Tag Archives: emergent-church

Pardon Me for a Moment

No offense to my emergent friends, but I’m starting to grow weary of all your diatribes about how the Church has failed in its calling. Tell me true – is there nothing good to say about the church? I know that it is a good thing to bring shortcomings and weaknesses to the forefront of everyone’s attention. It’s the only way to make sure those things get fixed.

But I also know that it’s good practice to highlight the things that continue to be done right. All gloom and doom all the time only makes people frustrated and depressed. Calling to light only the bad things makes folks just want to throw up their hands and say, “Well, then, what’s the point in even trying?” And it puts a sour taste in our mouth for those of us who are in churches that _are_ doing things right.

Is the church perfect? Of course not. It’s composed of imperfect people. And yes, there are a lot of churches out there that don’t really have any idea how far off the mark they’ve gotten. I guess I’m just tired of reading the same bits of holier-than-thou garbage from so many Christians leveled at their brethren. Are we not supposed to be of one mind, one body, and one spirit here? Do you not see how your constant dogging of Christian shortcomings is actually contributing to the problems and divisions in the church? Do you not see that we are _all_ part of the problem, even as we are trying to fix it?

I’ve been gradually shortening my Christian blogroll over the last couple of weeks (and there are a couple of more that are dangerously close to being removed today) exactly because I’m sick of reading the same tripe from so many place. I’m sorry to have to do this; I think a lot of these people do have good and intelligent things to say and add to the discussion. But there is a lot of negativity, as well, and I’ve found that it hinders and hampers my own spiritual walk and causes me to be negative toward them, as well.

Folks, there’s more to fixing the church than talking and complaining about it. Yes, the web is a great place to share ideas, to talk and sound off, to try to figure things out. It expands the discussion to an unbelievably large audience. But here’s the real question – are you actually _doing_ anything about it? Are you actually involved in your local church voicing your concerns to the pastors and deacons and elders and members? Or are you just sitting in your dark little corner pouting and moping because nobody will listen to you? And if you are, what kind of Christian does that make _you_? What does it make _me_?

Just had to get that off my chest…

It’ll Kill Ya’!

Complacency. It’s the thing that the emergent church is trying to get away from and it’s the thing that stagnant churches don’t realize they have a problem with. What I see here are two ends of an extreme – one end loud with their proclamations that the church is outdated and needs to undergo a top-to-bottom overhaul, and the other even louder in their silence. What I see are new and continuing divisions as more and more Christians break away from fellowship. What I see are arguments and conflicts and problems with Christian relationships.

Where are the voices of those in the middle, people like me who see what the emergent church is striving for and who also see the perspective of those on the other side? People who recognize that many of our churches have problems but that _just as many_ do not? People who recognize that many Christians in America have become complacent and are content to stagnate right where they are, being fat and happy, while other Christians are rebelling against that mindset and seeking a more living, vibrant relationship with our God? Where are those voices?

I think most of them are probably doing much of what I have been – sitting back and watching as the emergents struggle to figure out whatever it is they are figuring out while quietly working within our established churches to urge people _out_ of their complacency. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out – I think that a lot of the things the emergent folks are doing are good ideas, even though I don’t agree with all of their philosophies. I also think that the church structure, when applied biblically, is a _very_ good thing and works exceptionally well, and thus the church structure should not be discarded out of hand.

I’m frustrated with the emergent folks who insist that the modern church as it stands today will die and cease to exist within the next 100 years, being replaced some a postmodern church (ironically enough, one that will have a structure all its own). But I’m also frustrated with the church folks who insist that the emergents are all wet and should be criticized harshly at every opportunity.

Essentially, it’s the same complaint I always have – no one really wants to listen to anyone else. No one wants to admit that they might be wrong, so they ignore and dismiss every other argument with casual disdain and disinterest. Why can’t we all just work together to revive the church? I don’t believe the church is outdated or outmoded, but neither do I think it is living up to its full service potential for Christ. I think we can all learn a thing or three from each other, if only we would just listen.

Here ends my ranting and complaining. It’s been a long week….

