August 25, 2013
A recent communication from a long-time friend in my home state has once again brought to the surface a very serious issue. The church where he had been a member for most of his life called a new pastor, who failed to inform the church of his intent to remake the church into the emerging-church model. While only God knows his motive, the result became very public. When those who had sacrificed, given, and served for years to create a healthy local assembly began asking questions, they were stiff armed. As time passed, people who had comprised the heart of that church ministry were told to either fall in line with the new plan or leave. In the end, yet another previously healthy congregation moved into the emerging-church tragedy.
We need to begin by agreeing that it is clearly dishonest for any man to accept the leadership of a church without being upfront about his intentions. Even if it is a theological issue that needs to be corrected, he must be transparent.
The question is often asked, “How do you know when the emerging church is emerging in your church?” It has happened to some of you and very soon is about to happen to others. That is what this article is about.
A CLEAR VIEW OF THE EMERGING CHURCH
In reality, the emerging church is simply the road to the emergent church. In the latter, because that movement is at home with heresy, a theology that is biblical is almost destroyed. The emerging church is a façade. It looks good to those who are not settled in their theology, but it is fraught with doctrinal error.
No church has ever entered its clutches without having its theology compromised.
That cancer is covered by defenders of the movement by “complicating to confuse.” What is needed instead is an approach that “simplifies to clarify.”
To avoid revealing the theological weaknesses of the emerging church, a liberal tool is used: all conversation about it is steered toward culture and methodology rather than the dangers of doctrinal deviation. Although many of their methods are not inherently evil, some are dangerous. Methods, however, are not at the center of this problem; theology is. The emerging church uses its methods, and the ensuing debate about them, to turn from truth.
Every church that has headed down the road of the emerging church has been lulled by the siren song of “methods.”
When the doctrinal compromise which has occurred is finally realized, by then it’s too late; it is but one more step to the emergent church where at first doctrine doesn’t matter, and finally it is hated. It all begins with the mantra that “the Bible doesn’t speak to that.” Methods do matter, and the Bible records the death of some who were not careful about this.
THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
If a church is leaning toward the emerging model, don’t expect to see much of a doctrinal shift from the pulpit; it is more subtle than that. The attitude about the content of sermons, and even their length, may create some valid questions. When the pulpit is removed from the “worship center,” members should begin to ask, “What is central here?” Many churches helpfully place Bibles in the pews for anyone who may not have one, but that is, of course, no longer necessary if the Bible has become merely a fetish in man-centered worship. Don’t waste your time judging any individual churches about each of these things; one single issue will only serve to create a question and not necessarily an answer.
A majority of the churches which are moving left have had a major shift in their style of worship. I have pledged not to get in the middle of the “worship wars,” so I will be brief with this. The concern with this topic is that much of the move in worship styles has left the true meaning of worship behind, a telltale sign of the emerging church. Jesus made this plain to the Samaritan woman: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). How can we worship God when truth is left behind and when we sing lies? How can we worship God when man, rather than God, is the center of a side show misnamed “worship?”
Music is one of the best indicators of the emerging church infection. Some say that the Bible does not speak to this subject, but that is more of a confession than an observation.
If you walk blindfolded into a “worship” service and can’t tell whether you’re in a church or a nightclub or a rock concert or a bar, something is definitely wrong.
Showmanship and low-talented performances where you have no idea what the words even are that are being sung should leave you with questions. Even over-used phrases that border on "vain repetition" should make us begin to ask some questions.
Any one of these things by itself might not be a condemnation, but taken as a whole they should set off the warning lights. It is clear that every church which has made this transition gave the warning early on in the form of culture, methods, and worship changes. One could not say that the leaders in every case knew what they were doing, but in the end they had to give up something theologically. So…if you are asking, “Is this emerging in my church?” you’d better spend some time thinking about what is going on and asking some Bible questions. If there is no one in your church who has the ability to understand a theology that is biblical, then ask someone who does.
I wasn’t born yesterday, and I have already heard time and again the defense of the emerging church arguments, so if you have input, please make it theological - not philosophical.
Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min
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