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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