Monday, November 30, 2009

More Autonomy: Yes it is that Bad

I have been writing about human autonomy for the last few weeks. I have focused most of my attention on how autonomy emerges in certain movements within the visible church. More specifically I have looked at how autonomy has impacted the emergent church movement. Autonomy shows up in every sin to one degree or another. It is the mother of all sin. Autonomy is the desire to act independently of God’s prescribed will. In other words, autonomy is any behavior that ignores God’s word as the authority for our lives in every area. In movements like the emergent church, this autonomy is demonstrated in a hermeneutic that integrates ungodly philosophies with partially biblical theology creating a new approach to how the Bible is to be understood. This new approach is designed with a pragmatic end in mind.

The idea is that the traditional model of preaching, teaching, discipleship, etc. no longer works in modern culture to attract people to the gospel, and to keep them in the church. A new way of doing church is necessary if the church is to survive. In fact, the EC movement, in many instances, argue that the church has been wrong about the gospel and the Bible all along. For 2000 years the church has misunderstood the gospel of Jesus Christ. The irony of this claim is that it is accompanied by men who assert that anyone who claims to have a sufficient understanding of God and the Bible amounts to assertions of extreme arrogance. So let me make sure I understand this correctly. For 2000 years, churchmen, pastors, and theologians have ALL misunderstood the gospel. Hundreds of tousands of them have been wrong about the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. And that claim is somehow not arrogant, but my claim to understand the gospel, along with millions of other Christians is actually a claim filled with extreme arrogance. Why would anyone claim that the church has had the gospel wrong all along?

The answer can be traced to a desire for autonomy. The desire for autonomy in what we believe and teach and most importantly, the desire for autonomy in how we live is the single greatest motivator for making such a claim. After all, EC leaders have come out endorsing the homosexual lifestyle, denying a literal hell, debunking the penal substitution of Christ, and doing all they can to degrade any and all high views of Scripture. If they can free themselves of this obligation to live according to Scripture, then they are free, just like God, to live their lives as they see fit. This is the same motivation that all godless philosophies have at their core. It is the driving force behind Darwinism. Prove God doesn’t exist and we are autonomous. The EC movement as well as liberalism seek to reinterpret God and Scripture in a way that gets them to the same autonomous status. They become free to order their lives, their business, and their church in whatever way they please. No submission to the authority of Scripture is required. This is because Scripture is not the final authority. Human reason has once again displaced Scripture and now serves as the absolute final authority. The EC might be a number of things; new isn't one of them.

This desire for autonomy and falling into it's traps can happen much closer to home if we are not diligent in our own prayers and studies. We must always remain open and teachable. This requires humility and the crucifixion of pride on a daily basis. I have learned that the only way to avoid the sin of autonomy is to acknowledge my sinful pride and to foster a constant awareness that my sinful nature stands ready at all times to reach for autonomy. This shows up in intellectual sin, and it appears in my daily life anytime I forget to examine my motives for how I am living. Part of my daily prayer is now for God to show me my pride, help me be aware of my autonomous desires, and help me every day to crucify this flesh.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

God is Able

Unto Him
That is able to do
All that we ask or think
Above all that we ask or think
Abundantly above all that we ask or think
Exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think
According to the power that worketh in us
[Paxson's Pyramid - Eph. 3:20]

First of all, God is able. Nothing is impossible with God (Dan. 4:35; Matt. 19:26) There is nothing too hard for the Lord (Jer. 32:17; Gen. 18:14). The Greek word for "the one who is able" is DUNAMENO and it simply means "able or capable." Clearly, without doubt or hesitancy whatsoever, we must affirm in full faith and confidence that GOD IS ABLE! But this does beg the question. What is God able to do?

