The Emerging Church
reveals that Christian fads and trends come and go. It seems that it is common
for many pastors and church leaders to constantly look for some new methodology,
“new wave” or “new thing” God is doing, “right now.”
live at a period in church history that is characterized by enthusiasm for
methods and means that facilitate church growth. Large churches are commonly
equated with successful pastors and successful church growth methods. Whatever
it takes to reach that objective, is acceptable, we are told. Church growth has
become the measuring stick for successful Christianity.
is true that some of the largest and fastest growing churches and church
movements in the world today promote a concept called “purpose-driven.” No
matter where you go these days anywhere around the world, purpose-driven is
being proclaimed as the latest church growth method.
stop for a moment and think. What is it that defines success from a biblical
perspective? While we are accustomed to accepting numbers or quantity as the
yardstick for measuring success, when it comes to Christianity, quantity without
quality can be misleading.
to the Bible, Christian faith must be directly related to God’s Word. Faith
comes by hearing what God has said and then acting accordingly. With regard to
church growth, if the growth is the product of some technique authored by some
man, and this technique is not based on God’s Word, the results may actually
this in mind, we will consider this current common trend known as the
“purpose-driven” church growth movement. Before we do, let’s review the
biblical premise that we are to test the teachings of men as the Bereans did
(Acts chapter 17) and search the Scriptures diligently.
Purpose of Purpose-Driven
of the major goals of the purpose-driven church growth movement is church
growth. This growth is dependent on adding numbers based on human methods and
techniques. While promoters say these human methods are found in the Bible,
there are reasons to question this claim.
would appear that many of the purpose-driven techniques are oriented towards
what’s in it for me, rather than what I can do for you. Successful
purpose-driven church leaders find out what appeals to seekers who might come to
their church and then provide the service or the environment that meets their
approval. Thus purpose-driven churches can become market-oriented for the
“seeker-friendly” without being so biblical that “seekers” would be
Christians would agree that to be faithful to Jesus and His Word, healthy church
growth should be based on the teaching of God’s Word. However, a market-driven
church based on man-made methods designed to increase numbers may produce
converts who are biblically illiterate.
word or God’s Word
Scriptures have been carefully translated from Hebrew and Greek so the Word of
God can be understood in the languages of our day. Some say we need to make the
Bible more understandable by taking the Word of God and changing it to the words
of men. But is this idea biblical?
that the Bible has been given to us by God. As Paul stated in his letter to
Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for
reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 
the Bible has been written by human hands, the words were inspired by God. Not
only are the words inspired, but the Bible states humans are prohibited from
altering the Scriptures by adding to or taking away from what God has said.
Notice what we read in the Book of Revelation:
I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if
any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are
written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book
of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out
of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. 
Therefore according to Scripture, humans tread on dangerous ground when we take the liberty of adding to or deleting from what God has said. However, it is a fact that many seeker-friendly churches try to make the scriptures more “seeker-friendly”, by altering the actual inspired Word of God and reinterpret it into the ideas or views of man.
For example, consider the following portion of Scripture taken from John 3:17 - "that the world through him might be saved.” Peterson’s rendering reads: "He came to help, to put the world right again." It does not take a biblical scholar to understand that "saved" means that we can be redeemed from the judgment we deserve for our sins so that we can go to heaven. It should be obvious that using "help" instead of “saved” completely distorts the meaning of what Jesus said. And "to put the world right again" has nothing to do with the salvation of souls. In fact this sounds like the social gospel to reform the world through political action.
Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven
Church, is a strong supporter of Eugene Peterson’s message. While Warren
claims he quotes the Bible when he quotes The
Message he is not quoting the Bible. He is quoting the thoughts of some man
who thinks he is stating what the Bible states.
may ask, so what is wrong with this? Isn’t it better for a seeker to be
reading some version of the Bible, rather than not reading the Bible at all?
Many Christians, although they have been believers for years, claim they still
have difficulty in understanding the Bible that has been translated word by word
from the original text. If someone can come up with a way to make the Bible more
understandable, wouldn’t this be a great tool for planting seeds for the
gospel of Jesus Christ?
a line of reasoning may sound acceptable. However we also know that what seems
right to man, may be wrong from God’s perspective. Further when we rely upon
man’s thoughts rather than God’s thoughts it’s almost certain that we will
be deceived. With regard to Eugene Peterson’s The
Message, there is one message that should be clear. If you want the truth
and all the truth, read the Bible - not some man’s conjecture about what he
thinks God has said. Otherwise you have the potential of committing spiritual
it is true, Christianity must be relevant in order to be effective, how far can
we stray from biblical standards and still be sound Christian witnesses of the
gospel of Jesus Christ?
you have not heard about another new trend sweeping the Christian church. Many
are saying a great change lies ahead. The seeker-friendly era is over. Now we
are headed into another new period of church history. It’s called “the
emerging church.” If you have not heard of this, try doing a search on the
Internet by tying “emerging church” into a search engine. I guarantee you
will be amazed at what you find.
