Since last April when I was first introduced to the emerging church, I have read hundreds of pages, engaged in hours of conversation and have built an impressive notebook of material on the emerging church and the missional church.
In issues like these that focus on Christian worship and lifestyle, the first casualty seems to be common sense. My definition of “common sense” consists of what people in common would agree on, that which they “sense" as their common, natural understanding. I have found a major lack of common understanding of the issues related to the emerging church and the missional church.
Why is this? I think because of a misunderstanding over semantics and the written resources available to us.
The term “emerging” is for me a neutral term, most commonly related to the biological sciences and is descriptive of a process. But in the context of current conversations, this term and all that is associated with it is viewed in one of two ways: a useful ministry tool or a tool of the devil to corrupt Christianity.
It is very difficult to have a viable discussion if the individuals engaged in the discussion do not have some common understanding about terminology. This difficulty is made more significant when authors predefine the words, phrases and concepts to be studied in their writings in a manner that favors the conclusion that the authors wish to impress upon the reader.
We must find new words or at least come to agreement on what the term “emerging” means. It does not help that there is a formal organization with the name Emergent Village, and that this group represents a distinct set of elements that appear to me to be quite divergent from my Christian beliefs.
If we really believe that the emerging church model is a good one for spreading the gospel in today’s culture, why do we allow writers like Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet, Tony Snow and many others of the Emergent Village organization to become the principle spokesmen for the model? The emerging church model needs new voices.
Meanwhile, the literature from opposition writers warns us of the dangers presented by the Emergent Village writers and speakers and the emerging church model for ministry and the missional church movement. Writers like Ray Youngen, author of A Time of Departing, and Roger Oakland, author of Faith Undone, name individuals who are supportive or at least sympathetic to emerging and missional ministries and are therefore enemies of the gospel.
Many of the people mentioned by these writers are familiar to me as writers, speakers and ministers whose works I have read, messages I have listened to and ministries I thought were good. Youngen’s list includes Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Charles Swindoll and Mother Teresa, and Oakland adds Roman Catholicism. Am I so blind to the deception of these people that I could not recognize apostasy right in front of my eyes? There are too many enemies!
So what is a solution to this inability to come to consensus on the emerging church and missional church models of ministry?
Our response should center on the answer to Jesus’ question to Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” If we lack consensus on this question we can hardly hope for consensus on any other questions about the message of the gospel.
When we move from the individual answer to an answer about how we should do ministry as corporate Mennonite Brethren churches, I propose the following:
Let us commit ourselves to preaching and teaching the Scriptures as they are written in the many translations and paraphrases today, obedient to the request of Paul to Timothy: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim. 1:13-14).
Let us revisit and reaffirm the absolute nonnegotiable truths that we believe define the Christian faith for our house. Let us declare that any departure from these truths does not represent our Christian faith and is to be set aside. The Bible gives clear instructions to enable believers to develop a worldview and lifestyle that is pleasing to God.
Robert F. Lewis lives in Reedley, Calif., and is a member of Reedley MB Church.