Second, God is able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think. Whatever you can ask, God is able to do it. Ask and it will be given to you (Matt. 7:7) Ask for good gifts and God will given them to you (Matt. 7:11). Whatever you ask for Jesus' name God will give it to you (John 14:13). Ask for wisdom and God will give you more wisdom (James 1:5). Do not ask to consume it upon your own sinful, selfish desires. Evil requests will not be answered and requests that are soundly outside the will of God will not be answered. If we pray for God to help us to grow spiritually, He has promised to do this already and He will answer this request. God is able to do abundantly above all that we ask or even think! This word abundantly is translated from the Greek "HUPEREKPERISSOU" and it is the highest form of comparison imaginable, meaning quite beyond all measure! What ever you can think, or imagine God being able to do, He can do more still.

Third, God can do EXCEEDINGLY abundantly above, more than, all that we could ever ask or think! He is that kind of God. Believe it! Because that is the God we serve. He can and He does work in behalf of His people to accomplish His will. When they cry out for help, He saves them! He saves them from sin. He saves them from darkness. He saves them from despair! He saves them even from themselves! Believe it! Not only CAN God do more than we think or ask, He DOES do more than we can think or ask. Believe it!

Fourth, God does these things ACCORDING TO THE POWER THAT WORKS IN US. What power? This hearkens back to Eph. 3:7 where Paul says he was made a minister according to the gift of God according to the working of His power. God's power is at work in us. The very same power that created the universe ex nihilo is present is us, working in us. What is this power doing in us? It is transforming us daily to be conformed to the image of Christ so that we show forth the radiance of His glory to a lost and dying world. The word is a present tense participle, "that which is working in us," speaking of God's power. The present tense indicates this work is continuous. As long as we are here, in this flesh, God's power will be present in us, working in us, transforming, changing us every day into the image of His Son until one final day, we will be changed permanently, forever, given a new body and glorified to walk before Him in a way that is unimaginable! Believe it!

Practically speaking, this is the word of God.  Our role is to accept it as it is, bless the word of the Lord, receive it for the truth that it is, embrace it, and when faced with the temptation to think otherwise, rebuke the adversary for the doubt he seeks to plant. Satan loves it when we doubt God's word. He loves to plant seeds of doubt in our mind and torment us with unbelief. True peace comes only from believing God's word, embracing it for the truth that it is, and resting in it in complete abandon knowing our Father loves us and cares for us.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Autonomy: The MOTHER of All Sin

When the Colonies voted to end British rule, leading to the Revolutionary War, what they were actually voting for was autonomy. They were tired of being under British rule without fair and just representation mediating between them and the ruling power. They decided they would dissociate from Britain and pursue a new and better way. No longer would British law rule over their affairs. This is what it means for a government to be autonomous. In addition to this, it means that an autonomous government is sovereign over itself to do with itself as it pleases. It serves no other nation and owes no particular allegiance to any other nation, except through voluntary treaties which it may freely enter into at its discretion.

Webster defines autonomy as, “the fact or condition or being autonomous; self-government; independence; any state that governs itself.” Autonomy then, as the Christian worldview would understand it, is the sinful desire on the part of man to act, think, and behave in a way that is self-governing. We decide how we will conduct our lives, not Scripture. Do we do this directly? Sometimes we do, but most often it takes a much more subtle form as will be explained in the next section. How does this apply to the individual? When God made man (making them male and female), he made them completely and entirely dependent upon Himself. In fact, every created thing is absolutely dependent on God to sustain it. He upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). The only being that is not dependent on anything outside of itself is the Triune God. God is absolutely independent. God depends on no one for anything whatever. Any view of God that requires God to rely on anything or anyone outside of Himself is not a biblical view of God. The confusion around the nature of God’s being could easily be cleared up if we preached and taught more systematically through the Bible and took the time to explain the implications of holding to false views of the nature and being of God. These false views can often be traced to sinful thinking connected to our desire for autonomy. This subject will be covered a little later in this article.

The Subtly of Autonomy
Christians, even non-devoted Christians so-called, rarely state overtly that they refuse to obey Scripture. Autonomy often takes a much more subtle form. True, it begins with our desire for autonomy in the first place. But this desire must confront and grapple with the revelation of Scripture. For purposes of this article, I will only deal with those who hold that the Bible is indeed God’s revealed word, perfect and pure and accurate in all that it teaches. How does our desire for autonomy emerge in these circumstances? After all, we all claim to be submissive to Scripture and we believe this is the distinguishing mark of those who truly have placed their faith in Christ. This being the case, the intellect of every believer is affected by the sin nature. As we approach Scripture, our sinful nature (intellect included) will desperately search for methods to interpret the Bible in a way that accommodates our autonomous desires. At this point, perhaps an example is in order.

