emerging churches). The platform is low so that the leader is in the midst of the people. Corner spaces are reserved for experiential prayer, journaling, and art stations. The worship band is behind the people so they will focus on the cross instead of the band. A tapestry-draped greeting table strewn with Celtic crosses and candles welcomes visitors (135, 249). It is a contrived atmosphere, planned to produce sensory effects. The emerging church certainly does reshape traditional worship.

The Emerging Church rejects the pattern of biblical leadership.
My father, who was my pastor for my first twenty-five years, used to say, “God’s answer in any situation is usually a man.” The answer to the bondage in Egypt was a man, Moses. The answer to the conquest of Canaan was a man, Joshua. The answer to the Baal crisis in Israel was a man, Elijah. The answer to leadership among the apostles was a man, Peter. The answer to the first missionary movement was a man, Paul. That has still remained true in my lifetime. Our great schools and missionary movements have usually been the story of man—a man with vision and leadership for the task.

I make this point because the emerging church with united voice says, “We will not have that kind of leadership.” The backbone of the emerging church is a group of people in their twenties. That age group in our society is a segment which suffers from “discipline deficit disorder”: they refuse to be given instructions by parents, teachers, or other authority. Gibbs and Bolger actually acknowledge this: “Emerging churches, in their attempts to resemble the kingdom, avoid all types of control in their leadership formation. . . . The church needs to operate as a consensual process in which all have a say in influencing outcomes” (192). A few pages later they say, “Emerging churches share the conviction that leadership must not be invested in one person” (205). In so saying they admit that they would not have stood still for the kind of leadership God supplied in so many situations. In high-sounding language, Conder writes, “The church also needs new structures of leadership to minister effectively in the emerging culture. Many existing churches are transitioning toward greater plurality and community participation in leadership. The communal and experiential attributes of the emerging culture call for leadership structures that are more inclusive and participatory” (132).

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 deal with the selection of elders and deacons, God’s plan of government for the church. These qualifications provide for the choice of men who have evidenced their conversion by spiritual maturity. God’s divinely given plan was not designed to be a government by consensus, but a government by the spiritual men in the assembly. Any educational institution relies on those who have knowledge and experience teaching those who don’t. Putting the students in charge of their own education would be spiritual folly. The emerging church is saying to God, “That business of pastors, elders, and deacons may have been good enough for the first two thousand years, but we demand something better.” Somehow I don’t believe that God will send blessing on the new arrangement.

God created the home to be led by the man with the woman as partner, an order maintained by the New Testament. This pattern is also followed in the leadership of the church. God did not organize the home on that basis and then contradict himself in the organization of the church. The emerging church refuses to follow God’s pattern. Kimball expresses it this way:

“In the emerging culture, the role of women in the church is a huge issue. People in the emerging generations think of churches as male-dominated and oppressive of females. So whatever your theology may be about the role of women in the church, I would still highly encourage you to have females in up-front roles as much as possible, whether it is teaching, giving announcements, leading worship, sharing testimonies, or reading Scripture. This is critical for the emerging church” (158).

The emerging church rejects God’s pattern of biblical leadership.

September 2008
This article is concluded in the next issue of the Visitor.


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