just a few, short years ago; a dozen, actually. It was 1996 and we were
in the midst of a full flood of God’s incredible visitation. We were
experiencing things, seeing things, doing things, saying things,
understanding things we had never even considered prior to this new
season of God’s pronounced blessing.
In May of that year, we heard the unmistakable voice of the Holy
Spirit: “The current structure of the church will not accommodate
what I am about to do.”
Within weeks of that revelation, I began to hear a new term, first
in my spirit, then slowly, gradually, I
heard others using the same
expression, “Emerging Church.” I couldn’t have told you what that
was; I had no definition, but I somehow knew this was God and this
was big and this emerging concept might just deal the death-knell to
the thing we know as “religion.”
In 1998, Dave Bodine and I sat with the pastor of a growing church
in Dublin, Ireland. We were in a dining room at a hotel near the
Dublin Airport. The pastor, who was also hearing the things we were
hearing suddenly said, “I know what the church isn’t supposed to be,
but I don’t know what it IS supposed to be!”
And that pretty much summed up the feelings of a lot of us in 1998 –
and in ’99 and 2000 and into the new century. We could tell you
pretty accurately what the church “wasn’t” (or wasn’t supposed to
be). We were just a bit short on describing or defining what the
church was supposed to look like.
We read about “house church” and “cell church” and “simple church”
and “organic church.” We read about “incarnational church” and the
“deconstructionist” movement. We heard about “FutureChurch” but were
more interested in “CurrentChurch.” We tried “Unlearning Church” but
in spite of brief moments of “that’s it!” we were unsatisfied with
most of what we saw, experienced and read about.
At some point I began to fear that as Moses delayed his return from
the mountain top, we might actually be gathering gold in order to
build a new calf. I read definitions of “Emerging Church” that had
us all, whoever embraced the idea of an emerging vehicle of God’s
grace and presence, shucking our theological underpinnings,
rejecting the catechisms of old and the doctrines that carried the
ship of the church through 20 millennia.
Wikipedia definition of EC seems simple enough:
emerging or emergent church movement is a controversial, 20th century
Christian movement seeking to engage people, especially the unchurched, living
postmodern or postcolonial cultures. Proponents call the movement an
emerging "conversation" to emphasize its developing and decentralized
nature. A common characteristic is the concept of missional living
where Christians are sent out into the world to be a blessing wherever they are.
But then there’s this troubling addition to the Wikipedia
Critics of the movement are often evangelical
protestants who see the embrace of postmodern values leading to
unorthodox theology, relativism and syncretism. Critics often
associate emergent theology with the liberal theology that has
historically been in conflict with evangelical theology.
“Unorthodox theology?” “Relativism and syncretism?” Liberal
I don’t know about that stuff; I’m just a simple follower
of Jesus. All that heady, esoteric stuff is too big for my meager
brain. I never thought that Emerging Church had much to do with a
change of theology; I consider Emerging Church a Structural, rather
than a Theological transformation.
Somebody – some wise somebody – once said that the former move of
God tends to condemn the present move of God. Human nature, I
suppose. Sanctified or not, Christians are people and people tend to
become jealous of the “little brother” (check out Joseph and the
The Old Internet Ain’t What it Used to Be . .
Now, ten years later, I click on some of the
old “EC” websites and get responses such as “website disabled.” That
one seems to echo what has happened to much of the once-exciting
Emerging Churchers: They're Disabled.
Another response I get when I click on
my “saved” sites is “Error.” That’s an instructional one. I’m pretty
sure we made errors – some big time errors in our rush to create
when we should have been satisfied to wait for Him to create. Maybe
waiting and listening are preferable to going and explaining (what
we can’t yet explain).
Page Not Found.
Some of the stuff I’ve read about “Emerging
Church” has bordered on – ok, I’ll be honest – has crossed the
border into the Land of Hallucination. I’ve read stuff purporting to
be “Emerging Church” that either sounded like 12th century Druidism
or 1980’s New Age teaching regurgitated for the 21st century.
I think I’ve come to a tipping point (ya gotta love all these new,
groovy catch-phrases). I think I want to tip all the stuff I’ve
seen, read, experienced into the bin.
I don’t know if I’m an “Emerging Churcher” anymore. And yet, maybe I am an "Emerging Churcher" without some of the baggage that
has been left at my door by others. I know I’m not what I used to
be. I just don’t know if I can be pigeon-holed into something I’m
not sure I even understand the definition of. In fact, maybe the
problem is more with the definition than it is with the term. I know
a new form, a new understanding of "church" is emerging. I'm also
convinced it's got a lot more to do with the church of two thousand
years ago than it does with the expressions we've seen or with much
of the current writing we've read.
know is that what I want; what tens of thousands (is that right, or
is it hundreds of thousands? Millions?) of followers of Jesus want
is the pure, heaven-intended vehicle of the church. Oh, we'll mess
it up, just like we've messed every other form up. We'll tinker with
its' structure, we'll try to make the church fit our fancy. But I'd
at least like to get nearer, closer to the template than the things
I've experienced in more than a half-century of church involvement.
Wouldn't that be nice? To experience more of the
Acts-chapter-two-church than the behemoth we've created?
In May of 1971 I walked into a church building for the first time as
a follower of Jesus. The previous morning I had experienced a
powerful confrontation with Jesus. He reached out to me and I told
Him I was sorry for pushing Him away so many times before. According
to the Christian, Protestant, Evangelical crowd I was “born again.”
I didn’t know that term. All I knew was that my guilt and sin had
been washed away. I was in love with Jesus and I wanted everybody
around me to also be in love with Him.
As I entered the door to the church that morning, a young lady stood
with a stack of bulletins in her hand. “Good morning!” she brightly
said before continuing: “You’re new here. Are you Assemblies of
“Assemblies of what?” I thought. “Uh, I don’t know” I stuttered.
Hey, I’d never heard of the Assemblies of God! “Well, are you
Pentecostal?” she asked.
Again, I was lost. My brain searched its database for the word
“Pentecostal” and came up blank. “Uh, I don’t know” I again
stammered (hey, it worked for the first question).
The lady was now really frustrated. She blurted, “Well, what are
you?” I suddenly got the feeling there was a secret password to get
into the church service, and nobody had let me in on it. I think my
palms started to sweat, my heart went full-auto and I was getting
really embarrassed thinking I would momentarily be tossed into the
street as an “outsider.”
Thinking quickly and simply, I answered, “I’m a Christian.” I guess
that was enough for the Greeter and she handed me a bulletin and
allowed me entrance.
I’ve been hanging around the church now for more than thirty-six
years, and next time somebody asks me, “Are you part of the Emerging
Church?” or “Are you in the River?” or “Are you into Toronto?” or
"Are you Into Emerging Church" or any other question about my
spiritual pedigree, I’m going to revert to the only language I had
one day into my walk with Jesus and answer
“I’m a Christian."