The Emerging Church (part 3)

This is the conclusion of an article continued from the two previous issues of the Visitor.

feature-article.gifAt the outset of this series of articles, Pastor Ashbrook indicated he would make ten statements about the emerging church. The first installment (August 2008) contained the first four statements, the previous issue (September 2008) presented the next three, and this issue will conclude with the final three statements and a conclusion.

The Emerging Church Rejects the Truth of Biblical Separation.
2 Corinthians 6:14 and the verses surrounding it spell out the truth of biblical separation. It reads: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” The principle taught in the passage is very simple: belief must not join with unbelief in spiritual work. Billy Graham’s rejection of that clear command began the corrupting influence of ecumenical evangelism. One of the fundamental planks of new evangelicalism was that the new evangelicals would dialogue with unbelief instead of opposing it. Following that policy has compromised the formerly fundamental testimony of churches, missions and schools. Where does the emerging church stand on this biblical principle? Since the emerging church is a direct descendant of new evangelicalism (probably a grandson) you would expect it to follow the pattern of disobeying the Scripture. That is a correct assumption. Conder writes, “A conversation of rapprochement between liberals and evangelicals has begun and is gaining momentum. In A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren delves humbly and thoughtfully into the realities and dreams of a reshaped orthodoxy. A reshaped orthodoxy does not mean we must jettison essentials of our faith, but it will mean challenging from the vantage point of a new perspective that we have previously deemed essential” (92). That final sentence is a sneaky one. What it says is that we will have to give up the fundamentals of Christianity to produce a rapprochement between believers and unbelievers. Belief can never be harmonized with unbelief without destroying belief.

Conder says, “In the past couple of years, we’ve pursued ministry partnerships with Duke Divinity School.” Duke happens to be one of the most blasphemous of Methodist seminaries. It is never right for belief to join with unbelief in spiritual work. In another passage, Conder speaks of the process of interviewing prospective members in Chapel Hill Bible Church. He says, “I’ve sometimes wondered aloud whether or not Mother Teresa could successfully join our fellowship” (146). Mother Teresa did some fine things in her lifetime, but from what I know, one of those things was not to be born again through Jesus Christ. Conder takes the acceptance of Roman Catholicism a step further when he remarks, “In a similar way, the affection and admiration expressed by Protestants and even theological opponents upon the death of Pope John Paul II offers hope that we are entering a spiritual era of new possibilities” (216). I take it that one of the new possibilities would be jettisoning Martin Luther from their new perspective and “healing” the Reformation.

Holly Rankin Zaher of Three Nails in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania spells out the emerging church basis for fellowship. “We partner with others who seem to embody kingdom values and are doing kingdom work, even if they are not ‘orthodox’ Christians” (Gibbs/Bolger, 53). In the Bible, salvation is always based on belief, not deeds. Yet observe Mark Oestreicher’s statement:

“Yup, I still believe salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. But does a little dose of Buddhism thrown into a belief system somehow kill off the Christian part, the Jesus-basics? My Buddhist cousin, except for the unfortunate inability to embrace Jesus, is a better ‘Christian’ (based on Jesus’ descriptions of what a Christian does) than almost every Christian I know. If we were using Matthew 26 as a guide, she’d be a sheep; and almost every Christian I know personally would be a goat” (Kimball, 53).

Again you can see the same procedure of judging salvation by works and not by faith. Where does this kind of thing end up? Dwight Friesen of Quest in Seattle, Washington, answers that question for us. “I’m more convinced than ever that we don’t have a clue about Christianity. I’m not an orthodox Christian anymore; I’m not a Protestant. The kinds of questions we are asking are very different from the questions asked at other times” (Gibbs/Bolger, 117). By his own admission, Friesen is not an orthodox Christian or a Protestant, but he is a leader in the emerging church. That tells us something. The emerging church rejects the truth of biblical separation.

The Emerging Church Elevates Social Action to the Level of Salvation.
In the first half of the twentieth century, as theological unbelief swept over the formerly believing church, the cry of liberalism was social action as the duty of the church. The liberals had given up preaching the Bible, but preachers must have something to preach. Their answer was to preach social action, mocking the fundamentalists’ lack of social programs. When new evangelicalism arrived on the scene, it included a summons to social involvement. Billy Graham, in his latter days as an evangelist, spoke of a two-pronged gospel—spiritual salvation and social involvement. That mantle has been taken up with a vengeance by the emerging church.

