16 April 2010

Question of the Week:
What are Emerging Churches?

by Anne Lang Bundy

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything."
~ Alexander Hamilton."
What is the emergent church movement? And how does it differ, or not, from biblical principles?
T. Anne

A distinction should be made between the particular group called the Emergent Church (associated with Brian McLaren), and churches simply labeled “emerging.” The one characteristic common to both groups is thorough dissatisfaction with traditional church practices.

Last week’s Q&A addressed how the Christian church evolved into so many
denominations. Generally, each time a new denomination evolves, it breaks away from an existing church due to conflicts over specific doctrines, practices, or authority. The new church is largely similar to the church from which it divides itself.

Emerging churches criticize the Christian church as a whole strongly enough to take a more drastic stance, reshaping themselves from scratch, purposefully attempting to be as dissimilar as possible from traditional churches.

Too many established churches certainly have put unreasonable emphasis on tradition, human theology, politics (of both church and government), control, and their individual purpose from God. They’ve made church increasingly about religion at the expense of love for God and neighbor. As a whole, western churches are long overdue for make-over and revival.

But several dangerous tendencies exist in the start-over-from-scratch-philosophy. Hyper-criticism breaks down cooperation and unity in the worldwide Church, between both congregations and individuals. Efforts to be dissimilar from traditional churches may undermine key truths central to faith. In the effort to be non-religious, unbiblical attitudes and beliefs become common. Sensitivity to the needs of individuals creates a religion of social activism. The desire to be non-offensive censors out mention of sin, Christ’s blood, and the judgment of God to come. More emphasis is put on humanist philosophy than on God.

This is not an exhaustive list of problems. It’s not possible to examine and evaluate all the practices and beliefs of emerging churches in this short space. It should be noted that some emerging churches seem to establish a solid base of faith and practice.

Churches which designate themselves as “emerging” deserve a close and cautious study. The best way to know what might be wrong with them is to know what should be right about any church. I offer my own definition of the core beliefs for faith in Jesus Christ, titled “Foundations,” and invite you to click on the link for more information.

A last note about the emergent church movement associated with Brian McLaren. Its key principles are in direct conflict with the Bible, such as: salvation is taught to be a gift of Jesus which does not require informed faith; Jesus is rejected as the exclusive way to God; the second coming of Christ and future judgment are rejected; personal experience is emphasized above biblical truth.

Because my field of expertise is the Bible and I’ve not studied emerging churches at length, comments of clarification (preferably with citations) are welcome.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
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  1. The one thing I've heard in addition to the doctrine issues is that they feel the need to connect with the congregation with the use of expletives. I may have talked like that as a teen, but I don't any more and I sure don't want anyone spouting off like that at church. That certainly detracts from any awe of God. And I think we could all use a little more of that.

  2. Thanks for sharing this sis.

  3. The one thing that breaks my heart concerning many emerging churches is that scripture is minimized and in some cases even rejected. I have said before that conservatives often love God and forget to love people, and that liberals tend to love people but forget to love God. (Both are wrong.) The later is the tendency of many emerging churches.

    Thanks Anne ... :-)

  4. T ~ I understand the need to accept people wherever they are. But as I've often heard said, Jesus loves us too much to leave us there.

    Denise ~ I pray that we are all under the Holy Spirit's guidance as we share our faith, and share it with a bold yet gentle spirit.

    Russell ~ Your summary is perfect. We cannot genuinely love neighbor if it is not our priority to love God. Love for God can never be separated from love of neighbor.

  5. I had just this week heard about this particular "gospel" message and I appreciate your further clarification.

  6. Great post, Anne. And to dovetail off Russell's comment--I love people best on days when I have been in closest connection with God, through lengthier prayer and reading of His Word. I am wholly unable to love people as I ought--I am only able to do so because His love flows through me--He gets me out of the way to show His love to others through me. On my GOOD days, that is, when I am able to cede easily.

    On my bad days...oh, gracious God, please be merciful onto me, and do not leave me where I am.

  7. Gwen, You're comment blessed me so much. What wonderful insight.

  8. Very interesting... I studied the "emerging church" phenomenon years back when it was first starting to come out... I attended an Assemblies of God church and "emerging church" and "postmodernism Christianity" were the buzz words going around. I was curious enough to check it out. I read the books written by Brian... and was shocked to read some of the stories he put in the book.

    Since then I have moved to San Diego from Seattle. I attended a church that wasn't "emerging" but starting to get off of the gospel and started to put most of their focus on presentation and creativity. Jesus was no where to be found in the mix. I think we have a problem if we do not put the majority of our focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel.

    So many churches have strayed because they want to "re-invent the wheel"... people get saved out of feeling but not because they heard the gospel and received God's gift of salvation. No one is encouraged to bring their bible to confirm what the pastor says is really in the bible... it has become a "feel-good" event.

    I like how you put a sheep in wolves clothing photo because it indirectly reminds us to watch out for those who stray from the gospel and attempt to lead the masses from the truth/the gospel.

    Thank you for sharing! Found your blog via Bud Ezekiel... :-)

  9. First, my apology for absence of replies while I was out of town.

    Susan ~ I'm glad to be of help.

    Gwen ~ We all need God's grace and strength and light to grow. Seedlings won't thrive in the dark. I bless the Lord for having the mercy to shine on us even when we might momentarily turn to Him our backs.

    Tori ~ [Love your name!] You sum up in a single sentence the essence of the danger: we have a problem if we do not put the majority of our focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel. Whenever we attempt to define truth apart from the Bible, we tread on shifting, sinking sands rather than a Rock.