11 August, 2005

The Emergent Church: Second Part of Three

Studying the "emergent church" has been a great experience for me. I think that we, as Reformed Christians, do need a better understanding of our current cultural context. I also believe that we need to be able continue to reform within our own heritage.

The best model for the latter is that we go back to our confessions as a starting point. (That is, that with the assumption that they are reflections of biblical thought.) We cannot reform until we are able to return to where we once were. As Rev. Lanning once said in a reformation day sermon at a local college, "There is no reformation left, we have abandoned the historical markers."

This may be where the emergent church comes in:
They attempt to be relevant, and they are able to show dissatisfied Generation Xers that they have something to offer, something that is both historic as well as rellevant. (This is postmodernity.)

The Reformed churches have erred in one of two ways:
1. They have maintained the sense of history at the expense of being relevant to our culture. (i.e. they are unable to answer the questions that a generation that questions EVERYTHING poses.)
2. They attempt to be so relevant that they abandon the Reformed Faith (Does anybody remember "Our world belongs to God"?). This is what has happened in most of the Grand Rapids churches. They have abandoned the historic Reformed Faith in pursuit of something "fresh" and "modern." The problem with this is model is that the "fresh" approach is actually cliche and no longer considered to be "in."

With that critique of our own tradition, let me move on to the emergent church:

Below you will find an exerpt from a critique of the emergent conversation by Derek Thomas. I have edited it for the sake of the needs of this discussion. I would like to ask what we, as Reformed Christians, can learn from this movement, as well as ask those readers who are emerging if they find this critique to be fair.

(Derek Thomas is British, so there are many "British-isms.")

We can learn lessons from most things in life. Behind every criticism there is an element of truth. The emerging church is a reaction against people like us.

What lessons?
1. They are people seeking to understand the times.The men of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do. We all have something to bring to the table. We need men who know the times and live in creative accountability to one another. In the ministry of Jesus we overhear one conversation with Nicodemus; he speaks to the woman of Samaria in a different way. He engages with both of them. To the Pharisees and to the tax collectors again he speaks in different ways. Jesus is drawing them out by question and answer, engaging with men and women. We are to seek to understand the times. Provs 18:13 urges us not to answer before we have listened. Why are young people fascinated with the Stereophonics, or Manic Street Preachers? All the effective evangelists connected with their cultures. The more pagan the culture becomes the more beautiful the church seems. Paul at Athens showed he knew the pagan poets. Have you thought of the evangelistic value of Welsh literature? How would you use Dylan Thomas' attitude to death, raging against the dying of the light? Or again R.S. Thomas' verse? You "crammed God into the boards of a black book" he said, rejecting an authoritarian God.
2. They call for reality in the church.Rick Warren and Bill Hybel have their mega-churches but the emerging church criticises them for being driven by consumerism. Their emphasis is on an encounter with the living Christ. They grumble that churches like ours are being turned into lecture-rooms with no sense of the presence of Christ, and no experience of him, and no 'new vision of Jesus.'
There are those who seek to create reverence by a stiff pose while others do so by music and choreography. One is manufactured solemnity and the other is ersatz rejoicing. What we desire today is spiritual liberty and a divine anointing so that there is a palpable presence of God in our worship. That cannot be brought in by mere form.Reality in worship leads to reality in community; bearing with one another and bearing one another's burdens. We are not spending time with one another as we should.
One emerging church is Maybridge Community Church in Worthing and its publicity says, "It has taken the step to ensure that it offers some alternative choice to being Church and therefore operates a multi-congregational approach, holding and valuing three very diverse congregations as expressions of church.
THIRD is the newest of these 'congregations' that has emerged and originally began as a small group of eight people in September 2002 who were released from the traditions and constraints of the current church services and leadership structures to explore a new and vibrant way of being church in a post-Christian, post-modern culture. From its very conception THIRD was formed as an indigenous expression of church and has not been following any road maps or proven formulas. This was, and continues to be a pioneering adventure and journey in the life of our transitioning church.
"Who we are . . . THIRD is based around a fluid network of relationships for all ages that meet every week for gatherings of a different focus, from alt worship to theology and discussion. We are a group of people seeking to find an example of church that is authentic to both our present culture and 2000 years of church history. A group exploring how to live lives of integrity informed by Christian faith. A group journeying together and trying to find meaning in our lives with an openness to dialogue and have conversations about faith and spirituality. A group looking to find new and creative ways to worship God honestly and freely. A group trying to provide a place of sacred space that is an accessible source for all who are searching for the spiritual in their lives. But most importantly a group longing to actively live out a Christ-centered spirituality."
So THIRD is looking for meaningful relationships between people. That longing can be so therapeutic, but we also want fellowship in truth and sincerity. There is a lot of posings in our circles. The call is to be honest with one another. Jesus was authentic when he met the women at the well and what he offered her was reality.
3. They touch lives which we do not see.I Cor. 6:9's list of evil-doers concludes with the famous words, "but such were some of you but you were washed . . ." In our congregations everyone is a sinner, yes, the solicitor and doctor are as depraved as the drunkard, but there are many others around us outside this preponderantly middle-class grouping who are not being reached. How do we bring to them the gospel? The rural cottages of North Wales and the Isle of Skye are being bought by English settlers and so it is 'us' and 'them'. "We are the church of the indigenous people," we feel. No we are not. We are the church of Jesus Christ and all kinds of men and women are welcomed into it.
4. They raise a question of what are the traditions of men.Clerical collars, make-up, drinking wine, smoking cigars - people get in a tizz with saying yes or no. What is biblical and what are the traditions of men? What has God required? How do we interpret the regulative principle? There are many options.