Warren is very supportive of “the emerging church.” This is what he wrote in
a foreword for Dan Kimball’s book, The
Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations --
book is a wonderful, detailed example of what a purpose-driven church can look
like in a postmodern world. My
friend Dan Kimball writes passionately, with a deep desire to reach the emerging
generation and culture. While my book The
Purpose-Driven Church explained what the church is called to do, Dan’s
book explains how to do it with the cultural creatives who think and feel in
postmodern terms. You need to pay attention to him because times are changing.
is true over the past decades many trends have come and gone. As Warren stated
in the foreword of Kimball’s book:
a pastor, I’ve watched churches adopt many contemporary styles in worship,
programming, architecture, music, and other elements. That’s okay as long as
the biblical message is unchanged. But whatever is in style now will inevitably
be out of style soon, and the cycles of change are getting shorter and shorter,
aided by technology and the media. New styles, like fashions, are always
all these trends have been based on sound biblical doctrine. In fact the reason
many of these trends occurred was because Christians were vulnerable to “winds
of doctrine” that had no biblical basis.
to the Bible, in last days these winds of doctrine will be “doctrines of
demons” that will influence Christians to fall away from the truth and accept
ideas that “tickle their ears.” 
Warren is not only supportive of the “emerging church,” he believes that it
is exactly what is required at this time. He believes this is what “the
purpose-driven” church that he founded will become in the “postmodern
world.” He notes:
the past twenty years, spiritual seekers have changed a lot. In the first place,
there are a whole lot more of them. There are seekers everywhere. I’ve never
seen more people so hungry to discover and develop the spiritual dimension of
their lives. That is why there is such a big interest in Eastern thought, New
Age practices, mysticism and the transcendent.
he explains what the “emerging church” must do in order to emerge:
seekers are hungry for symbols and metaphors and experiences and stories that
reveal the greatness of God. Because seekers are constantly changing, we must be
sensitive to them like Jesus was; we must be willing to meet them on their own
turf and speak to them in ways they understand.
Now, let’s follow Rick Warren’s line of reasoning through to its logical conclusion based on the idea the world is hungry for an Eastern worldview, the New Age, mysticism and spiritual enlightenment. If it is necessary to meet these “spiritual seekers” on their turf, wouldn’t that require Christianity to become more New Age and mystical?
Warren and others say we need to pay attention to the emerging church. Things
are changing, they say and the “emerging church” has the answers for our
generation. But what will the emerging church emerge into? Could it be a form of
Christianity that embraces experience rather than God’s Word?
Kimball is the author of The Emerging
Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations. He is also launching a
church called Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California. Kimball makes the
following statement in the introduction of his book:
believe with all my heart that this discussion about the fast-changing culture
and the emerging church must take place. While many of us have been preparing
sermons and keeping busy with the internal affairs of our churches, something
alarming has been happening on the outside. What once was a Christian nation
with a Judeo-Christian worldview is quickly becoming a post Christian,
unchurched, unreached nation. New generations are arising all around us without
any Christian influence. So we must rethink virtually everything we are doing in
our ministries. 
the spiritual climate in North America has changed radically over the past
number of years just as Dan Kimball has stated. Many, including Rick Warren and
Dan Kimball use the term “post-Christian era” to describe the days in which
we are living. They say, while the seeker-friendly era was successful in
bringing a generation of “baby-boomers” to Jesus, that time is past. Now we
need to find new innovative methods that will reach this new generation for
book, The Emerging Church: Vintage
Christianity for New Generations, is written for this purpose. He not only
identifies the problems he believes the church is now facing, he provides the
answers and the solutions. The church for the future, he believes, must be more
sensual and experienced-based. He calls this church “Vintage Christianity”.
