The Emergent Church: "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Postmodernism has saturated the church's theology with relativism that has led individuals away from an objectively based faith towards an experiential, self-appointed, and self-directed theology based upon feelings and personal preferences. The current culture within many churches today is based upon creating idols and a new conception of God that is not Biblically-defined but shaped and formed according to existentialist criteria. Thus, what we have today is an atmosphere fertile for false teaching, but, even more, an atmosphere where there is no standard to evaluate and test such teaching. The Bible is seen not as THE standard but A standard, mixed in a multi-relevant hodge-podge of criteria whose root is self-directed but not God-directed.

American culture has contributed to the problem, too. We are living in a day and age when discriminate discernment, based upon standards of law, common sense, and Biblical teaching, is frowned upon and squelched. Although liberalism of thought would lead us to believe that we are living in an age of acceptance, those who choose to appeal to higher standards of moral absolutism are "shouted down" and viewed as intolerant. This general attitude has infiltrated the church and has led to a form of postmodernistic theology, based upon the axis of personal authority and not Biblical and Godly authority. Postmodernity, as a theory, refuses to allow any single defining source for truth and reality beyond the individual.
 
Whereas the church used to be a pillar for the truth, it has now become no more than a vehicle for cultural assimilation. With the human spirit's longing for meaning and truth, now, instead of hearing "rightly divided truth" from the pulpit and reading the Bible as THE source of all truth, there is a void for the kind of truth that Jesus referred to that sets an individual free. This void is critical.The human spirit will not allow that void to exist for long. In man's quest to find meaning, his penchant toward filling the void is a quest that eats away at his whole spiritual being. Thus, with the void created by a lack of objective truth, all that is left is to seek truth through other means, personal means, means that de- fine truth in personal rather than objective terms.
 
All this being said, the church is RIPE for false teaching! Cultural conditioning away from definitive, objective truth has led to an atmosphere where seeking "experiences" is the pathway to discovering truth. Without the "book, chapter, and verse" standard that we once knew to be true and faithful, instead, we are being led like lemmings over a cliff leading into a sea of relativism. There now is no need to question just about anything that is being introduced into the life of the church!
 

So, what are we facing? 

 
The Emergent Church movement is moving quickly to fill the void created by a lack of objective truth with a mystical, experiential approach which melts Christianity into all forms of religious expression and fully accepts other religions, based upon the assumption that a new age will bring total unity and harmony to the earth. Emergent churches are characterized by eclectic use of traditions in worship which now include candle lighting, prayer stations, liturgy, symbols, meditation, etc., yet, not forms of worship that lead an individual to the one source of truth, Christ and His Word, but to an experiential, mystical form of "religion."
 
Emergents prefer theology that runs away from propositional statements of truth and any form of definitive doctrine that discerns right from wrong or even one's standing before God. You will never hear Emergents speaking on the judgment to come, the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, or the awful nature of sin, mainly because it creates a confrontational atmosphere where the individual must reform personal behavior and surrender to the will and Word of God. Spiritual anarchy is the rule of the day for emergents. Individual truth is valid truth to the emergent because somewhere in the fog of relativism one may find themselves as they come face to face, not with God, but with their own desires.
 
A synthesis of religious practices is a hallmark of Emergents. Hindu and Buddhist practices are em- braced. Rick Warren has stated that we can find truth in other religions . . . HE HAS! On "Larry King Live," on November 22, 2004, Rick Warren stated, "There's truth in every religion . . . I believe I've learned a lot of truth from different religions. Because, they all have a portion of the truth." This is nothing more and nothing less than UNIVERSALISM! Universalism teaches that all religions hold elements of the truth and that no religion or religious teacher is fully right or wrong. This is one of the ways to build bridges to other religions, and make them united.
 
John MacArthur states, and rightly so, "This is not an intellectual movement. This is not a movement that has discovered evidence that overturns inspiration, evidence that overturns inerrancy or authority. This is a movement born of people who do not want to accept the clarity of Scripture." This kind of thinking is very convenient, MacArthur explains. If God's Word is not clear, then we're not responsible to follow it. "It allows them not to take a position on homosexuality, premarital sex, or anything, besides 'Let's light some candles and incense, think good thoughts about Jesus, and give to the poor,'" he observes. But, as MacArthur reminds us, "To claim that the Bible is not sufficiently clear is to assault God's own wisdom and integrity."
 