There are three basic weaknesses with the emerging church

1 It connects but does not critique.The Christian view of culture is that there is no wholly sanctified culture and no wholly depraved culture. There are elements of goodness in all, and also elements that are wrong. But the emerging church hardly critiques the culture; it only criticises us! Its atmosphere is overwhelmingly laid back and acceptant. You can sit in the corner of the pub-cum-church and have a wee conversation during the time while the man at the front is speaking - and that is considered 'cool!' They criticise the 'formal' and 'authoritarian' nature of 'traditional churches' but they rarely lock horns with our culture. How different were the prophets of God like Amos, and Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus himself who all urged people to turn from their sins.
2. It does not face the concept of sin.One rarely comes across personal sin in emerging church. Steve Chalke is interviewed by Mclaren and they both agree that Jesus' message is the Kingdom of God and not trusting in Christ's death for salvation. 'Original goodness as well as original sin need to be emphasised,' they say. The mood of the church is not the courtroom needing a verdict but the pub having a chat. No it is not. Nail the sinner to the wall. "Are you going to leave this place tonight with or without Christ?" This 'Christianity' is not even liberalism. The plot line of the Bible is redemption accomplished and applied. That ought to produce electricity and radicalism.
3. It denies the glory of the church.But Christ loves his church; the groom adores her, and she is presented as a beautiful bride to her husband, and in the end the Saviour says Wow! What a beautiful church! He loves his people and we love them and him.
4 The Lamb is rarely seen there in the emerging church.There is no sense of gospel wonder.

The conversation continues to the glory of Christ and for the sake of His bride.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Anonymous said...

It is good to see a critic that is willing to take the log out of his own eye.

The critique of us seemed to be fair as well.

That is pleasing when there is a balance.

notliberal said...

I would rather stick with historical Presbyterianism than be hip and happenin in the modern church. It seems to me that there is very little the church needs to do to be modern. We need not change a single doctrine, we need only respond to the outrage of the day. This response could be to the feminism of the day, the lame-o theology of the day or the fact that skank seems to be the modern dress code. We need not change our doctrine to respond to this nonsense.

Nor do we need to change our worship to please the local nitwits. We need not have guitars, pianos or Satan's bagpipes, we need not sing inaine "praise" songs or silly hymns. If we don't stick to Biblical worship, we might as well have some silly rock band play lame Elvis covers and have some yippy woman preach. Sola Scriptura must be our standard, once we move from that we ought to just quit.

Jeff said...

Logs and specks? Who has which? The funny thing about the analogy is that the guy with a log in his own eye doesn't know it's there, and he's attempting to remove a speck from someone else's eye. It's called hyperbole. It makes no sense to congratulate someone for removing a log from his own eye. It seems pretentious.

notliberal said...

The problem with the reformed church is two fold. First, there are to many people willing to give up the gospel to get folks in the seats. This has been addressed.

