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.