I came to realize after reviewing my own articles on the Emerging Church and/or Useful Idiots, that this entire subject is more appropriate for an entire book rather than a series of short articles. However, I do wish to do two things with this final installment: 1) Explain through scripture and a historical time-line of sorts, how the church became seduced with the current Emergent trend, and…2) offer just a few examples of what to look for in regard to what is being preached in the Emergent Church movement.
Historically, most of the world’s population was functionally illiterate for centuries. Unless you were of an elite ruling class, a religious leader/teacher/student, or incredibly wealthy, the chances were that you couldn’t read or write. Throughout the history of Western civilization, merchant explorers usually had a rudimentary knowledge of whatever the language of commerce happened to be at their point in time. In the time of Christ, Greek was the language of commerce. But again, though, many merchants employed the services of literate scribes to maintain their books and correspondence.
Without trying to turn this into an extensive history lesson on the art of language, it wasn’t until the invention of movable type mechanical printing by Johann Gutenberg (and subsequently the Gutenberg Bible in1454) that the masses were able to begin studying Scripture for themselves, albeit not very many at first.
By 1517, Martin Luther was able to begin a movement to break away from the Catholic Church. Known as The Reformation, this popularized more self-reliance, but only partially. Luther still had the belief that in the Germany of his day, the peasants were to obey their leaders, no matter how tyrannical. This applied to the Church as well as secular rule.
So even when the Bible began to be printed in common languages, there was still the mindset that only the learned Church leaders could instruct the flock. How did it happen that this mindset was so prevalent even during the beginning of the Reformation?
Scripturally, we all know Isaiah 53:6: “We all like sheep have gone astray.” Couple this with John 10:11, Christ’s own words of “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep” and you see how easy it is to teach that all believers need to be lead at all times. (Related verses are Isa. 40:11; Jer. 31:10; Heb. 13:20; and 1 Peter 5:4)
This is a type of conditioning that church leaders have used for centuries. Now, granted, Paul dealt very succinctly with schisms caused by bad leadership in First Cor.1: 10-17 during the early days of the Christian church. Verse 10 of that passage says: “…that there be no division among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Paul was working to heal divisions caused by leaders that, through the strength of personality, had caused factionalism to creep into the church. Amazing that there really is nothing new under the sun, is there? People have always had the sheep mentality and are easily lead.
Scripture, though, does present a balance. In Heb. 10:20, we find: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”, while in Matt. 18:20, there is this: “Wherever two or three gather together in my name there I am in the midst of them.” The point is, you don’t necessarily need an entire congregation to be in the presence of the Lord.
The Emergent (or Emerging) Church uses just enough scripture and Biblical principles to utilize this balance while at the same time working in doctrinal issues that are considered extra-biblical or just plain off the rails yet buried in enough theological jargon that they’re easily overlooked. An example of this is what Jesuit priest, elevated to Cardinal, Avery Dulles (1918-2008), calls “The Mystical Communion Model of Church.” The main points of this viewpoint, sometimes called Trinitarian, are:
Church is not an institution, but rather a fraternity/sorority.
Church is an interpersonal community.
Church is a fellowship of persons – a fellowship of people with God and with one another in Christ
Church connects strongly with the mystical body of Christ as a communion of the spiritual life of faith, hope and charity
Church resonates with Aquinas’ notion of the church as the principal unity that dwells in Christ and in us.
…and all the external means of grace (sacraments, scripture, laws, etc.) are secondary and subordinate; their role is simply to dispose people for an interior union with God effect by Grace.
It’s easy to see how some of the philosophical meanderings such as modernism, post-modernism, moral relativism, universalism and even the prosperity doctrine can develop roots given a charismatic leader and a willing congregation of sheep.
Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, is a good example of such a leader. He’s become one of the best known leaders of the Emergent/Emerging church and is also a well-known author. While I’ve only been recently introduced to some of his work, I haven’t had enough time to explore much of what he’s published in detail. Here’s just a short example of his theology.
“None of us have a full grasp of Scripture, but we all have the Holy Spirit. He is our common denominator who will always lead us into truth. But to follow Him, we must be willing to follow off the map-to go beyond what we know.” (from When Heaven, p.76.)
“Going off the map” is the seeking of extra-biblical revelation. This ties in nicely with modernism, humanism and even mysticism. Johnson has also made Christ into a mere man who performed miracles, not as the Son of God.
This is the type of subtle doctrinal error that’s easy to miss. Anything that appears Biblically sound but eventually goes into modernist thinking (human reason above all), post-modernism (social justice, rejection of any system of authority, truth is only subjective, etc.), moral relativism (good and evil are basically the same), universalism (all faith systems/religious beliefs are the same, and there will be a final and complete salvation of all beings), and even the prosperity doctrine (think of televangelist Jesse Duplantis asking for $54 million for a new jet)…all of this happens because Christians are easily manipulated after centuries of not understanding that being called sheep is actually an insult and not something to aspire to.
Of course there’s a lot more we could reference and even a lot from Bill Johnson and Bethel Church. We don’t have the time nor space to do so in a short article. The point is that the Emergent/Emerging Church is the doctrinal equivalent of history’s “useful idiots”. The individual people involved, both the congregations and the pastors and other clergy, honestly believe that they’re involved in a somewhat more “hip” or “edgy” form of Christianity. It’s actually the aforementioned philosophical soup of human-centric apostasy, false teaching and chasing after wealth that mirrors the Churches of Thyatira and Laodicea found in Revelations.
Any time a church’s focus is on social justice (without being able to define social justice), on wealth (without the willingness to work for it), or on victimhood (without even the mention of personal responsibility), you are seeing just the tip of that congregation’s involvement in the Emergent/Emerging church. And there’s a lot more indicators than just those three.
Personally, I’ve always felt there are three questions that are not un-Christian to ask when evaluating a church: 1.) Is The Bible the sole basis for teaching and authority? 2.) Are you allowed to ask questions of the elders and the pastor without being made to feel like a “second class Christian”? 3.) Where does the money go?
In closing, I’ve mentioned the concept of balance already. Sometimes, what appears to be an apparent contradiction in Scripture is simply a way to find the point of balance between two concepts that appear to be in conflict. Consider the balance point between these two verses:
2nd Tim. 3:16-17 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
Matt. 7: 15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves…. (v.20) by their fruits shall ye know them.”
Not all preachers of the word truly know the word and we have the scriptural ability and authority to call out the useful idiots that are flooding the church with un-Christian liberalism masked as the Emerging/Emergent Church.
STILL MORE SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
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