The homosexual community recognizes the numerous passages of Scripture which address their lifestyle in a very negative light. They react in one of two ways: first, they discount the Bible, arguing that the authors were speaking from cultural bias. However, the more subtle form argues that the Bible isn’t really condemning homosexuality as we know it. What the Bible is talking about is pedophilia. By interpreting the Bible differently, they have now paved the way to have their cake and eat it too. They claim to be submissive to Christ, while at the same time rejecting His commands prohibiting their lifestyle. Thus they approach God not as the only absolute independent being, but they seek to share in that absolute independence for themselves. This is how autonomy subtly creeps into the lives of Christians and damages their spiritual condition. (Note: homosexuals are not true believers). If you think you are exempt from such behavior, perhaps you should reconsider. Without actually thinking I was exempt from this sin, in reality I acted as if I were. And I have since learned that my own sinful desires for autonomy were real, deep, and hurtful to those around me. But were it not for God’s grace and His loving correction, I would be left to condemnation. But this is true of all of us. The desire for autonomy is at the root of all sin. In fact, what makes sin, sin, is that it is the practice of an activity that is independent from God’s will. The very nature of sin is creaturely autonomy.

The War for Autonomy
This can be seen in Isaiah 14:13-14 where Isaiah records, “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Of course this is the record of the great satanic revolt where Satan led fully one-third of the angelic beings in an autonomous revolution against God. Unlike the American Revolution used to introduce this concept, the Autonomous Revolution failed miserably and brought with it eternal, divine wrath for all its participants. The autonomous desires of Satan were manifested in pride. (I am more familiar with the sin of pride than I wish to be). Think about the power and allure of autonomy here. One-third of the angels succumbed to it’s seductiveness. It is that alluring. We must take every measure possible to arm ourselves against it. It intrudes into every part of our lives, seeking to separate us from our God. It manifests itself through various sin of all types and forms. It shows up in pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, false wisdom, sexual desires, anger, bitterness, compromise, false doctrine, unforgiveness, and impurity of all sorts. I could go on and on but you get the point.

Man’s Pursuit for Autonomy
This story begins in Genesis 3. When Satan tempted Eve, he enticed her with the words, “you will be like God.” And this is, after all, the point. Satan wanted to be like God when he led his revolution. And now he is passing off his delusion to God’s creatures. He tells Eve that you can determine right and wrong on your own, apart from God. You can know things, on your own, apart from God. In essence he is telling Eve that she can think and act autonomously, independently from God. This, of course, is easy to see when we examine the morality of society. Moreover, it is not too difficult to see when we examine the philosophies which our culture holds near and dear to its heart. They contradict God and His word at nearly every turn. But once we step into the church, into theology, into hermeneutics (interpreting Scripture), this autonomy becomes much more subtle. It is not as easy to detect. For instance, the Arminian desire for the absolute freedom of the will is borne out of a desire for autonomy. The openness of God view, and the teachings of process theology are the result of autonomous desires. These views do not like the idea that God is absolutely sovereign over all things to include the affairs of man and as a result, they change the nature of God, the nature of sin, the nature of the curse and the nature of man all in an attempt to achieve a degree of autonomy. In the process, Scripture is interpreted in a way that accommodates their views which are borne out of autonomous desires. This, of course, is an ever present threat in our Bible studies. We must be aware of our own evil desire for autonomy at all times. Continuous awareness of autonomous desires is the first step in taking such thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-6).

