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The Emergent Church: A Dangerous Fad or Solid New Movement?
Commentary on the News
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Jan Markell

If you're over age 35, your spiritual health may be at risk in that new "church movements" are focusing in on primarily "GenXrs."

You may not have even heard of the latest, the "Emergent Church" or "Emerging Church." Many today are looking for a new "methodology," "new wave," or "new thing God is doing." I ask, "What is wrong with the old way?" Apparently just the Bible is no longer sufficient.

Some say the "Emergent Church" (EC) is the next step beyond the "seeker movement." Leaders of the EC say they have answers for our generation even though it focuses on experience much more than the Bible. But leaders of the movement insist that in our fast-changing culture, something is happening. What was once a Christian nation with a Judeo-Christian worldview is becoming a post Christian, unchurched, unreached nation.

There is arising in our midst new generations without any Christian influence, and thus we must re-think everything we have done with Christianity over many centuries. Part of what they say is true and their evangelistic fervor is genuine no doubt.

Defining the EC is a little bit like nailing jello to the wall, but here goes anyway. It relies heavily on mysticism, a great danger to believers of all denominations. Some leaders will tell you that you cannot know truth. An EC service will often meet in homes, and will rely on extra-biblical paraphernalia, extra-sensory images, sounds, smells of candles and incense, silence, mystical meditation, making the sign of the cross, touching icons, statues of saints, rosary beads for Protestants, liturgy, yoga-like deep breathing, contemplative prayer, and sacraments--all for a full sensory immersion with the divine. In other words, they are looking for an encounter with the Lord using all their senses. Worship is stressed, but some would say more than the Word.

They borrow liturgical practices from the Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholic Church and heavily from the traditions and views of Catholic Church Fathers.

It would seem to me that if the Bible were being taught, the extra-biblical paraphernalia, extra-sensory images, sounds, smells, etc., would hardly be necessary, but maybe I'm make much ado about nothing.

The most visible leader is Brian McClaren whose book, "A Generous Orthodoxy" has caught on all over. In it he states that, "The Christian faith should become a welcome friend to other religions of the world, and not a threat.” He states in the book that not all people need to be Christians to follow Jesus. Some may be able to be "Buddhist or Hindu followers of Jesus." He also states that, "God is interested in not only saving us from consequences after this life but in saving us from injustice, oppression, greed, and war, in this life." He was uninvited as a speaker at the Kentucky Baptist Convention when leaders learned McClaren suggested that people could be saved without being Christians.

Others either in the EC movement or supportive of it include Robert Schuller, Richard Foster, Brennan Manning, Dan Kimball, Dallas Willard, Bruce Wilkinson, Eugene Peterson, John Ortberg, John Eldredge, Dr. Robert Webber, Tony Campolo, and dozens of lesser-known people. Others such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels give credibility to the EC movement, although their churches cannot be called “Emergent.”

While the movement is ecumenical and attracts numbers and particularly youthful followers, it hardly seems biblical when so much involves the extra-biblical.

There is a predicted “end time falling away” in the Bible, when people stop heeding sound doctrine and want their ears tickled. I think candles, incense, yoga-like deep breathing, and more must qualify somehow in the ear-tickling category. I’ve never been called old fashioned, but I’m looking for a church that just preaches from the Bible, has no fluff, no praise band with gals in mini-skirts, no balloons coming down from the ceiling, and no dogs jumping through hoops. In my neck of the woods, they’re very scarce because “methods” now must be used to grow little First Baptist Church into a mega-church the size of Willow Creek.

It’s a new day for the church, and I fear not a happy one.

(Visit the “Spiritual Deception” category of my Web site for related information.)

(Jan is founder/director of Olive Tree Ministries, Inc. To receive her e-mail alerts or print newsletter, visit her Web site, www.olivetreeviews.org . She is a Contributing Editor to Omega Letter Intelligence Digest.)

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