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“The Emerging Church”

Category Articles
Date February 8, 2005

At two day conferences, one in north Wales and one in south Wales, on February 1 and 2 David Meredith of the Free Church of Scotland at Culloden, near Inverness addressed the ministers on the subject of the rise of the ‘Emerging Church.’ The following is a summary of what he said:

We are living in a culture permeated by secular unbelief. This is the background to the appearance of the ‘Emerging Church.’ It is also known as the ‘liquid church’ or ‘church without walls.’ You may notice a young couple in your church who seem to be so promising, but after a time they display some unhappiness. They speak of their wish to be more involved in the community and in the lives of non-church people. There is something strange about their attitude even though evangelistic concern is their emphasis. The husband won’t sign any acceptance of the church’s confession of faith when told that this is a requirement of holding office in the church. He believes the Bible he says tersely, not the documents of man. He becomes more infrequent in his attendance and becomes more critical. He dismisses the church situation he is leaving as ‘authoritarian’ with a dinosaur mentality. What we need is ‘community’ and ‘reality’ and ‘engagement’ he says. Most conservative churches have such couples.

They have come under the influence of the ’emerging church.’ One of the books on this movement is written by 48 year old Brian Mclaren. In 1986 he became founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community church a congregation of a couple of hundred that meets near Washington and Baltimore in the eastern USA. He has written a number of books, one co-authored with Tony Campolo. These include, “The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Post-modern Matrix”, “Finding Faith”, “A New Kind of Christian.” His most recent “A Generous Orthodoxy” is considered the manifesto of the emerging church convention. Some of his books have been awarded special merit by Christianity Today. Other men in the movement are Peter Ward (“The Liquid Church”), and Dan Kimball (“The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations” (Zondervan). These men, their sermons and ideas cam be accessed through the Internet.

What is the Emerging Church? A typical blurb says in lower-case letters: “the emerging church of the 21st century may have more in common with the church of the apostolic era, than with the church of the 20th century. many ancient practices of faith and ways of being communal are being rebooted and morphed for the needs of the future church. as leonard sweet writes, our faith is ancient. our faith is future. we’re old-fashioned. we’re new-fangled. we’re orthodox. we’re innovators. we’re postmodern christians; any church, willing to learn the vernacular of the culture, will be equipped to speak the gospel within the culture, and minister to postmodern people. such ministry is not tied to any specific theological heritage or worship style. addressing postmodernity involves opening up the genius of your heritage and tradition to the postmodern culture in ways appropriate to your tradition, so that you can speak the gospel authentically, from the depths of your heritage and tradition, to people living in a postmodern world.”

Like most things new to disturb the church the emerging church comes from the USA, but it can be found in many cities in the UK. In Swansea there is Zac’s Place – the pioneering ‘church in a pub’ venture hosted by Sean Stillman and supported by Exousia Trust. The singer Martyn Joseph is on the Council of Reference. Cardiff based Bar None, ‘very arts oriented’, is similar. These emerging churches support the “God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club” and Third Way magazine. Who are the people who go? Those who have been ‘wounded’ in normal churches. For example, an alcoholic who has been rejected by chapel culture goes there and finds his future in Zac’s Place or Bar None. He discovers affirmation and a sense of his value. He goes back to his studies and now he has graduated from college. That is a typical testimony.

It might be an improvement but it is not conversion; you can affirmation and value from Mormonism and Islam. Lives are put together in the AA but that is not conversion. In Geraint Fielder’s book, “Guilt Grace and Gumption” the converted men got affirmation and value, but they went on to serve the Lord. Think of Staffordshire Bill of Sandfields, Port Talbot in Iain Murray’s biography of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. There is something dramatic about such changes, but this is social work stuff, and it is so dead! The authentic gospel is radical. The ideas behind Zac’s Place are tired and dead.

In Bar None the emphasis is on acceptance and inclusion. Once a month they have a debate e.g. on pacifism. On the other Sundays in a month there is a ten minute talk. Yawn. People whose lives are ripped up go and they hear a talk on . . . pacifism! The irony is that in their desire to be relevant they have become irrelevant. They claim to be disillusioned with the churches etc. but what radical gospel of discipleship are they presenting?

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.

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