“The gospel of emerging churches is not confined to personal salvation. It is social transformation arising from the presence and permeation of the reign of Christ” (Gibbs/Bolger, 63). Kimball agrees, “Beyond the inward process of spiritual formation, our faith also includes kingdom living, part of which is the responsibility to fight locally and globally for social justice on behalf of the poor and needy. . . . With emerging generations, I believe that social action must be locked into our core values and incorporated into how we view our mission as a church, both locally and globally” (224). Social action always gets beyond helping the poor. Look at what being kingdom-minded means to Brad Cecil of Axxess, in Arlington, Texas. “The community decides what our cultural condition is and works to transform these areas. For example, we are working to bring public transportation to Arlington, as we are the largest U.S. city without public transportation. We feel that it would be kingdom-like to allow people who live in this community to spend money on other things besides multiple vehicles. This is one way which we want people to feel the presence of God in our community” (Gibbs/Bolger, 147). Apparently almost anything can be justified by calling it “kingdom-like.” If you think I am stretching things, listen to this quotation from Kester Brewin, a British emerging church leader:

“All churches, wherever they are and whatever tradition, need to become places in their communities where people can exchange gifts—not just spiritual gifts but any gifts: providing toddler groups, creating places to hang art, openings cafes for passersby, providing peaceful refuges from noisy streets, running seminars, making available financial advice, and providing practice rooms for young bands. In the exchange of gifts, relationships are always catalyzed, always strengthened. Then and only then can the talk turn to the one who gave everything for us” (Gibbs/Bolger, 78).

Brian McLaren, in Everything Must Change, goes even further into social action than his contemporaries. After defining “the most critical global problems in our world today,” he assigns the duty of dealing with them to Christianity and measures the success of the Christian faith by its ability to solve these problems. This is social action on steroids. The emerging church elevates social action to the level of salvation.

The Emerging Church Tends to Replace “Church” with “Community.”
The word “community” is one of the key words of the emerging church. You will not read very far without coming across it. The troubling aspect is that instead of receiving men and women into the church their concern is rather to receive them into community. Speaking of evangelism Kimball says, “Evangelism is less of an invitation to an event and more of an invitation to enter into community” (204). He terms traditional evangelism as “the Roman method,” and emerging church evangelism as “the Celtic model.” This Celtic model involves three steps. First, establish community with people, bringing them into the fellowship of your community of faith. Second, once within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship. Third, in time, as they discover what you believe, you invite them to commit (Kimball, 204). I am sure that every pastor has seen some who came into church because they felt they needed something from the church. They were warmly received and began to count the church as their church. They stayed on to receive Christ and become more than just a member of community. However, God bases his acceptance not on community but on Christ.

The subtitle of Gibbs and Bolger’s book is “Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures.” In the book they elaborate, “The focus of emerging churches on the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ as distinct from a ‘gospel of salvation’ has produced a new ecclesiology” (91). What is new about that ecclesiology is that “community” has replaced “church.”

In Acts 2 we find the day I would call the birthday of the church as we know it. With the resurrection and ascension the gospel was complete. Peter preached that message. The chapter concludes with this statement, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” In the Lord’s policy the important thing was that people were added to the church, not the community. Traditionally, salvation has been the membership qualification of Bible-believing churches. Pastors, elders, or deacons seek to ascertain whether prospective members have had the Bible experience of salvation. Condor questions that policy. “In many churches, the process of becoming a member or joining a leadership team is reduced to doctrinal tests…In conservative church settings, there is often great reluctance to receive new members who don’t profess an evangelical description of their faith, even if their lives manifest ample evidence of the presence of God’s Spirit” (146).

Scripture spells out what the gospel is. Salvation involves sincerely repenting of my sin and casting my all upon the truth that Christ died for me and rose again. That is what God requires. That sincere faith is not required for joining community, but it is required to join the body of Christ. Many people live fine lives so that they look like Christians, but they must be accepted into the church on the basis of God’s requirement rather than on man’s observation. A man accepted into community is still lost until he is in Christ. Conder summarizes, “In other words, emerging culture persons place belonging before believing [his emphasis] (149). I would have to observe that God places believing before belonging. Later, Conder states, “As I stated in a previous chapter, there is no isolated ‘personal faith’ outside of community” (191).

It is time for some observations. In the ten statements I have made about the emerging church I have tried to paint the picture of that body through its own spokesmen. I don’t believe I have ever written an article with as many quotations. I believe that the emerging church is simply Satan’s latest attack on the fundamental church. By the fundamental church, I mean the church that has sought to keep its testimony true to the Word of God. In my lifetime, I have seen the new evangelical church lower the biblical standards of the fundamental church by compromising belief with unbelief. Then came the seeker-sensitive church that sought to build large crowds by giving people what they desired. Now comes the emerging church that seeks to adjust the convictions and practice of the church to the newest philosophical taste.

