Sunday, January 30, 2005


Stuff that bugs me (sorta)

I'm in a bit of an off mood lately. I've been spending an inordinate amount of time wrestling with the "Emergent" church, as presented in Resonate and numerous blogs, including Pernell Goodyear's. I have to say that, while there are a lot of good things about the Emergent church that I like (I think, for example, that there is no better way to spread teaching organically than simply pasting a link in an e-mail and sharing with 10 or 20 or more of your non-believing friends), I get a little concerned (and sometimes even annoyed) at their seeming wishy-washiness.

The overlying theme of the emergent church seems to be "come as you are". This is certainly in line with Christ's approach to ministry, as he would simply stand somewhere (a boat, a hilltop, a street corner) and preach God's Word. Anyone could stop and listen to him and not feel like they were out of place. More importantly, those who loved Christ and lived his message were just as welcoming. That's a wonderful feeling, especially for social misfits who don't quite fit with the "cool" people. This seems to fit the approach of the emergent, and not only do I applaud them for that, I think a vast majority of traditional churches could learn a valuable lesson about the God they claim to follow by watching the emergent work.

This comes with two very large "but"s:

But #1:

As was discussed extensively (in since-removed comments related to this post and this post) a few months ago at my good friend Al Baker's blog, emergent churches are susceptible to occasional bouts of humanness. People are ignored (intentionally or unintentionally), cliques form, and some people fall through the cracks. It is an inevitable byproduct of growth. The bigger an organism becomes, the harder it is to keep it tightly tied together. Hurt feelings happen, people come and go and I think it is almost impossible to avoid. This is a limitation of humanity that the emergent is just as guilty of as anyone else.

But #2 (and this is my bigger issue):

I fully agree that Christ welcomed anyone to listen, but there came a point where people had to buy into Christ's message or go the other way. A great example of this is Mark 10:17-23. This is the story of the rich man who, when told that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven he must give away all he owns, is unable to make the sacrifice and walks away from the Saviour. A relationship with Christ eventually must lead to a certain set of beliefs that transform the person. Whether it is conviction over the use of foul language, gossiping, an illicit relationship, alcohol and/or drug abuse, or whatever demons have control over an individual, Christ introduces us to the Father and imbues us with the Holy Spirit. This gives us power to be transformed and to become an instrument through which we can be used by God to serve and glorify Him. We could not do that before meeting Christ.

Distilled to a sentence, I do not believe that "come as you are" can continue to work as your walk with Christ deepens. Theology is nothing more than a set of beliefs, but they provide a structure upon which we can live. The Bible lays out the roadmap to living and Jesus Christ promoted a strict theology that can be presented in 5 simple verses:

"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)
"God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16)
"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that...we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4)
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16)
"Therefore, there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1, caps mine).

Sin must be cast off, life must be changed, existing beliefs must be closely examined and held up to the stern light of prayer and accountable fellowship. Activities within a "church" or associated with Christ's name must serve the purpose of always putting the Saviour first. Christ may have let bystanders come and hear him, but return visits ultimately placed people in the uncomfortable position of making a choice: Live as you do today and die or let me transform you today, tomorrow and for eternity.

People may be wrong in their theology (an example is the one "Jacob" posted in the comments to this post on Pernell's blog), and it is important that we are sensitive to Christ's leading us in how to correct people. Christ himself had to issue rebukes in a variety of ways throughout the Gospels, and we need to be sensitive to our responsiblity as a child of Christ to issue rebukes as well. Those rebukes may have the effect of shutting the door on a relationship, but the person shutting the door may not be one God intends to bring home anyways.

The simple fact of the matteris this: Jesus Christ offers every single person an opportunity to experience the single greatest experience this earth can offer. An opportunity to see your life transformed into one of service and giving. An opportunity to eventually spend forever in the courts of Heaven with some of the greatest men and women to ever walk the earth. We shouldn't short-circuit that opportunity in order to make sure everyone feels welcome because, when the rubber meets the road, there are some who will no longer feel welcome.

And there's absolutely NOTHING you can do about it.

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"
Neil Peart, Rush, "Freewill".