It was 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.

The Wikipedia definition of EC seems simple enough: The emerging or emergent church movement is a controversial, 20th century Christian movement seeking to engage people, especially the unchurched, living in 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 definition, 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 theology?
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 Prodigal son).

The Old Internet Ain’t What it Used to Be . . .

Disabled.  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.

Error.  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.

All I 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 God?”


“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."          

 

 

 

Grace,

Greg

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