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.
“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