BLD072Since my recent post on the conversation with the Postmodern Protestant about Messy Church, I started researching the emergent / emerging church. 

It will come as no surprise that Churchmouse Campanologist does not support this movement, born of a pomo culture and involving people who have suffered deep hurt from which they cannot recover.  A variety of people — clergy, publishers and New Agers — are attempting to ‘plant’ churches and initiatives in a way that reshapes the Gospel message, leaving it open to misinterpretation.

This never spoke to me.  Although one emergent church promoter, Pete Greig in the UK, would disparage this as listening to one’s ‘inner fundamentalist’, I say that little voice is no bad thing.  If you’re a lifelong Christian and don’t ‘get’ something in or associated with today’s church, there’s probably a good reason for that.  So, keep listening to that voice.  Here’s why:

Marginalising Scripture: The emergent church culture is aimed at meeting today’s culture on its own terms and selectively attaching Scripture to it rather than telling people how Christ secures our redemption on the Cross.  It promotes a universalist philosophy instead of a lively faith.  Lighthouse Trails Research has found that Doug Pagitt, a pioneer in the emergent church, advocates (emphasis mine):

… changing the profile of Christianity on an ecumenical view that permits beliefs and experiences not found in the Bible. Not only are they not found in the Bible, the plan can’t work with an intact Bible. In order for the emerging church to succeed, the Bible has to be looked at through entirely different glasses, and Christianity needs to be open to a new type of faith. Brian McLaren [another luminary in the emergent movement] calls this new faith a ‘generous orthodoxy’. While such an orthodoxy allows a smorgasbord of ideas to be proclaimed in the name of Christ, many of these ideas are actually forbidden and rejected by Scripture

Changing the message to fit the culture: Pagitt goes on to say that the church must change to meet the times we live in.  Pius X warned Roman Catholics of this movement which began in the late 20th century and declared Modernism a heresy in 1907.  Were he alive today, he probably would have urged the same for Postmodernism.  Theologically speaking, one emerged (!) from the other and is just as dangerous, particularly as it relies on the experiential, emotional side of faith and life.  Pagitt describes his sermons (see link above):

In many ways the sermon is less a lecture or motivational speech than it is an act of poetry–of putting words around people’s experiences to allow them to find deeper connection in their lives … So our sermons are not lessons that precisely define belief so much as they are stories that welcome our hopes and ideas and participation.

Placing man before all things God: The emergent church puts man at the centre.  God is merely a bolt-on, a backdrop in order to help to give our lives relevance.  Pagitt explains:

… we’ve tried to create a community that’s more like a potluck: people eat and they also bring something for others. Our belief is built when all of us engage our hopes, dreams, ideas and understandings with the story of God as it unfolds through history and through us.

Misusing the Early Church: Adding a contemplative or mystical dimension to church services through mood music, trance images projected on a screen and dim lighting make emergent churchgoers think they are entering some ancient rite of mystery, altogether different from the mysterium tremendum of the Tridentine Rite Mass, the solemnity and near-silence of which puts Christ and his divine Sacrifice at the heart of the liturgy. That’s not a holy head trip. Even early churchgoers did not get zoned out when at Mass in underground churches with a priest; they were too busy huddling together in fear.

Luring people in through Taizé liturgy: Many churches — even Catholic and mainstream Protestant — are using Taizé liturgies, particularly during Lent and Holy Week.  This is an ecumenical group of self-styled monks in community.  Are they putting their own brand of mysticism before the Sacrament of Holy Communion?  Many people like this sort of thing, but is it worth their while to ask themselves why they are attending this type of service?  Did Jesus or Saints Peter and Paul tell us we should worship this way?  Is there a scriptural basis for it?  Why would we have to get mystical in order to appreciate the commemoration of Christ’s Last Supper?  Something to think about … Popularity doesn’t make it right.  The nun I had for religion class when I was 16 introduced our class to Henri Nouwen.  I didn’t get it.  Half the class didn’t.  The other half said, ‘If you really understood how the mystical experience brings you closer to Christ, you’d be able to appreciate it.’  Mmm — my ‘inner fundamentalist’ must have been tapping me on the shoulder that week.

Relying on mysticism: It is a sign of our times that so many Christians who, let’s face it, have dabbled in drugs, meditation or some ‘outer-body’ type of experience, flock to services or private ‘spiritual exercises’ of a mystical nature.  The folks who were 20-somethings 40 years ago are now seniors.  (Imagine!)  So, for them, it’s a legal high and a way of getting in touch with the ‘good vibrations’ they had in the Age of Aquarius.  I put it to you, though, that very few people are able to speak in tongues or manage a Toronto Blessing (remember them)? Furthermore, the heightened consciousness that Julian of Norwich and St Theresa of Avila experienced is extremely rare, indeed.  Yet, many mainstream Christians search for the same high at home with Lectio Divina [‘divine reading’].  I have read many stories on Christian fora of women who think they are visionaries because something they free-associated about whilst praying Lectio Divina came true. Why do we have to go into a trance during prayer, though?  I would much rather pray and talk to God.  Did Jesus say, ‘Get mystical with Me’?  No, never.  Leave Lectio Divina to the monks and nuns.  Even then, there is no guarantee.  Catholic mystic the Revd Thomas Keating says:

[In the early Church] Contemplation was regarded as an exceptional gift, not as the normal flowering of Lectio Divina and Christian prayer.

And, he concedes:

I was aware that the method of Lectio Divina in most instances was not doing the job of bringing people, even cloistered monks and nuns, to the contemplative states of prayer that St. Teresa describes in her writings: infused recollection, the prayer of quiet, the prayer of union, and the prayer of full union. All are deepening experiences of the presence of God.

All of these are attractive snares to get Christians ‘more interested’ in Jesus.  Let’s face it, He just isn’t exciting enough on His own to merit our full attention. We live in a fast-paced, dynamic, technological age and Jesus just isn’t ‘cool’ anymore, so we try to make Him and His message ‘cooler’.  And, if you believe that … I’ll pray that God sends you your very own ‘inner fundamentalist’.

You can read more here.