There is an unnoticed similarity between the seeker-sensitive church and the emerging church. Both seek to please men by giving them what they desire. The seeker-sensitive church sought to attract its generation with entertainment. The emerging church seeks to attract a new generation with a redesign of Christianity to meet its philosophical slant. Postmodernism is the latest philosophy of heathenism which is currently in vogue. It is another step downward on the staircase of apostasy. If you look back over the ten observations I have made you will see that each of the practices of the emerging church attacks some biblical conviction of the historic Bible-believing church.

Think about the changes desired by the emerging church.
The purpose of the changes desired by the emerging church is to make the message of the Bible acceptable to twenty-first century culture. Culture is what men choose to believe, be, and do at any time in history. We do not live in a Christian society, but in a culture shaped by men guided by evolutionary thinking, motivated by their sinful natures, and desiring freedom to exercise the lusts of their own flesh. Are we to alter the teaching of Scripture to please the culture produced by such men? Can you imagine Paul and Barnabas standing outside some idolatrous town and saying, “How can we adjust the gospel to this culture so we can win these folks?”

Think about the matter of truth.
To reject truth is to reject God. Paul says in Romans 3:3–4: “For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Psalm 119:160 declares, “Thy word is true from the beginning.” God is true. Christ is the truth. God’s Word is true. You cannot reject truth and be faithful to God, Christ, or the Bible. God has settled the matter of truth for us. The postmodernist is the man with the problem, not the Christian. Are we willing to sacrifice truth on the altar of expediency in order to please a heathen philosophy?

Suppose that you confront a thief in your bedroom. You saw him coming and met him with your baseball bat. He cowers in the corner and you stand ready to bring the bat down upon his head. He speaks and says, “You can’t hurt me with that bat; I don’t believe in bats.” Do you turn to your wife and say, “Oh, no, I can’t use my bat; he doesn’t believe in them.” I hope that, to use biblical terms, you simply smite him on the pate with that bat. The greatest weapon God has given us is truth. Shall we abandon it because some heathen university professor says, “We don’t believe in truth?”

There is a troubling fact which is closely related to truth. In my reading on the emerging church I see little allegiance to Scripture. The Christian should have a sensitive ear to the Lord’s direction. Our guide for salvation, conduct, and worship, should be, “Thus saith the Lord.” I observe that in decisions of the emerging church, little place is given to the direction of God’s Word. The practice of the emerging church seems to be based on, “what works?” not, “what pleases the Lord?” Culture, fleshly desire, and feelings are the major guides for decisions. The prophet’s guide for worship was, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20). Applying this verse to its affairs might change the emerging church back into the New Testament church.

Think about worship.
Worship is not defined by what men like but by what God accepts. The emerging church defines and plans worship experiences it likes. It designs worship to produce feelings of mysticism and spirituality. Is God impressed by candles, Celtic crosses, praise bands, or finger painting? God is pleased by the praise and prayers of contrite hearts. Worship that man likes, without regard to what pleases God, is not worship at all.

Think about kingdom living.
“Kingdom living” is one of the prominent features of the emerging church. It attempts to lead men to live as Christ lived in his earthly life. While this sounds like a noble effort, kingdom living without a regenerated heart is simply works religion. The Bible believes in good works, but it teaches they are only truly good works when they are the work of the Holy Spirit flowing out of a regenerated heart. Works of righteousness, even those copied from Christ’s life, will never save a soul from death. A man striving in the community practice of kingdom living is lost if he has not been born again.

As I have read about the emerging church, I see no sense of eschatology or recognizing the times in which we live. If there is any eschatology it seems to be post-millennial. 2 Timothy 3:1 says, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” I believe we are in those perilous times and philosophies like postmodernism, and the emerging church which flows from it, are a part of those times. Should we adjust the gospel to the problem? Paul goes on to instruct us regarding what we need to do in those days. “But continue thou in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of knowing of whom thou has learned them”
(2 Tim 3:14). Are we to adjust truth to culture? No, we are to fight culture with truth—whether men believe it or not.

You may say to me, “But what about the postmodern world? Don’t you have compassion on it?” Yes, I have compassion on it. It needs to be confronted with the gospel of truth. That confrontation is what the world has always needed. The first century world did not like the gospel either. However, the apostles were not free to adjust the gospel to please the world. Rather, they confronted the world with what God said. God set forth the truth of salvation in His word, and it is not negotiable. God made no special deals for the philosophers of Athens and he will make no special deals for the postmodern philosophers of today.

Romans 3:21–23 spells out the truth that the righteousness of God can only come by faith in Christ: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of he glory of God.” When Paul said, “there is no difference,” he was talking about Jew and Gentile, but we can say the same thing about postmodernists. The gospel cannot be reshaped for them. The emerging church can redefine the gospel as “kingdom living,” “social action,” or “community,” but God will not accept that “deconstruction/reconstruction” of His way of salvation. Men must always come by the way of the cross. That is God’s truth and it will stand whether men deny truth or not.

October/November 2008


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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.


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