The biggest problem as I see it facing the reformed church is a complete and total lack of interest in new people. The reformed churches are totally unwelcoming to new people, most of whom are ignored and treated like they don't exist by arrogant blue bloods. Couple that with our lack of evangilism and we have a serious problem.

New folks don't have to be put off by us. They will go along with our worship and our faith if we're nice to them and are willing to sit down and treat them like human beings. They will respect our faithful following of scripture if we give them a chance. Unfortunately the reformed community can't be bothered with outsiders. No wonder most of our churches are struggling to exist. We chase away new people by making them feel unwelcome, meanwhile the lunitics at the mega church are more than happy to welcome new folks.

If we want our churches to grow we not only have to stick to our theological principles but we must also follow Christ's demand that we spread the word. Right now we get a total F on this front. We get an F- for how we treat strangers who randomly show up, who are sadly ignored by the arrogance of the blue bloods.

Eva Lemmon..? said...

Do I ignore people?

Eva Lemmon..? said...

No. I thought so.

Eva Lemmon..? said...

One must always check up on one's self from time to time...

Mark said...

I think part of the problem is the failure to recongize the difference between applying the faith in today's context and actually changing the faith to fit today's context. So we have churches that try to make God some kind of gangsta, and as a reaction the more traditional churches stay static.

There's nothing inherently wrong with guitars in worship (Psalm 150:4), or even in a Bible translation that doesn't use thees and thous. (Note - I use the King James myself.)

Of course, as Steve pointed out, the big thing is to show the fruit of the Spirit. I see no conflict between holding to the creeds and being generally conservative while also being a nice guy, in fact I think that the former demands the latter.

notliberal said...

Guitars are evil as are all musical instruments in worship. But that's another animal.

I wasn't picking on anyone specificly Evie but generally what I said holds true. We're far to exclusive, even with our own kind.

Anonymous said...

I am Reformed in my thinking but I go to a non-denominational church because one of my pastors is Reformed. I must say it disgusts me what I see going on in the church today. Doctorine gets watered down because we are trying to make it relevant to today's generation. What this generation needs more than ever is solid teaching from it's ministers. Feminism has crept in to churches and women are doing more than they should be. I've seen women lead congregational prayers and have been in leadership where they shouldn't be. Submission is a dirty word and men are afraid to lead. As far as the worship goes, it is a reflection of the doctorine getting watered down. I feel like my service is a Third Day concert. The lyrics to the music reflect the weak theology being taught from the pulpit. The ministers won't address certain issues because what the Bible says is contrversial on the issue. What ever happened to the Bible being the ultimate authority on how we think and live out lives? We need a modern Reformation in the church and go back to the doctrines of Luther and Calvin.

Gisela said...

Well said anonymous. Also, notliberal, I hope that you realize that Nate and I have learned from our error in not greeting you until MANY MANY months later. We now try to embrace visitors, although it does not come naturally for someone like me!!

Also, you do need to try to tame down a bit on the name calling (local nitwits). You and I both should have learned from other posts that name calling is offensive and unproductive.

That is probably a big problem in Reformed Churches, that many tend to just focus on the bad immediately, rather than try to focus on the good. Even if one may not have the same views on worship and some doctrines, we need to realize that one may have a true faith in Christ and as Nate always says, "We need to be iron sharpening iron."

So, although we need not change our worship to please the "locals", we do need to embrace them and be open to what they have to say, then examine it against Scripture.

Nate said...

I think that we should re-read the Christianity Today article that I have under Part One. It can give us a basis of definition of Emerging.

Does anyone have thoughts on them.

notliberal said...

I wasn't after you guys at all. I was actually thinking back on the several reformed churches that I went to in Cleveland where they not only never greeted me but never greeted outsiders who wanted to learn about what we believed. That said, it wasn't just you guys, it was everyone.

Fair enough on name-calling.

Mark said...

They have a lot of good things going for them, such as wanting to live as though heaven were a present reality. (This is, after all, awfully close to postmillenial thinking.) Their desire to interact with today's culture is also commendable.

On the flip side, they seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. There seems to be a trend to disregard the previous generation. I realize that Rob Bell has stated they don't want to do this, and I'll acknowledge that perhaps I'm wrong on this. That's simply how it strikes me. There doesn't seem to be much emphasis man's need for a Savior, without which one can't really have salvation and service.

