WHAT IS THE EMERGENT CHURCH?
Realizing that some may not be aware of who or what the Emergent Church (EC) is, it may be appropriate to briefly identify this current movement. The EC actually is not inclined toward being identified as anything specific but rather prefers the wide open spaces that allow for many terms to be used when referring to the EC, implying without saying that the EC is far beyond the limiting aspects of something so specific as a name. Terms such as Missional Christianity, Incarnational Christianity, Emergent Conversation are examples of the many non-specific group-think terms that the EC prefers. The movement is the reflection of a “Eureka! I have found it” group-think. The “it” being the discovery of true Christianity that has been lost since the advent of the Protestant Reformation, which lost true Christianity when it left behind the hidden wisdom of those Catholic Mystics of the Middle Ages.
A brief study of the word “mystic” paints a picture that does not fit God’s people yet the EC is not only comfortable identifying with “religious mysticism” but confidently insists that without embracing mysticism, the truth cannot be found. Biblically, this concept is quite demonic. The reader may or may not be familiar with Kabballah, straightforwardly defined as “mystical Judaism”. This movement also prefers the wide open spaces of non-specificity, just as the EC. There exists, therefore, a movement committed to mystifying the truth of God’s relationship with Israel and a movement committed to mystifying the truth of God’s relationship to man through Jesus Christ. Both movements necessitate a suspension of the idea that God’s Word, the book we call the Bible, need be considered anything more than some kind of a guide that can be used in conjunction with all of the works of those that the EC has determined to have had their “Eureka” moment.
Try as I might, these two paragraphs do not quite put words to what I know in my spirit. This should not be surprising because this is a spiritual deception being worked through human thinking and human emotion. The Bible tells us that spiritual things are spiritually discerned. If any movement is true, it will not counter the Word of God. To embrace the EC requires suspension of the idea that God’s Word can be read and understood and, even further, necessitates the embracing of the idea that God’s Word isn’t actually God’s Word.
The very straight-forward danger of the Emergent Church (EC) is that it is founded upon deception. By definition, deception is intended to direct away from what is correct and to maintain the misdirection, inevitably resulting in the creation of a gradual and relentless “web of lies.” Just as truth is wholly dependent upon maintaining truth in every detail, creating an impenetrable defense, so too is deception dependent upon maintaining deception in every detail in order to create an impenetrable defense. However, truth is truth and remains constant while deception must remain in a constant state of readiness to add or subtract from the foundational deception in order to prevent substantiation of truth.
This is a decidedly Christian topic because it deals with the truth of the Bible among those who claim to be Christians. Non-Christians do not need this kind of deception because non-Christians already reject the idea that the Cross of Calvary opened the door to eternal life. It is the Christian that our enemy must deceive because the Christian whose faith does not question God’s written word is likely not going to yield to a frontal approach. That Christian has to be tricked into accepting a lie.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Church, Chapter 6, tell us: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the ruler of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” If we claim to be Christians, this should be accepted as fact to us. And when considered in terms of the numerous scriptures warning us of deception, deceiving spirits, doctrines of deceptions, deceivers, etc., Paul’s words should not be a surprise. Christians should be watchful against the efforts of darkness to tear down Christianity in any manner possible. And the lack of a definitive stance related to the deception that is the EC, I find myself wondering if Christians are expecting the peddlers of false gospel to show up wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the word; “DECEIVER”.
The deception of the EC is plainly obvious. Why, then, is the EC growing so rapidly and being embraced so widely? I submit that the rapid growth has to do with the mirror image of the current culture of our nation being reflected in the teachings of EC leadership. In reality, EC adherents do not teach. Specific teaching of false doctrine can be questioned in terms of violating the Word of God. To avoid accountability to the Bible, EC religion is put forth more in the form of suggestion. Like the “island of plastic” that green folks like to show as evidence that we need to return to pre-industrial ways of living. That island floats, remaining in constant motion. Free to move with the tides. This is the EC. Nothing solid. Floating with the tide of cultural acceptability. Abortion, homosexuality, border control, Donald Trump, impeachment, candidates and virtually every other issue that represents the stark difference between the sociopolitical climates of the left and the right, we see that the EC is a mirror image of the left. And at the same time, merely suggestive of how valid the left’s position is rather than making a definitive statement or taking a definitive position, other than on the position of homosexuality, where EC spokespeople boldly proclaim homosexuality to be as normal as heterosexuality and claim that it is not sin.
