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A Word about the Emerging Church

When Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens and proclaimed the grace of God to the lost, he preached to a crowd of skeptics, critics, and those we might call “sophisticated eggheads.” Rather than beginning with the Scriptures, Paul began with the created world in which these unbelievers lived in order to introduce Jesus to them. He began with their spiritual hunger and pointed them to Jesus as the satisfaction for their longings . . . and the payment for their sins. Paul even quoted a well-known pagan poet as a means of building a bridge between the lost and the Lord (see Acts 17:16–33).

A number of ministries have adopted for their churches what I call a “Mars Hill philosophy of ministry.” Modeled after Paul’s message on Mars Hill, their goal is to connect with the unbeliever, or the postmodern, or any person they would call a “seeker.” In recent years the emerging church movement has attempted to “do church” (or be the church) in a new way amidst our postmodern world. Their purpose is “missional living,” that is, to get involved in the world in hopes of transforming it. This style of ministry engages the culture in a “conversation” rather than preaching to people like a prophet. A wide range of theologies and strategies exist within this current movement. Some individuals hold to orthodox beliefs but have adopted very unorthodox ways of communication. I have read of sermons that use language that would make most believers cringe . . . and cover their children’s ears. 

Are we to minister as those in the world? Absolutely. That’s an answer to Jesus’s own prayer for His followers (see John 17:14-16). But let’s be very discerning here. Does this mean we must minister as those of the world? Do we have to adopt postmodern thinking to minister to the postmodern mind? Absolutely not. Such behavior and words are not fitting in the life of a Christian (see Ephesians 5:4). They are obviously, then, not fitting in the context of worship.

Nowhere in the book of Acts or the Epistles do we see a church called to provide a subculture for unbelievers. The lost don’t need to find at church a world that’s like their world. We must relate to the world but not compromise biblical essentials for a church.

I need to make this clear: I don’t intend to erect an “emerging” straw man and then light him on fire. I realize that in the same way our culture unfairly pigeonholes evangelicals, there is a risk of stereotyping the emerging church—or any similar movement. The danger of a broad stroke of analysis is to fail to represent everyone fairly. Or to acknowledge the exceptions.

I’m certain that not all of those who number themselves among the “tribe” of the emerging church favor liberal theology with no belief in absolutes or traditional, orthodox convictions. However, my concern is for those churches in any movement that, in an attempt to connect with the culture, actually embrace a compromise of biblical truth. Paul had the same concern as he wrote with urgency to Timothy:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1–2)

It’s worth noticing that this exhortation is not addressed to the hearer; it’s for the speaker. The one who is to obey this command is the one proclaiming the message. That’s you. That’s me. That’s every elder who teaches. That’s all who are called to stand and deliver. It is to be the commitment of every church.

Let me urge you who are considering adopting the emerging church philosophy, or the “seeker church” strategies, to take a good look at what you are trying to do—and why. Be sure to look at it biblically. Be certain you can support any change you plan to implement from the Scriptures. Don’t look to Mars Hill in Acts 17 while ignoring the essentials of Acts 2:42. Instead of searching for justification in the Bible, search and pray for direction from the biblical text. When you find it . . . follow it.

I would say the same thing to any church—including my own.

—Chuck

Comments

Thank you Pastor Chuck for this wise and open post. I am 57 years old but still feel that God has many years yet to use me. I never want to close off listening to Him and reaching the culture but also don't want to compromise my integrity and certainly not the integrity of God and His Word. I don't mind a different approach to communicating God's Word as long as it it done with integrity to His Word, grace in our speech, expository in our approach, and clear in our message. (However, I don't mind at all not wearing a suit! :) ) I sometimes think I am too old-fashioned in those ideals to be "relevant". But I would rather be faithful than "relevant" and compromise with tainted speech and the blatant mishandling of the Word. Sorry for going on so long. I am so glad you have addressed this with a clear objective and a loving heart.

As always, you spoke like a modern prophet with insight, wisdom, and clarity with regard to God's word.

Thanks,
Harry

Thank you for your wise and insightful commentary. My heart was recently broken to hear of a fellow pastor of a growing congregation using slang terms in his messages (that were not necessary) in order to "relate to his people better" as he said. I agree we must meet our people where they are spiritually, but we need to encourage them to move to higher ground by exampling the excellency of the Gospel, in our actions and our speech.

"Do we have to adopt postmodern thinking to minister to the postmodern mind?"

i, too, feel we should be careful not to compromise biblical truth in an attempt to reach the world around us. at the same time, though, if i understand the shift that is currently taking place, postmodernism is not something a society chooses to "adopt." rather it acts behind the scenes, shaping the way we actually view the world around us. and the shift will occur (to some extent) in western society as a whole, not only to a few who want to buy in -- while others simply avoid this tint to their thinking.

no, postmodernism won't be avoided any more than was modernism. americans haven't been actively deciding to glorify the individual, value science and reason above spirituality, and bow down to technology. there is not required a commitment or decision in order for this to be the case. modernity has simply been the default in our world. and that default is now changing.

i'm not arguing we should just give in to the newest bully worldview on the block. rather i'm suggesting that postmodernism is going to shape (to a large extent) the minds in our culture. i believe completely there exists a kingdom worldview that sits outside of both modernism and postmodernism. and i pray that the Spirit can help it to infiltrate our minds.

i personally don't like apologetics. i don't like the fact that we believe we can prove with logic the existence of a God who exists above and outside that very logic. but that is what modernity has done in Christianity. however, as much as i personally dislike apologetics, i can't claim it's not a valid way for some to come to know Christ. and i can't claim that modernity hasn't tinted my view of the world at least a little.

i assume anyone drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit is coming from within their own worldview and capacity for thought. so the church has to find a way (without compromising truth) to appeal to a postmodern world. but we mustn't confuse truth with modernity's claims on it.

Hello Pastor Chuck,

Came here from Bill Grandi's blog.

Good thoughts. I have been struggling with this new concept of Emergent Church for some time now. It is not very popular yet where i live (Kyiv, Ukraine), but i can see it advancing.

I guess this is another area where we should find a balance. There are a few things that i like about emergent Church, one of them being - they actually reach out to the lost of the world - something that a lot of "usual" Churches forgot how to do. But like you said, we aren't to compromise what we believe in just to get people to come - after all, if we compromise our beliefs, what will we teach the people who are new to the faith?

thanks for sharing and thoughts.

God bless,

Zee

Thank you for the reminder to remain true to God's Word. I often think that we have become too concerned with people responding and not concerned enough with what they are responding too. With that, we have diluted the Gospel to appeal to the World.

Side note: In my personal experiences with "seeker churches", I have encountered a focus on reaching the lost without a focus on discipleship once a person comes to know Christ.

thanks chuck for good advice on emerging church. well written.

my wife (debbie cosper) and i were married in your church in 1987 by ken bemis. debbie was a missionary from your church overseas when i met here. since then, we have been starting emerging churches all over the world and my blog has been a resource for them.

i would add that for many of us in this world, whether we have dropped the label or not, the example of acts 17 is helpful but not as powerful as the example of the incarnation and the command by our Lord "As the Father has sent me, so I send you". How did Jesus incarnate his life and message? This is the key.

peace and love

andrew jones
tallskinnykiwi

Dear Chuck,

thank you for your clear word. We struggle in the moment in a German church with these topics around Emerging Church.

God bless you
Thomas

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