Emerging or Emergent Church?

A good friend of mine asked me this morning if I had any thoughts on the Emergent Church. He said that he had been searching the web for information and all of it was negative. My first question was whether he was referring to the Emerging Church or the Emergent Church? There is a difference, I believe. He was asking, I think, in reference to the service we are starting. He wanted to know if our church would be an Emergent Church, and if so, what doest that mean exactly?

Here are my thoughts, right or wrong.

The Emerging Church is simply what the “church body” as a whole is becoming, and how they are communicating the Gospel to the people. Every generation has, or is, an Emerging Church. Think back to the 70’s; what we now call a “contemporary church” was an Emerging Church. Styles and churches will always, hopefully, be emerging.

The Emergent Church on the other hand is a little different. It refers to a movement that is specifically targeting a group of people that have become disenfranchised with church as usual, or have no background at all in Christianity. Call it postmodern, post-Christian, post-whatever, we are in a society that has a generation of people who don’t know what “sanctification” is or what it means to be saved. Saved from what? Most traditional, and I don’t mean just music style, churches use language that requires a PhD in Churchese in order to understand what is going on. The Emergent Church, at its core, is about reaching people where they are, through methods that may seem unorthodox to traditionalists.

I think the reason the Emergent Church is getting so much negative press is because not every Emergent Church looks and believes the same way. It is very loosely defined and there are some in the movement that have put a bad taste in peoples mouths. There is a strong concern from traditional denominations that the E.C. (I’ll abbreviate because I hate typing) is watering down the Gospel to a point where sin is no longer preached on. They are afraid that the E.C. is putting so much emphasis on relationship that the fruit of that relationship is overlooked.

I belong to a traditional denomination and can understand their concerns. If the E.C. is concerned more about just getting people in the door than they are about them being viable believers than I think there is a serious problem. But from what I’ve seen and read most E.C.s aren’t watering down the Gospel to make it fit society, they are simply starting with the basics and presenting it in a way that non-traditionalists can relate. Look at this way. If a mainline denomination wants to preach on salvation they do it assuming everyone in there understands certain things. But what if they don’t? What if those assumptions are wrong? Then what happens is even though the message was basic it never hit its mark because the people that needed to hear it the most were lost from the beginning. In that sense I think the E.C. is doing a heck of a job.

But what happens if they (new believers at the E.C.) are only taught to start the relationship but are never taught or encouraged to grow and nurture that relationship? You’ll have a church full of believers whose faith is built on a weak foundation and they will resort back to what is familiar when things get tough. Same thing happens in marriages. Walking down the aisle is great and needed, but it takes time for the relationship to mature to a point where it can withstand a storm.

If the E.C. is going to make it they have to find a way to mix the style with strong discipleship and not be scared to say the hard things. It is a loving pastor who can preach on the hard things, knowing that he is going to offend some people. But they have to. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were to pursue holiness. Meaning they were to line up their lives with what God was telling them. In Ephesians, Paul encourages them (vss 17-32) to walk out their faith a certain way. He was clear that they, and we, were to be set apart from the world (or sin).

I think the Emergent Church has a gotten a bad rap at times. Some of the leaders have some really freaky theology, but that doesn’t mean the whole movement is heretical. We, as the whole church body, are having a hard time engaging those in their 20’s and 30’s. If a church can present the Gospel, all of it, in a way that reaches them where they are then I don’t see the problem.

So, is the service we are starting going to be a Traditional, Emerging, or Emergent Church?

The answer is . . . yes.

Here is a description of the Emerging Church by Rick McKinley, the pastor at Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon. I don’t know much about his ministry but he explains the E.C. in an easily understandable way.
Click Here

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4 Responses to Emerging or Emergent Church?

  1. James Diggs says:

    Roy, great point about the E.C. being just part of the body that is always “emerging” from generation to generation.

    I would like to encourage you to take a harder look at the conversation though, because you seem to be confusing it somewhat with the “seeker sensitive” movement of the early 90’s.

    There certainly is a lot of deep thinking going on in the E.C. conversation; some of which are making traditional evangelicals uncomfortable.

    Let me take a second to and talk about this word “traditional” the E.C. church is supposedly moving away from. Perhaps the traditions of evangelicalism are being challenged by the E.C. conversation, but only as they seek to find a larger context of tradition found in all of historical Christianity.

    You might be interested in knowing that many E.C. have latched onto things like the lectionary and make the table part of regular worship. E.C leaning folks are exploring a more ancient/future journey of faith compared to the relatively new expression of Christianity found in Evangelicalism of the last 100 years or so.