An Anti-Autonomous Attitude
In hand to hand combat, one of the first lessons you learn is never, ever underestimate your opponent. In terms of autonomy, I have to confess that I have been guilty of doing just that in the past. The result of such a mistake can be devastating to say the least. As I have looked at this fascinating, yet sinful trait of fallen humans, I have been forced to prepare my heart and mind for this battle in a much more deliberate and focused way. For this I am thankful because God’s grace will serve to keep me from repeating this mistake again. What is the best defense then against autonomous thinking? The opposite of autonomy is dependence. We must create an attitude of complete dependence on God. We must rely on Him and His help for all things. When we are making a decision about what we should or should not do, we must depend on God for His guidance. Joshua 1:8 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” This reflects a complete dependence on and reliance in God’s power to lead and sustain us.

We rely on God to keep us from sin. “Your word I have treasured in my heart so that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11) According to BDB (the standard Hebrew lexicon) this word actually means “to keep: a teaching close to oneself, to keep in one’s heart”. When we think of this verse, we have been conditioned to think of Scriptural memorization. But memorizing Scripture does not ipso facto cause us to avoid sin. This teaching specifically impacts our behavior and therefore there must be more to it than rote memorization. It has to do with how we view the teachings of Scripture. If we value or treasure the teachings of Scripture, they will in fact keep us from sinning. This is because we will take the time to study them, understand what is expected of us, and then apply them to our lives. That is to say we will live what we believe the Bible is saying to us. In Romans 12:2, Paul instructs us to “be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that we may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The Greek word for renewal ‘anakainosis’ appears only twice in the NT. Here and in Titus 3:5. What is Paul actually saying in Romans 12:2? Paul is arguing that the reason we renew our minds is so that we may ‘prove’ what God’s will is. The word ‘prove’ is the Greek word, ‘dokimadzo’ and it means “to make critical examination of something to determine genuineness, to draw a conclusion about worth on the basis of testing, prove, approve, here the focus is on the result of a procedure or examination.” We can only do this through the study of Scripture and the regeneration and illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without the work of the Spirit in our lives and especially in our minds, we cannot possibly renew our minds in the word. If we are renewing our minds, we can then properly understand God’s revelation and as a result, we can apply it to our lives. This will help us avoid the sin of autonomy. But we must take this discipline very seriously. We must be aware of how evil autonomy is. We must understand that we are not exempt from its seductive allure. And we must constantly submit our minds and lives to Christ as we humbly approach His word in an attempt to understand just exactly how it is we are to please Him in this life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Emergent Church and Autonomy - Part II

The Antithesis of Autonomy

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “
To be or not to be is not the question, nor our choice. We are “thrown into existence,” says Martin Heidegger. We simply find ourselves in a world. We are here, onstage, with many others. Unaided reason cannot tell us why we are here or what we are to do. For existentialist philosophers such as Heidegger, the challenge is to achieve authenticity, which in his view means constantly preparing to play one’s own death scene.” [The Drama of Doctrine, pg. 1]
 The observation is indeed an irresistible one. We are here after all. And someone has some explaining to do. In taking up this explanation, there are basically two very fundamental approaches which may be adopted. The first is called the anthropocentric view. This view is man-centered. It focuses on us. The second is called the Theo centric view. This latter approach is centered on God. It focuses on God as Creator and Sustainer of all that has come to be. Rather than begin and end with man, it begins and ends with God.

Vanhoozer continues,
“Sound doctrine – authoritative teaching – is vital for the life of the church, and hence for the life of the world. Yet in many quarters doctrine is thought to be the problem…The Fault lies less with sound doctrine, however, than with its mishandling, and with a misunderstanding of its nature and purpose.” [The Drama of Doctrine, pg. 3]
 It is too sacred scripture that we must turn to have any hope of understanding the drama of life we all find ourselves in. But this understanding requires outside help. We cannot get there through unaided human reason. We need more information and we need divine intervention in our faculties. We need a new heart and mind if we are to understand the stage upon which we have been thrust. In an article entitled, “Recent Developments in the Doctrine of Scripture” which serves as chapter one in the book, Hermeneutics, Authority, and Scripture, D.A. Carson remarks,
“To some extent we are all part of the problem; and perhaps we can do most salvage something of value from the growing fragmentation by pledging ourselves in repentance and faith to learning and obeying God’s most holy Word. Then we shall also be reminded that the challenge to preserve and articulate a fully self-consistent and orthodox doctrine of Scripture cannot be met by intellectual powers along, but only on our knees and by the power of God.” [Hermeneutics, Canon, and Authority, pg. 48]
At the end of the analysis of any movement lies the age-old question, “what is its opinion on the Word of God?” This always reveals the underpinning of autonomy or the lack thereof. Suffice it to say, this is no less true for the Emergent Church than it is for any other movement under evaluation. I know, conducting evaluations is just another manifestation of arrogance. It is making yet another judgment about someone’s view on a given subject or even their entire worldview. The most ridiculous thing about this statement is not the statement itself (even though it is quite absurd); it is the fact that educated men who have been educated in some of the finest educational institutions (by secular standards of course) in the world are the ones making these kinds of statement. But it should come as no surprise to anyone who reads Scripture. The unregenerate mind has been darkened by the sinful nature (Rom. 1:21; Eph. 4:18; 2 Cor. 4:4).