Kind of Like Marriage

Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For, were Jesus to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name beside this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. -Ignatius of Antioch, one of the early church martyrs (ca. 117 C.E.), Letter to the Magnesians 10

When men are called by any other name they cease to be Christians for they have lost Christ’s name and have clothed themselves in human and foreign titles. -Justin Martyr (ca. 150), Dialogue with Trypho 35

Never at any time did Christian people take their name from their teachers among them, but from the Lord, on whom we rest our faith. Thus, though the blessed Apostles have become our teachers, and have ministered the Savior’s Gospel, yet not from them have we our name, but from Christ we are and are named Christians. -Athanasius of Alexandria (340 AD), Against the Arians 1:2

I dislike calling people onto the carpet, yet sometimes it is a necessary thing to do. The more “I think about”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=310 this issue, the more “analysis”:http://cpsdiscernment.blogspot.com/2006/03/ruminating-on-emergent-church.html I hear about it, the more I read what others write on the subject, the more I have to conclude that the folks who have stopped going to church are wrong in their decision to do so. I don’t like saying this about my brothers and sisters, yet I have no option but to conclude that the church was never meant to be broken up and fractured the way it is now.

Yesterday’s sermon at “my church”:http://www.yourchurch.com hit the subject of unity very hard. One of the things that Pastor Kauffman hit on specifically is that no matter what the problem, no matter what the issue, you do not leave the church. If your leaders are drunk around the communion table, if someone in the church takes you to court and sues you for everything you have, if something occurs that causes strife and conflict in the church, you do not leave the church. It actually occurred to me that it is something much like a marriage. No matter what happens in the marriage, you stay together and work it out, no matter how difficult it is to do. ((This symbolism is, perhaps, why the sanctity of marriage is so important.))

The fellowship of the Body is so very important for the Body functions better and more ably when it is whole. If people split off whenever there is the slightest amount of trouble (or even when there is a great deal of trouble), then the Body itself is broken into small pieces and is rendered impotent.

Titles and denominations are both terribly detrimental to the unity of the Body, as Pastor and Dr. Bebawi have “pointed out”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=315. In giving ourselves titles, in following one teacher over another, we lose our focus on the One we _should_ be following. We forget that it is all about Christ and him alone. It’s not about “labels”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=111 – it’s about being identified with Christ. It’s about joining with the Body, with the Church, and working from the foundation of our faith, that being the Gospel, to reach the rest of the world with the hope that we have. We may disagree on various points of theology along the way, but if we agree on the Trinity, on the depravity of man, on the personhood of Christ and His work on the Cross, on the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can be unified under God and we should work together to further the Gospel, no matter the problems and issues and conflicts that arise in our midst. We need to work through them, no matter how hard it may be to do so, so that the glory of God may shine in us.

Does this mean that God cannot use those times when people go off on their own? Does this mean that God is not present when they ‘do church’ in the coffee shops and private residences of our communities? Does this mean that God does not speak to and grow His children when they are absent from the Body? By no means, but I do think that the goal should be for these people to return to the Church as quickly as possible, for the strengthening of the Body and the edification of the saints. We are made all the stronger when we gather in greater numbers.

The Church is not perfect, that is sure, for it is still composed of as-yet imperfect people. Sometimes, the Church can be downright ugly, when people forget Who it is they represent. But how we the Church grow when those who most desire to do so leave it and turn their backs on it?

I appreciate the voices of those who have left, who have voiced their concerns and have spotted some of the problems within so many of our churches. But I feel that they have made the wrong choice in leaving, in depriving us of their vision and of their hopes. I recognize and realize that they are disillusioned and burned out and hurt, but we need them all the same. If we could give up our titles of Arminian and Calvinist, of Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic, I believe we could once again function as a unified Body and turn this world on its head for Christ. This will likely never happen, but it does not mean that we cannot, and should not, work toward that end. We will never be perfect this side of Heaven, but we do have perfection as a goal, and we should be taking steps, however small, toward that end.

So, please return to us, those of you who have left. We need your energy, your vision, your hope of what _could_ be and what _should_ be in our churches and in our Church. We need that inspiration, that continual renewal of vigor, especially where that vision has grown stale and stagnant. More’s the power when you are with us and when we are together as one for the cause of Christ.