Speaking on the church today, MacArthur writes, "It is quite possibly more susceptible to false teachers, doctrinal saboteurs, and spiritual terrorism than any other generation in church history. Biblical ignorance within the church may well be deeper and more widespread than any other time since the Protestant Reformation."MacArthur attributes much of this to the twenty years of the seeker-friendly movement, which he says stripped Bible teaching, especially expository teaching, out of the pulpit. "You end up with a very, very marginally knowledgeable church, largely made up of unconverted people," he said. Wayne Teasdale, an emergent advocate states, "The rise of community among cultures and religious traditions . . . makes possible what we can call 'interspirituality'; the assimilation of insights, values and spiritual practices from the various religions and their application to one's own inner life and development."
 
All of this begs the question: "How much can you change the church and still have it be part of the Christianity that began with the Apostles?" The early church saw the Gnostics and Mystics within their ranks and were willing to oppose them. We see their descendants in our ranks today…what will we do? Do we beckon the church to return to the old paths and restore New Testament Christianity, or, will we melt into the quagmire of this movement? Time will tell!
 
1 Corinthians 1:18 says, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Ask the average Christian today if they believe this with all their heart and, at least from a practical standpoint, they may not! Trusting in Christ and His Word alone as sufficient for all things having to do with Faith and practice is rare and on the endangered list. 
 
Robert Schuller, in his book entitled "Self-Esteem: The New Reformation," writes, "Classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be 'God-centered', not 'man-centered' (page 64). The cross sanctifies the ego trip. For the Cross protected our Lord's perfect self- esteem from turning into sinful pride (page 75). And what is hell? . . . A person is in hell when he has lost his self-esteem"(pages 14,15). This view is shared by emergents and is helping to create a whole new culture of church-goers bent on personal gratification. Whatever happened to "taking up one's cross to follow Jesus"? Whatever happened to "losing oneself to find oneself"? Whatever happened to Jude's admonition that "we now have the faith once and for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3)? The Greek word "harax"(once and for all) denotes that we now have the faith in its final, complete, and perfect form. This means that we now have God's revelation for mankind in its final, complete, and perfect form without addendum! 
 
What we are facing today in the Emergent Church Movement is nothing more and nothing less than the oldest lie ever told . . . "HAS GOD REALLY SAID?..." Satan's first temptation and his favorite temptation is to cast doubt on God's Word, His authority, and His all-sufficiency. He did it with Eve and Adam and he continues to do it with the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve today! Instead of allowing the "rightly divided word of truth" speak to them in current culture, many are opting to seek meaning from experiences, melding religions, religious practices, mysticism, and even the occult! We need to beware of those who teach or even endorse such fallacies! Contemporary names such as Rick Warren, Erwin McManus, Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, Leonard Sweet, C. Peter Wagner, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, John Ortberg, and others, either teach or endorse the Emergent Church Movement.
 
Much of the New Testament was written to combat divergent teachings such as Gnosticism. 1 John was written with Gnosticism in mind, for example. John writes to confirm Biblical, apostolic truth and to re- veal the fallacies of Gnosticism. The Apostle Paul, in most of his writings, confronts false teaching and false teachers without apology. Again, because of the ongoing conditioning toward Postmodernism, it is becoming harder and harder for most Christians to identify false teaching and false teachers. Because they have been conditioned to avoid controversy or discernment, the path of least resistance has led many to embrace untruth! This simply should not be. We are encouraged in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to test everything. Test what? Test doctrine! We are living in a very gullible age that is leading many down a pathway to spiritual destruction!

What is the answer to all of this? PREACH THE WORD! As Paul told a young preacher Timothy, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2). Now, why would Paul tell Timothy so emphatically to preach the objective Word of Truth? Paul knew something was coming! He says in the very next verse, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3,4). Sounds "emergent" doesn't it?The dumbing-down of doctrine has led to a great void, waiting to be filled. Sound doctrine is not a driving desire for the average Christian today. Filling the void with mystical experiences (myths) is now the order of the day!

Barry Thornton is Executive Director of the Salt River Christian Fellowship, Mount Washington, KY. This article was first published in the May 2018 issue of The Restoration Herald.

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