The Emergent Church and the Bible

Donald Miller wrote,
“The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can’t be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not…The mystery is the truth.” [Miller, Blue Like Jazz (from DeYoung and Kluck)]
 Miller asserts language is not sufficient to communicate accurately about God. Christianity is about things which cannot be put into words. Yet Miller continues to write things about God and Christianity demonstrating that, as I like to say, People LIVE what they believe, EVERYTHING else is just noise. John says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained him.” (John 1:18) If Miller is correct and language fails to convey truth about God, then Christ’s work of revealing the Father to us fails. Miller may retort that Jesus revealed the Father to us in His actions. And I would answer that these actions are conveyed to us in the form of language.

Rob Bell writes,
“It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says. We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people. [Bell: Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith]
 It appears Bell desires to replace the authoritative Word of God delivered by Christ with an updated, revised understanding based on the idea of contextualization. We have to decide what the Bible means at this time as if the meaning of Scripture ever changes. In fact Bell implies that time, distance, and culture can all change the meaning of Scripture. And who is it that is making this asserting? It is a man. Bell is the same man who wrote,
“The Bible is a human product…rather than divine fiat.”
 In fact, he writes,
“I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners.”
 It seems that the real objective of the Emergent Church is to remove the Bible as our sole authority for truth and praxis and to replace it with a new system, a new philosophy. This is again the same temptation to behave autonomously.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 clearly tells us that all Scripture is the result of divine activity and therefore is profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Of course it would seem that Bell and Miller would argue otherwise.

2 Peter 3:16 explicitly tells us that people mishandle Scripture to their own destruction. But if Bell and Miller are correct, we should all stay far away from Scripture for fear that we will condemn ourselves. The Emergent Church accuses those who state biblical truth with certain of arrogance. But I cannot think of a more arrogant attitude than to take the autonomous position of making certain pronouncements against understanding God’s revelation.

We are all susceptible to autonomy. It is at the root of the sinful nature. We must face it down every single day. May God grant us grace as we face this daily struggle. But God is faithful (1 Cor. 10:13) not to leave us without help.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Emergent Church and Autonomy - Part I

Some people will read the title to this blog and wonder what is meant by the term “autonomy.” Others will not doubt read it and wonder if I am inferring that autonomy is exclusive to the EC movement. It seems best to begin with some basic understandings around this term, “autonomy.” First, Webster defines autonomy as, “the fact or condition or being autonomous; self-government; independence; any state that governs itself.” When the Colonies voted to end British rule, leading to the Revolutionary War, what they were actually voting for was autonomy. They were tired of being under British rule without fair and just representation mediating between them and the ruling power. They decided they would divorce Britain and pursue a new and better way. No longer would British law rule over their affairs. This is what it means for a government to be autonomous. In addition to this, it means that this government is now sovereign over itself to do with itself as it pleases. It serves no other nation and owes no particular allegiance to any other nation, except through voluntary treaties which it may freely enter into.