Fracture

The Society of Serpents and Doves: Ruminating on the Emergent Church

“Dr. Mark Caleb Smith”:http://www.blogger.com/profile/11310269 writes about the emergent church movement, addressing many of the same concerns that I’ve “mentioned before”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=183.

bq. How does one build authentic relationships with those in need by separating from the Body of Christ? If they are correct, then we, the organized church, is in need of change, and the emergents should be “salt” and “light” to the rest of us.

This has been one of my major criticisms of the separation of the emergent folks from the traditional church. Now, I realize that many emergents are still practicing their faith in their local churches, but from what I have been able to ascertain, even many (or most) of them are isolated from the rest of their congregations. ((Whether by their own choice or that of their peers remains unclear to me.)) But many of the emergent folks I have conversed with have stopped attending church, with most of their Christian fellowship taking place in more casual surroundings with smaller groups of people. Indeed, the question that Dr. Smith asks seems to be a valid one. How can the perceived problems and shortcomings in the church be corrected but for those who have identified them to stay and work to repair them?

Another of the blog’s “writers”:http://www.blogger.com/profile/11495817 comments:

bq. More problematic, the emergent alternative is not a return to the authority of Scripture. Often emergents emphasize multiple authorities (community, experience, creative thought or action, Scripture, church tradition, etc.), thus relegating God’s Word to just one among many.

Again, while this certainly does not describe all of those individuals who consider themselves emergent, it _is_ a trend that even I have noticed. It is, I believe, a symptom of this postmodern culture, where our own perceptions, understanding, and knowledge is suspect, where the existence of absolute truth is doubted, and where common experience is often given as much authority as established, verifiable fact. As a result the Bible’s authority is questioned – whether because we doubt its accuracy or source of truthfulness or our ability to understand the information contained therein matters little; the end result is the same – and we find ourselves falling back and relying on our own experiences and philosophical musings in our quest for truth and enlightenment. We hope that we can arrive at the truth simply by talking about it and sifting the chaff from the wheat. I do believe that there is some relevance to this approach, else all our conversations with one another would be for naught, but by relegating the Bible to a place of like authority as our own experiences, we remove any source and hope for discovering absolute truth. We become to ourselves a self-referential source for truth, and secular philosophy has proven time and again that this approach to seeking truth leaves us severely lacking. ((To some extent I almost think that some emergents are becoming more like agnostics in this regard.))

I don’t know how much of the emergent population this describes. That’s part of the problem, I fear – the emergent church is reluctant to establish a definition for itself or goals or a mission statement, since that is part of the very structure and legalism from which they are trying to escape. But I think Dr. Smith again hits the nail right on the head when he says that the emergent church is a further fracture of the Church, something which we all know is a very bad thing.

The Baby and the Bathwater

I admit it — I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the emergent movement. Maybe it’s because I’ve almost always been in churches that have their acts together, that are active both in ministering to the Body and in reaching out to the community, but I honestly don’t see where it helps to trash the structure of the traditional church simply because some churches are _not_ doing what they are called to do. To me, that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I appreciate “Grace’s”:http://emerginggrace.blogspot.com openness and honesty as she struggles and “searches”:http://emerginggrace.blogspot.com/2006/01/bit-by-emerging-bug.html to find an answer to something that has been a source of great heartache for her.

There are some philosophical fundamentals of the emerging church that I tend to agree with and that I understand. I recognize that there is a deep dissatisfaction among many Christians with the traditional church. There are, I believe, many reasons for this. For instance, it is difficult to come to church Sunday after Sunday and watch people who are little more than pew-warmers — content to take their habitual seat, keeping it warm for an hour or two, and then leave, having never been changed or affected by the worship, by the prayer, by the fellowship of the Body, by the power of the Holy Spirit. They come, they sit quietly, and they continue to live their lives as they wish to live them.

Another source of contention that many emergents point out is where the church has a larger building budget than missions budget. The focus is on creating a temple, rather than on reaching souls, touching lives, and meeting needs. For the churches that do this, I have to agree that their priorities are in the wrong place. These are the churches where weekly gatherings are little more than social clubs, where missions and community outreach are rarely mentioned because everyone is too involved planning their next potluck or church event. Not all churches are like this, mind you, but enough of them are that it creates a sense of disquiet and disillusionment for those Christians who want more out of their spiritual walk.