Perhaps the term “Vintage Christianity” is new to you. While it is not my intention to describe all that it means in this commentary, a few chapter titles from Kimball’s book under a heading called “Reconstructing Vintage Christianity in the Emerging Church” will be helpful for us to understand where the emerging church is headed. These are: “Overcoming the Fear of Mulitsensory Worship and Teaching”,  “Creating a Sacred Space for Vintage Worship”,  “Expecting the Spiritual”,  “Creating Experiential Multisensory Worship Gatherings”,  “Becoming Story Tellers Again”  and “Preaching Without Words”. 
I ask you, this question. What does the Bible say about Vintage Christianity and
the so-called emerging church? Is the goal of Christianity experience-based or
Bible-based? Jesus said: “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples
indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 
Further He stated: “Why do ye not understand My speech? because ye cannot hear
My word.” 
Word, More Worship
It should be apparent by now that the emerging church is more experience-based than Bible-based. Further, in the emerging church the Word of God takes a secondary position to the worship of God.
Dan Kimball and other promoters of the emerging church may be sincere in their
efforts to evangelize the postmodern generation and believe they are
genuinely representing the scriptures, there are some real concerns that need to
be addressed. Deviating from the Word of God for extrabiblical experience
can open the door to deception. While worshipping God is a very important part
of the Christian faith there are problems that can occur if worship
supersedes the word.
While Dan Kimball and other promoters of the emerging church may be sincere in their efforts to evangelize the postmodern generation and believe they are genuinely representing the scriptures, there are some real concerns that need to be addressed. Deviating from the Word of God for extrabiblical experience can open the door to deception. While worshipping God is a very important part of the Christian faith there are problems that can occur if worship supersedes the word.
Dan Kimball sees a new worship generation in the making based on experience that
is essential to the emerging church. In a section of his book subtitled
"Truly worshipping in a worship gathering,” he writes:
However, Dan Kimball sees a new worship generation in the making based on experience that is essential to the emerging church. In a section of his book subtitled "Truly worshipping in a worship gathering,” he writes:
should be returning to a no-holds-barred approach to worship and teaching so
that when we gather, there is no doubt we are in the presence of God. I believe
that both believers and unbelievers in our emerging culture are hungry for this.
It isn’t about clever apologetics or careful exegetical and expository
preaching or great worship bands. … Emerging generations are hungry to
experience God in worship. 
Obviously, in order for this to happen, changes would have to be incorporated. Kimball has thought this through and offers a number of suggestions which he lists in a chart  that shows how the “modern church” must adjust and move towards a “no-holds-barred approach” to worship. Some of these are:
I realize we are living at a period of time where technology is the key to
entertainment and visual stimulation is a necessary tool required for capturing
the attention of this generation, I ask you to consider what the Bible teaches.
What about less Word and more experience? Could someone quote the chapter and
verse to justify that? What about the idea that visual stimulation is the
formula for inducing a spiritual atmosphere that will draw seekers to Jesus?
Where is that found in the Bible?
don’t know about you, but my when I hear about the emerging-church-methodology
to forsake “apologetics” and “careful exegetical and expository
preaching” for the sake of a generation that is “hungry to experience
God”, I have some concerns. Could this be another avenue to “dumb-down”
Christianity so that we no longer know what God has said? How effective can
experiential Christianity be when it comes to knowing who we are, where we are
in time, and where we are headed?
said He is coming again? How many professing Christians will be ready when He
Robert “Bob” Webber is recognized by pastors, denominational leaders,
scholars and lay people as one of the foremost authorities on worship renewal.
He regularly conducts workshops for almost every major denomination in North
America through the Institute of Worship Studies which he founded in 1995.
Prior to his appointment to his present position at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Webber taught at Wheaton College for 32 years as Professor of Theology. He has authored over 40 books and is also a regular contributor to numerous magazines and newspapers.  He is on the editorial board of Chuck Fromm’s “Worship Leader” magazine.
was first introduced to Dr. Webber and his views when I read an article that he
had written in the May/June issue of “Worship Leader” tiled Wanted: Ancient Future Talent. Under a subheading labeled “The
Call for Ancient-Future Worship Talent” Webber wrote:
am personally most gratified to see the shift toward a recovery of the ancient.
While many good choruses have been produced over the past forty years, the
rejection of the sources of hymnody and worship by the contemporary church has
resulted in a faith that is an inch deep. 
