While Emergents/Emerging groups advocate new forms of worship as a means of experiencing deeper connection with each other and with God, many also advocate a change of Christian theology in order to better explain theological concepts such as love, forgiveness, suffering, death, and grace. The "truth" about these concepts emerges, then, out of progressive dialogue. The Bible may be a conversation partner in the community dialogue, but it is only one voice among many, with minimal or no authority for establishing and living out truth. The perceived need is for an outcome that will be progressively determined by the participants of the dialogue. Thus the Emergent paradigm becomes "both/and" rather than "either/or."
Many thought leaders of the movement believe that both traditional churches and seeker churches fail to speak in language or worship formats that are friendly to post moderns; however, the perceived need is not just a face-lift or new wrapping of Christianity, but a core change at the foundational levels of philosophy and theology. Emergents believe that modernism does not provide answers to the deepest longings of the human spirit. In emergent thought, those needs and longings can only be met through a reality that is known from the interpretation or experience of the individual or community.
Emergents are ardent advocates of social justice, missional community activism and compassionate action for the marginalized. They are open to exploring new truths found through open dialogue, and are eager to find answers for human suffering. Emergents want spirituality to touch them at their deepest levels and provide an antidote for disappointment and abandonment. They are concerned with the preservation of God's creation and often care passionately for the environment. At this time, they refuse to align with the traditional political movement of most evangelicals in the United States who push for an integration of church and state in the culture wars.
The Possibility of Counterfeit Spirituality
Through the ages, humanity has persisted in seeking spirituality through a dependence on human works, including sacraments, the occult, mysticism, pantheism, panentheism, Gnosticism, monasticism and other works-based endeavors to experience God. Movements or organizations that have promoted and continue to incorporate some of these elements into their worship experience include Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Spiritualists, Mormons, New Age, Neo-Protestants, and Emergent. All of these groups retain aspects of biblical truth but all deny Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation (Acts 4:12) and/or the Bible as the Christian's ultimate authority which transcends tradition and subjective experience.
Both Scripture and the writings of Ellen White issue caution about a counterfeit spirituality that will closely resemble genuine spirituality:
* "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their work" (2 Cor. 11:13-15 NKJV).
* "There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12 NRSV).
* "For who has stood in the council of the Lord so as to see and to hear his word? Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it? . . . In the latter days you will understand it clearly. I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings." (Jeremiah 23:18-22 NRSV).
* "The track of truth lies close beside the track of error, and both tracks may seem to be one to minds which are not worked by the Holy Spirit, and which, therefore, are not quick to discern the difference between truth and error." (2 Selected Messages, p.202)
* "Multitudes will exult that God is working marvelously for them, when the work is that of another spirit. Under a religious guise, Satan will seek to extend his influence over the Christian world." The Great Controversy, page 464
* "Wherever men neglect the testimony of the Bible, turning away from those plain, soul-testing truths which require self-denial and renunciation of the world, there we may be sure that God's blessing is not bestowed. And by the rule which Christ Himself has given, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits' (Matthew 7:16), it is evident that these movements are not the work of the Spirit of God." (The Great Controversy, pages 464-465)
* "I saw that there was great danger of leaving the Word of God and . . . trusting in exercises [subjective experience, i.e. charismatic phenomena]." (Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, p. 227).
* "Let none cherish the idea that special providences or miraculous manifestations are to be proof of the genuineness of their work or of the ideas they advocate." (2 Selected Messages, page 48)
The end result of these exercises, whether or not the participant is cognizant of this goal, is to achieve altered states of consciousness, making the participant vulnerable to satanic spiritual influences. This is particularly true where there is a reluctance to identify any cultural or spiritual practice as "evil."
Anyway, maybe this is fodder enough for half a month's discussion! Next time I'll continue with Emerging/Emergent Trends and the Seventh-day Adventist movement and mission.
Read Part 2
Editor's note: Follow more discussion on Emergents/Emerging Church:
- What Can Adventist Learn from the Emerging Church (Bill Cork, April. 2010)
- Spirituality and Spiritual Formation (Bill Cork, August 2010)
- Why All the Criticism of the Emerging Church? (Monte Sahlin, April 2010)
- A Six-Part Series on "New Spirituality" and the Emerging Church by Herbert Douglass. Begin with Part 1.
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