In short, they mean well but they seem to think that the Bible isn't enough. In the CT article you linked to, Bell talks about the Bible being "mysterious", and his desire to embrace the mystery instead of overcoming it. Now, there are many aspects of God we may never understand, but the Bible wasn't given to us to confuse us. It's talk like that which concerns me, I think they may be too heavily influenced by both New Age and Eastern thought. Doesn't mean that they're not Christians, but their doctrine is somewhat lacking.

Anonymous said...

Their dictine is lacking in comparison to who's, yours, maybe, but it may be stronger then the next follower of Christ. Don't take me wrong, I am still trying ot understand the reformed theological stances on things, but isn't it obvious that there are many followers of Jesus out there that have different theologies. Is this not ok to a person in the reformed tradition? That sounds very exclusive, just like notliberal said. One must be a little more inclusive within the reformed churches, especially the ones notliberal has been to. But not inclusive to make them belive like ones self, but to just show them the love of Jesus. right!

tam said...

Hey Nathan,
I read parts one and two, including the LONG article in CT. Thanks for posting these. The current state of these people really hits home to me just how important it is to understand what we believe, and why, and to teach our children. Also to encourage their questions and to give solid reasons and defense of our faith and practices, as found in the Word of God. If we communicate that we hold to doctrines merely because "thats what our church teaches", or because "thats the way we've always done it", or some other lame reason, our kids are going to conclude rightly that those arent logical reasons to go through the trouble of orthodoxy for and will scrap any hope of reformation in a generation or two. We've already seen this through history. I know it's all in God's providence what children hold onto, but He generally uses either faithful or unfaithful parents as a means for either leading their children to Him or away from Him. I do believe that we need to examine our doctrines and compare them to the Word, and remove beliefs and practices that God doesnt require, at the same time we need to be careful that we arent offended at Gods truth, thinking in any way that we can turn the hearts of men by making Christ out to be more kind or more good, or more "cool" than He already is.

1Pe 2:6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.
1Pe 2:7 Unto you therefore which believe [he is] precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
1Pe 2:8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, [even to them] which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

tam said...

oh, yay! on the sign and seal of tbe covenant being applied to your son today. awesome responsibility, awesome blessing.

Nate Dawson said...

Here's my struggle, I have read some of the confession that you hold to and don't agree with everything in it. I can't make it my starting point, as you say is, in your entry. I agree, one cannot reform unless one knows where they are and have come from. That is why I study some of the fundamentalist history, not because I agree with it (obviously) but because that was my original foundation.

I agree, being fresh is not what it's about. And we can't abandon our tradition for the sake of being relavant. At the core of an emerging church one would want to embrace tradition not throw it. READ ROBERT WEBBER - ANCIENT FUTURE FAITH for more on post-moderns embracing tradition.

Nate Dawson said...

My Response to the Emergent weaknesses, as they are called here.

Paul says, I will become a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles.

Remember, Jesus always asked questions and gave very few (understandable) answeres.

(1) I do believe the emerging church critiques culture. It wants to be counter-cultureral. Our culture is fast paced im-personal and consumeristic. It does not want that. It wants to subvert that. It wants to create "thin places" like the celtic tradition does. Just like Jesus did. He retreated to a quiet place and spoke with his Father.

(2) As for sin. I think it wants not to be about sin management and barcode faith. It wants to embrace people where they are and help them through the redemtive process. It wants to be authentic in community about everthing from lust, pornography to the little lie one spoke in anothers ear. These sins are talked about within community and we want to strive to get the sin out of our lives, not just come to church on sunday as if we have dont have issues of sin. (MEN OUT THERE, WE ALL STRUGGLE WITH LUST, YOU CAN"T DENY THIS STRUGGLE, SO WE MUST DEAL WITH IT WITHIN COMMUNITY)

(3) It embraces the glory of the church, in all its forms: Catholic, Reformed, Baptist, Charismatic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and any others you can think of.

SEE www.natedawson.blogspot.com and look under the "emergent order"
for more on this.

(4) The emerging church wants to embrace wander and awe in more ways than many churches I have been in. It wants to embrace the awe that an eastern orthodox tradition embraces. It may do this by creatin "sacred spaces" for personal reflection or corperate reflection.

Let me know if this helps or makes you more confused about emergent.

shawn said...

Whatever happened to the 3rd part of 3?