    As far as discipleship goes E.C. encourages orthopraxy perhaps more than orthodoxy (which is one thing is is often criticized for). E.C. focuses heavily on living the Way of Jesus; this includes things like caring for the poor and those who have been marginalized by injustice. Living this Way of Christ certainly isn’t easy and much of the conversations and way of life being encouraged are challenging.

    Most E.C. leaning communities are small, with lots of house churches and intentional communities that focus on both communal and missional living. The E.C. are asking real questions about the gospel and want to see it transform their lives, their community and their world.

    Thanks for your post and allowing me to comment.



  2. Roy Bauer says:

    Thanks for posting. I just have 2 questions or comments

    With regards to orthopraxy, isn’t that dangerously close to legalism? Jesus was clear to point out that we can’t earn our way into heaven. There is not a thing we could do to make him love us more or less. We do need to make sure we “walk the talk” but doesn’t that come after a true belief and heart conversion? He says if you love Me you’ll follow my commandments. Doesn’t that mean it is out of our love for him that we live “the way” not out of a sense of duty?

    The other question I have is this. Why is the E.C. concerned with getting reconnected with ancient Christianity? Why the turn towards “a more ancient/future journey of faith”? Isn’t that simply a style issue that has nothing to do with the heart or beliefs. Luther and Wesley loved God just as much as Billy Graham. Wasn’t the ancient Christian way of “doing church” a reflection of the people of that time? What is it that makes modern Evangelicalism such a sore spot with E.C.?

    If the E.C. is railing against the greed that is in many of the mega churches today, I can understand. If it is upset that the poor and marginalized are being forgotten, or worse, mistreated, than I understand. But how does that translate into resorting to an ancient way?

    I hope you can see my heart in what I typed. I am trying to understand. Not because I want to start or join an Emergent Church, but because I believe if the heart is in the right place God will show you what to do.

    I look forward to reading your comments.

  3. James Diggs says:

    Great questions Roy.

    Don’t mistake an emphasis on orthopraxy as a kind of legalism or trying to “earn God’s favor”. I think the E.C. conversation is trying to compensate for the idea some people get in evangelicalism that faith is just an intellectual assent. Those leaning into the E.C. conversation embrace orthopraxy as following the Way of Christ out of response to our faith in him.

    As for your question concerning an interest in the “ancient”; I should clarify that that the term I used was “ancient/future”. This concept is best explored in the writings of the late Robert E. Webber if your interested in reading more about it.

    The idea is not to try and go back to ancient times, it is to reflect back over our entire rich Church history as inspiration as we move forward into the future. This reflection certainly would include guys like Wesley and Luther, but also include the early church fathers, and influences from both early Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is not that any of these things should be completely emulated but rather we should find ways to draw from the best qualities of all these things.

    You ask why modern evangelicalism is such a sore spot for the e.c.? There is a feeling in the emergent church that we as evangelicals have lost our connection with the historical body of Christ. That the emphasis has largely shifted historically from community to be more individualist. Evangelicalism tends to unintentionally deny that there is any real succession in our faith and church, or connection to the historical body of Christ that came before us. It is like we almost think as Evangelicals that the Apostles themselves printed the Bible, and then Christian communities sprout up based on just this throughout history. Believing that all one needs is our “bibles” is extremely individualist and ironic as we consider that our scriptures emerged from inspiration through God’s presence in communities.

    The struggle emergents have with evangelicals is actually partly an internal one as much of the emergent church conversation emerged from post-modern evangelicals. It has been a self discovery of our own modern and western lens that we believe has distorted some of the ways we look at our faith. It is the realization that evangelicalism does not sit at the center of Christian orthodoxy as we often think of it or treat it.

    There are of course other things at play here to; too much to explain in just one comment on a blog. I do see the heart in your comments and I hope you see mine. I am encouraged though that there is no such thing as an emergent denomination. These conversations are taking place within our various Christian traditions. The Emergent church does not want to reject the best qualities of our own evangelicalism either, which is certainly part of the larger Christin community in this world.

    I hope my comments have helped. let me know if you would like to continue the conversation any further.



  4. Roy Bauer says:

    Again, thanks for posting. I can certainly see where you are coming from. A lot of churches in my area, ones that I respect, have set themselves up as islands. The sense of community has certainly been lost over time. I sincerely hope God uses you and the E.C. to reach people for Him, because isn’t that what really matters?

    Hopefully others will comment on this blog and we’ll see where it goes.

    God Bless,


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