The church has also typically been slow to close the generational gap, though this is, in my opinion, less a problem of the church in particular than of culture in general. The older generation has always had trouble relating to the younger because trends and styles change every year. And with the innovations in technology, culture moves even faster than it did, and hence it tends to change much more quickly. So many churches are either blind to the changes in culture or simply don’t acknowledge a need to address such changes. In either case the generational gap is closed by only a few, not enough to meet the needs of the next generation or answer the questions and issues it faces on a daily basis. Further cause for disillusionment.

One other thing that I view as a major contributor to disillusionment among Christians is a rigid adherence to church beliefs and traditions that are quickly revealed as counter-biblical to any who takes the time to check them. I have watched many believers get hurt by their fellow Christians because of prejudices, attitudes, and behaviors that run completely counter to the teachings of the Bible. Rigid adherence to provable truth is one thing, especially when done in a humble, contrite manner, but rigid adherence to misconceptions and lies is quite another. It is always disappointing to me to watch someone who calls himself Christian demean and destroy another because of flawed beliefs and then refuse to receive correction when a third party attempts to intervene. And what is worse is watching an entire church fall prey to such behaviors and operate in a fashion that I am sure is disappointing to our Savior.

No wonder so many Christians today want to do things differently. I myself have been one to want to distance myself from other Christians, to set out on my own and do things the way I know they should be done, the way the Bible teaches, rather than the way I see so many Christians doing things right now. But always, in such cases, my focus has been on the people, rather than on the Christ, and I find that when I shift my focus back to Him, I recognize anew that the church is, indeed, ordained and meant to be an integral part of the Christian walk.

It is interesting that no description was given as to what the church is to look like, though Paul does give us quite a bit to work from in his letters to the churches. We know that churches need to have a pastor, someone whose focus is on researching the Bible and providing a focus on learning its doctrine, someone to guide and to shepherd, to continually steer his flock toward Christ. The church is to have elders, whose purpose to meet the needs both of the church members and of the members of the community. The church is to look after widows and orphans. It is to meet on a regular basis for the renewing of the saints and the edification of the body. Whether it is to be done in small groups or as one large congregation is never mentioned, though I suspect that, like most things, the form of the gathering and fellowship is dependent upon situation and context. But organized church is definitely something that is a requirement for healthy, vibrant faith.

I believe that the trouble today exists primarily in our lucrative culture. Surrounded by so much wealth, it is easy to lose focus and forget that we are strangers here, that this world is not our home, that what is truly important comes after this life. So, we spend more of our time making sure we have enough, making sure that we are comfortable and happy and content. We forget that so much of our faith lies in having little (or nothing), in discomfort, in pain. We don’t like to think about that and so we convince ourselves that we can have it all and still serve God fully, something which only the rare Christian is actually able to handle.

And so the disillusioned and the hurt move to get away from traditions, to get away from the way the church has done things for so long, seeking instead a new of being Christian, a way that will meet both personal and community needs. My fear is that emerging church is too far on the other extreme. I would love to see both sides come together, recognizing that there are shortcomings in both philosophies and traditions, and make the church into something better than it is now. I hate seeing people throw the baby out, when it is really just the bathwater that needs dumping. The organized church is a good thing, I believe, especially when I see churches like mine that are growing and thriving, adding members faster than we can erect buildings to contain them, spending millions on missions trips and outreach events, and administering programs that touch the needs of our community. When I see churches like this I find it hard to believe that we need to abandon such institutions. Instead, I think we need to bring the goals and desires of the emergents together with established churches, shake people up a little, and blend the Body into an institution that meets everyone’s needs and grows the Kindgom for Christ.

We should have been doing this all along, and in many cases we have been, and we need to make a more concerted effort to continue doing so. Will the church ever be perfect? Not this side of heaven, but there is no reason why we should be allowing hypocrisy and heresy to govern our churches and alienate its members, when the Bible lays out in plain language what we should look like and what we should be doing.

Focus on Christ, and not the people, and tell me how that changes your perspective. It’s made all the difference in my own.