This is not to say that the Body of Christ is supposed to support the views of the right or even that the Body of Christ should be in the business of the sociopolitical climate of culture. This is to say that this deception, as all Christian deception, appeals to and works through the earthly side of man. The flesh rather than the spirit. In the same way that our culture is so in love with the feeling of being so loving and so compassionate when denying reality, so too does the EC love to wrap itself in the self-righteous robe that false doctrine calls out to. A plaintive cry of how little we can know and in having so little understanding of God, we must accept accommodation for religion that is not representative of the Bible. And the same cultural chaos that results from refusal to deal realistically with issues, is duplicated in the EC in its efforts to blend the truth of God’s Word with false doctrine.
Even a brief read of statements made by EC bosses shows that no commitments are made. Simply questions left to float on the horizon of who and what God really is, purposely posit that we cannot depend upon the Bible as God’s word to man but rather only one of many books written by many cultural guru’s, each with his own words of value. The Bible is seen as a potential guide for those who wish to align themselves with Christianity while remaining free to float in that “island of plastic” where we can continue to be who we want to be without any specific accountability to a god. These people question truth rather than deny truth because they are unwilling to face the consequences of accountability. In terms of Biblical truth, they are afraid to out rightly deny Truth but are in love with the sound of their voice speaking things so wonderfully understanding and inclusive. The ego embedded in their false modesty should be immediately evident to Christians.
Proponents of Eastern Philosophy look to the philosophical writings of accepted gurus because philosophy is the entirety of philosophy, whether religious or otherwise. Philosophy creates a world where nothing is tied down and in terms of religion, everyone’s religious beliefs are valid. The Bible is not of this genre. The Bible is specific and in that specificity, excludes religion from salvation, unabashedly putting forth the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the sole path to of eternal life. Once a Christian pretender rejects this, there is no further need for any specific connection to the Bible at all. There are plenty of religious philosophers to buy into, so why even pretend at the Bible? Because Christians must be deceived and throwing the Bible out completely would be resisted. But pretending to be included in all of the works of religiously philosophy creates an aura of acceptability that appears to be so loving and acceptable that those who like a more comfortable gospel.
The entirety of the EC presents a complexity not only as to who we are in Christ but who has the true right to consider himself in Christ. Who can really know what the truth is? And this very basic question is the foundation of the lie of the EC. According to the Bible, the truth is quite simple. The Book of John tells us: “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” It takes significant denial of truth to pretend that we cannot know the truth while the substance of the very book of truth we are addressing tells us that we not only can know the truth but the knowing of that truth will set us free. Even yours truly can grasp it. Having been saved by the Blood of the Lamb, we are charged to put on Christ, resist the devil and fight that good fight of faith, faithful in constantly putting to death the flesh that does not cease in its desire to rule over our spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul addresses this idea of simplicity. In verse 3, he writes to the Corinthian Church: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” He then writes that his concern for them is that they might buy into a different gospel when it comes along. In verses 13-14 he writes: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”. So then, according to the Bible, the gospel is not complex. And if someone comes along that teaches something different, complexity is built into the deception, successfully appealing to that part of man’s nature that loves the feel of being intellectual.
Why is that? Because the enemy of our soul does not want us to recognize deception and thus creates an aura of complexity that obscures the lie. While our mind wanders from thought to thought on things that are not defined, it is the intention of the deceiver that we yield to the confusion and defend the web of lies without caution.
My father-in-law was from Louisiana and was raised Southern Baptist. Although the man I knew had long before abandoned church attendance and any direct connection with the Christianity he was raised with, he never did utter a word that would deny his upbringing - until he became a Mason. Within a short time of connecting with the Masons, he began to speak to me about Masonry being a Christian organization because it believed in God. But it had no specific requirements, so each man was free to embrace his own belief regarding God. What was apparent was that he now had a repackaged version of the God he knew from Christianity, a repackaged version more in line with what he wanted God to be.
From the beginning of man, this is what the battle has been. Adam preferred the repackaged version of God that was presented to him by Satan. Nothing has changed since and the EC is nothing new. The size of the ego that pretends to have embraced something new in our relationship with the Creator is an ego beyond human measure. But all deceivers present a gospel that draws attention to their individual spiritual revelation. WHERE DID THE EMERGENT CHURCH GET STARTED?