As you view this word autonomy in relationship to governments, think about how this could also apply to individual human beings. In our country, the one thing we value and prize, above all else, is our autonomy (which we call independence). We are free to pursue the American dream! Now before you get too worried, I am 100% American and I am a full-blooded patriot. I love my country and I value the freedoms we enjoy and I try diligently not to take them for granted. I appreciate those men and women who have died to provide me with this freedom as well as those who regularly leave the comfort of our home to travel to far and distant (not mention dangerous and deadly) places in order to continue to provide us with the freedom we all enjoy. So please do not think I am criticizing my country of the American idea. I may take issue with certain elements of the prevailing philosophies, but such issues are not the subject of this particular post.

The War for Autonomy
First of all, going back to the origin of the very first sin it should be realized that it lies in the desire for autonomy. Think about the nature of autonomy and man’s fascination and obsession with it. Isaiah wrote of Satan’s desires for autonomy in Isaiah 14:13–14 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Of course there was pride involved in Satan’s desire and this too is undeniable. But that pride was anchored in Satan’s desire to no longer serve God but to operate his life and govern himself apart from God. He sought independence from God. And as such he started a revolutionary war in heaven. He was so talented and gifted that he convinced fully one-third of the other angelic beings to join his cause. But these beings also had a problem with autonomy. Can you imagine that? Of all the heavenly hosts, serving in the very presence of God, one-third of them were so desirous of autonomy that they deceived themselves (with the father of liars’ help of course) into thinking they could actually achieve autonomy. Now here this: no creature of God is ever autonomous. Absolute independence only exists in the Triune God.

Herman Bavinck writes, “Thus, being all-sufficient in himself and not receiving anything from outside of himself, he is, by contrast, the only source of all existence and life, of all light and love, the overflowing fountain of all good (Ps. 36:10; Acts 17:25). But this is precisely what fallen humans want. We want to act according to our will, not God’s will. This desire is a cloaked desire for autonomy. Richard A. Muller writes, “Thus, first, God is utterly independent in his being. God is also independent in his power, having received it from no other being and having the capacity to exercise it apart from the will of any other being – no creature, therefore, can alter or set aside his will and power.” God requires nothing from anyone. He is the self-existent, self-sustaining Creator of all that has come to exist. It was this attribute of God that Satan was so tantalized with. He beheld something grand and glorious and wanted it for himself. And the consequences of his pursuit were and are and forever will be devastating.

Man’s Attempt at Autonomy
When God created the universe, the earth, along with all its creatures and man and woman, he said it was very good. But man would soon end this wonderful period of innocence with his own desire for autonomy. Satan’s desire to be like God ended with devastating consequences! Man’s desire for autonomy would end no more successful than Satan’s attempt. Satan told Eve, “You shall be like God, knowing good and evil.” God knows good and evil differently than we do. God determines what is good by His nature. Moreover, anything that opposes God’s will is evil. Man’s desire was and is to be his own independent determiner of what is good and evil, apart from anything in God. Man desires to set up his own standards of right and wrong. The result of this effort was the thrust of mankind headlong into sin. For billions of humans it will mean eternal damnation in an eternal lake of fire separated from God. But it also reveals an incomprehensible grace and a limitless love on the part of God. For it was mankind that God determined to redeem from this state of sin and condemnation.

All sin is the result of an evil desire for autonomy. This naturally leads to idolatry and separation from God. The sin of autonomy, which manifests itself repeatedly in the form of idolatry, is seen in all sin. Idolatry is excessive devotion to or reverence for some person or thing. Ultimately we seek to show excessive devotion to self. We seek to please our own materialistic, intellectual, sexual, hedonistic desires. In so doing, we pursue autonomy and self worship. This shows up in the church in a variety of forms and for all kinds of different reasons. In my next post, I will discuss the EC movement and relate its views and practices to the desire for autonomy. When placed under the magnifying glass of Scripture, will the EC prove that it is nothing more than another cleverly disguised desire for sinful autonomy? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Emergent Church and Authentic Christianity

When the Emergent Church (EC) says it is interested in creating a community of people who are the church as opposed to the idea that the church is a place you go, I think they are on to something. Moreover, when the EC says it seeks to be a community of dialogue where ideas are expressed, shared, and examined, again, I believe they are on to something. When the EC says they seek to create a community of believers that is analogous to our own individual families, where love is expressed and lives are shared, where people have things in common and they know each other more intimately, again, I believe they are on to something.