Related links:
“Decompressing Faith: ‘Bit by the Emerging Bug'”:http://decompressingfaith.blogspot.com/2006/01/bit-by-emerging-bug.html
“The Upward Way Press: Virus”:http://www.rmcrob.com/?p=2568
“Christianity Today: The Emergent Mystique”:http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/011/12.36.html
“opensourcetheology: What is ’emerging church?'”:http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/229
“emergingchurch.info: George Lings ‘What is emerging church?'”:http://www.emergingchurch.info/reflection/georgelings/index.htm

Forced Worship

[Why is it that I always come up with my best thoughts when I’m driving down the road, listening to jazz, away from any venue where I could possibly actually record my thoughts as they come to me? I really ought to find my mini-recorder and keep it in the Explorer with me….]

I recently just finished up a CD series of Donald Carson, who spoke this past winter at Cedarville University during the annual Staley Lectureship Series. He spoke on the emergent church movement and integration of postmodernism into that movement. Something that he said really stuck out to me — postmodernism holds as one of its primary foundations the establishment of personal experience to determine truth. This method of finding ‘truth’ has crept into the church and influenced it in ways that I, personally, find somewhat alarming.

Something that has stuck in my craw for a few years now has finally been revealed to me, based upon this ‘revelation’. The worship times at Cedarville (during my five-year tenure there), especially the student-led times, often had a feeling of wrongness to them. A good friend of mine described it like this: “It was like they were ‘forcing’ us to worship, like they were saying, ‘Worship, dang it!'” This was in response to the call to worship, where the congregation was called to think on God, to think on all He has done for us, and to worship him with your heart, essentially with your feelings, your emotions. On the surface, this all sounded very good, but something still stuck out as being wrong about it. In reflection now, I see that this call to worship focused almost exclusively on the experience of God, little on the knowledge of Him and on His revealed truth through His Word. And the songs we sang, the worship choruses, were fantastic for building up emotion and describing the experience of God in our lives, but they also left me feeling theologically destitute, frequently neglecting words of Scripture, words of absolute truth to put all my experiences as a Christian, as a follower of Jehovah, into perspective in light of the Almighty One of Heaven, instead paving over them with poetic niceties. (Don’t get me wrong; I believe there is a place for this sort of worship, just not to exclusivity.) This is the wrongness that I perceived there, this almost single-minded focus on the experience, to the near-exclusion of the absolute and powerfully revealed truth of the Bible.

The weakness of this is that each individual interprets the same experience in a slightly different way, thereby gleaning a different version of the ‘truth’ than all the others. Truth suddenly becomes relative to the individual, based upon their own analysis of the experience in question. Multiple psychological studies have shown that people often define reality by their experiences, much more so in today’s world than in any other time in history. Their ideas of what is true and what is not is flavored by the circumstances they encounter each and every day. The trouble is, every single person encounters a different version of the ‘truth’ because of this approach. Of course, a postmodernist would probably now say that this all the more justification for their worldview, that nothing can ever be truly known because every person’s perspective is slightly different, that reality is constantly shifting for everyone because the only basis they have for ‘truth’ is their own experience of the world around them. They would even say that individual interpretation of the Bible as a standard for absolute truth is perpetually flawed and relative to personal experience because everyone is going to interpret the Bible according to the ways in which they perceive and experience the world. And yet, this is a flawed premise, in and of itself, for the Bible can be interpreted according to an unchanging standard and often be applied to a wide variety of circumstances and settings. All this is not to belittle the practicality of experience in determining truth. Paul himself, in many of his epistles to the early church, specifically encouraged the saints to test their faith against their own experiences and knowledge. But he also pointed them to Scripture, pointing out their sins and flaws, pointing them back to the path that leads to Christ. So, while experience is valuable for the testing of our faith and the working of our salvation, it cannot be held up exclusively as the only means for establishing truth because our own interpretations of experiences are frequently flawed and tainted by our finite sensory and cognitive capacities. The one source of truth that I am aware of that never changes (and has never changed over the centuries) is the Holy Scriptures, and while my own experiences help me understand this God that I love a little better and relate to my fellow man, they fall short of the true understanding of Him who I serve. Can I ever hope to know God and His truth fully? No. Not ever, for I am limited in my understanding, and I always, ever will be. But it is not enough to stop me from trying to learn more and understand more, from the only Source of true knowledge, for all the rest of my days. And I expect that I will often be wrong in my understanding. But I can frame my daily experiences within the context of the Word of God, and thereby gain truth and sanity and direction for my life.