It started in the Garden (of Eden), of course. Deceptions come in under the guise of being something new. The instruments of deception are quite proud of recognizing their new thing, as though they have been found worthy to present a new gospel. But deception began in the Garden. Man knew the Creator face to face, walking with Him in the cool of the day and being in the very presence of the Creator, all while having not yet experienced sin. In spite of all of that personal contact with his Creator, man was deceived by a mere serpent. Man bought into the lie that he could be God, and having failed, has been trying to remake God into something more palatable to man. So too is this EC an effort to reshape God into their own image. This cannot be accomplished until truth has been invalidated and the question of truth has become malleable.
As Christians, we are all familiar with the unbeliever’s primary line of defense which is, “What kind of God would do that?” or something along that line. What has been very notable about the EC movement is that we are beginning to hear that line from Christians. Just a week ago my very close friend, during a discussion of the EC, had the temerity to confront me with the old, “What about the old man on the mountain that never heard of God? What kind of God would send him to hell?” My straightforward approach was to suggest that it may be the same God that drowned Pharaoh’s army in the sea, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and kept his people in the wilderness until an entire generation had perished. We would be better off leaving the eternity of that hypothetical old man on the mountain to God, rather than attempt to recreate God in our own desired image. We cannot change God. It is man that is charged with becoming Godly, not God that is charged with becoming manly.
This is the EC kind of approach to Christianity. The EC approach is to reshape the issue with questions, such as who can answer that question with certainty or, who can even answer that question with uncertainty? The Bible tells us that salvation is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. So I ask what kind of God would send his own Son to die on the Cross, but give the old Buddhist on the mountain top a pass, because even though he was not interested in the saving grace of Calvary, he really was trying to find truth while denying the truth that can be found. If the old man on the mountain is entitled to a pass because of his own efforts at trying to be spiritual, so is every man entitled to justify his rejection of the crucified Jesus. And in keeping with its approach, the EC casts the entire issue into the plastic island in the sea, never giving an answer to the complexities that arise when a Christian sets aside the Word of God in order to recreate God in a more personally palatable image. Look around, please. Man creates chaos with man. Is it any wonder that man requiring God to change results in chaos? This is the EC as it rejects the answers contained in God’s Word and exchanges it for the delightful feeling of making the answer appear to be a thing of the wonderment, of personal interpretation or, perhaps more accurately, the wonderment of personal inclination.
Brian Maclaren is the accepted leader of the EC. It is mind numbing to read his statements about God changing with man and his culture - God updating his methods and requirements of dealing with man upon the earth. The Bible tells us: “I am God and I change not” (Malachi). I’m confused. Whom should I believe? Malachi or brother Maclaren? Does the unchanging nature of God that Scripture puts forth have any impact at all upon Maclaren when he tells us that God is on His way to becoming Windows 47, in terms of His relationship with man?
I find myself speaking with people who claim that they are not in alignment with the EC, but present the very same arguments to my questions as the EC presents. Does the Bible declare homosexuality to be no less natural than heterosexuality and therefore is not sin? Does the Bible declare that abortion should be at the whim of the mother and is therefore not sin? The EC is engaged in the support of both of these issues. It takes a lot of impudence for one who claims to be a Christian, to also claim authority to override God’s Word.
Not to be overlooked in terms of how all of this got started is the timing. The post WWII generation (mine) became the generation of college, drugs, free sex, demonstrations, and all the rest. Our generation was raised to nurture our heart of rebellion because those rebellious inclinations deserved to be addressed in terms of our own personal realities. I do not recall experiencing a spirit of the peace we insisted would ensue as our demands for our own individual truth were met. We are two generations downhill from that craziness and having lived in all of them, I can testify that the current generation is even more self-centered and self-righteous than my own.
The leaders in the EC are pretty much of my rebellious generation and younger, college-educated, and most grew up as Christians. I was neither. Thirteen months in an air mobile unit in the Central Highlands of Vietnam had to suffice for education, and I didn’t go to church because I was not a Christian. (My catholic roots will be addressed later on). But coming home after only thirteen months away, I could not relate to those of my age who stayed behind and went to college. I felt like they were little babies pretending to be grown up. I was born again a year later and consider that my disconnect with my generation was a significant part of opening my heart to the Lord. Because my generation, in California at least, was nuts and I knew something was missing.
Add to all of this the development of electronic communications, and the resultant environment essentially put EC growth on steroids. Setting aside the picture of EC deception going back to the Garden, we can establish that the EC group had its start in the late seventies. But it didn’t go far until eighteen or twenty years ago when electronic media began to have its far more widespread impact on an individual basis.