The Greek word for church is ekklesia. This word appears 114 times in the NT. Of those 114 times, it is translated church or churches 109 times, assembly 3 times, and congregation twice. According to BDAG, the meaning ranges from, a regularly summoned legislative body, assembly, a casual gathering of people, and people with shared belief, community, or congregation. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness His marvelous light.” Peter is not describing a mundane, stuck in a rut group of people here. He is describing something that is new, fresh, exciting, and filled with meaning. This is indeed a wonder to behold. He is not describing a building. He is describing a group of people who have been called and appointed by God to love each other, share with each other, interact with each other, to be the model family for all the families of the earth. Jesus said the world would know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another. (John 13:35) So when the EC says that church is what we are, not a place we go, they are on to something. Where are we when we need each other? We see one another on Sundays, shake hands, extend a few polite greetings, settle in for a few songs, a prayer, a sermon, and perhaps a Sunday school lesson. And then we are back in our own little world, isolated from the rest of the body of Christ for a few more days, or maybe even a week. Each day comes and goes, along with our personal struggles, as we battle our demons and struggle with the everyday, mundane affairs a life. We experience ups and downs. We sin, and we avoid sin. We hurt and we fill joy. But we do it alone, isolated from the rest of the family of God. Maybe we have one person we can call or two, or maybe there is no one. Maybe no one ever calls us. Is this really what God had in mind when He bought us out of this world and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son? It seems to me there is much work to do in the area of building up church families.

Often times a false movement comes along and appeals to the one thing that seems to be missing in the life of the Christian community. And the EC movement isn’t any different from any other movement in that regard. The movement makes a serious attempt to draw on the emptiness that many church attendees feel because of a lack of real, genuine connection with the rest of the believing community. The doctrine in the local church may be sound, even though it may not be taking root because of this lack of community. The preaching may be up to par as far as it goes. The music may be perfectly fine as far as church music goes. But that is just about as far as it does go. And this is where the EC movement picks up where the traditional church leaves off. They offer the sense of family, of community, or vulnerability and so-called genuineness that seems to be missing from the traditional church scene. But this is a dangerous trend. The problem is that people are so hungry for something, for anything that makes them feel like they are connecting, like they are not alone, they will give up much of this doctrinal stuff if only they can have the sense of community and belonging they are so desperate to have. A desperately thirty person will drink anything that resembles water if he/she is thirsty enough.

Authentic Christianity does not ignore doctrine and truth for the sake of community and family. It does not abandon the truth of the gospel, replacing it with an appeal to the desires of the individual, even if those desires are not necessarily sinful per se. Nor does authentic Christianity leave its wounded unattended. A family does not send its members off into the wild blue, never to check on them again. A family does not willfully, knowingly, ignore one of its members when it knows that the member is in pain. The family finds a way to love, to support, and to reach out. But more than this, a family is there to help reduce the chances that one of us may actually find ourselves in the proverbial Lion’s Den in the first place. The church community should know itself inside and out. We should take deliberate steps to know and understand each other. But we don’t. Instead, we leave the parking lot with a critical spirit, judging each other without even knowing each other. We don’t like the way one looks, or dresses, or their education level or lack thereof. One person is not well-spoken and we dismiss them thinking they have nothing to offer. Another person is well-spoken and they are arrogant. We don’t stop to think for a minute that both bring experiences and wisdom that God will use to help balance out the rest of the body. Why don’t we think like that? We also fail to consider that both of these human beings also have their own struggles they must face each and every day. They have victories and pain each and every week. And we have no idea what these pains and victories may be. And sometimes I wonder if we really care. God give us the strength to be authentic in our faith. Let us love truth with passion and be committed to it with every ounce of strength we have. And let us love one another like God loves us. He sent His only Son to redeem us from the evils of sin and darkness and has translated us into His light and love so that now we should walk in truth and love. May God help each of us to re-examine our attitudes and actions and beg God to forgive us for our complacency in these things and give us the strength we need to repent and do something about it.

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