In this article, Dr. Webber stated that “the Spirit is working a new thing in
the church” and an “ancient-future worship is being born.” He listed a number of
things that he believes are necessary for “talented workers” to discover if they
are going to be a successful part of this new movement. Some of these are:
While I agree with Dr. Webber it would be beneficial to reintroduce the great hymns written in the past by anointed men and women of God that expound sound biblical doctrine, it appears that is not what he means by returning to “the ancient.” In fact his list of things to do in his call for “ancient-future worship talent” mentions a number of terms and ideas that cannot be found in the Bible.
example, when I hear the expression “sacred signs of bread and wine” or the
mention of “Lent” as a means of “rediscovering congregational
spirituality” - while these ideas may be ancient, I wonder where the ideas
originate. Further, when I hear about “rediscovering the central nature of the
table of the Lord in the Lord’s supper, breaking of bread, communion and
Eucharist” I am reminded about the “new evangelization” program that is
presently underway. Did you know Pope John Paul II has called for a
“missionary vision” centered on “a rekindling of amazement focused on the
Eucharist” to bring the world to the Eucharistic Jesus?
Could the Merging
Church be Reemerging?
Dr. Webber is one of the chief promoters of the emerging church. He has written a number of books on the topic including Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community and Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World.
order to clarify Dr. Webber’s views, I did some further research. I found an
interview Dr. Webber had done posted on a web site called TheOoze.com.
Responding to the question: “What do you think the North American evangelical
church is going to look like 25 years from now?”
Dr Webber responded:
will be less national, less culturally formed. It will be smaller pockets of
communities in neighborhoods. The church will focus on people, not buildings, on
community, not programs, on scripture study, not showy worship. 
this view of the future sounds reasonable and acceptable from a biblical
perspective. In fact, I could say a hearty “Amen” to what Dr. Webber said.
But the next statement adds a whole different dimension to the direction he
believes Christianity is emerging towards. He stated:
symbols such as baptismal identity and Eucharistic thanksgiving will take on new
meaning. The church will be less concerned about having eschatology and more
committed to being an eschatological community. 
the past several years, I have observed that Dr. Webber’s prediction regarding
the future of the church seems to be accurate. Many who were once anticipating
the soon and imminent return of Jesus are now asleep. Some are saying it appears
“the Lord has delayed His coming.” Others are saying “we have been misled
by pastors and teachers who have taught us that the second coming is a literal
return of Jesus to set up His Kingdom.” These same people are claiming the
“Kingdom of God” will be established here on earth through Christians during
the Eucharistic Reign of Jesus.”
reading Dr. Webber’s prediction that “Biblical symbols such as baptismal
identity and Eucharistic thanksgiving will take on new meaning,” I ordered his
book “Ancient-Future Evangelism.” This is what I read on page 114:
A brief glance at the teaching of the Eucharist from the pre-Nicene period provides insight into the early church’s understanding. The Fathers taught that continual spiritual nourishment was provided to believers at this great feast. First it is clear from the writings of Justin Martyr in the middle of the second century that this is no empty symbol. Christ is really present in the bread and wine. He feeds us in the remembrance of His salvation. He feeds us through His presence which is accomplished through prayer. 
The idea that Jesus is present in the Eucharist is a Roman Catholic teaching. It is based on transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is required to manifest the Eucharistic Jesus. The Eucharistic Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Eucharistic Jesus is “another Jesus”.
the “Emerging Church” emerging or remerging?
Is Evangelizing Who?
of the “Emerging-Church” write and speak passionately about evangelism. They
are committed to reaching the Postmodern generation. They say that their goal is
to communicate the truths of Christianity in a way that can be understood by
this generation. They are willing to adapt or change whatever needs to be
changed in order to be relevant evangelists.
purpose-driven evangelists removed crosses and other Christian symbols from
church services to be seeker-friendly, the Postmodern generation, also called
the Gen Xers, apparently are attracted to crosses, candles, stained-glass,
liturgy, and sacraments. According to Julie Sevig, in an article called
“Ancient New” that she wrote for The
prefer to encounter Christ by using all their senses. That's part of the appeal
of classical liturgical or contemplative worship: the incense and candles,
making the sign of the cross, the taste and smell of the bread and wine,
touching icons and being anointed with oil. In Soul Tsunami: Sink or Swim in
New Millennium Culture (Zondervan, 1999), Leonard Sweet says: "Postmoderns
want a God they can feel, taste, touch, hear and smell--a full sensory immersion
in the divine." 
Sevig interviewed Karen Ward, an associate director for worship for an “Emerging Church.” Sevig wrote:
This return to the
traditional--the sacred--crosses denominational lines, Ward says. In fact, an
interesting marriage is occurring between evangelicals and the liturgy.
"Evangelicals are using traditions from all liturgical churches from
Orthodox to Lutheran to Catholic," she says. "Though they have limited
experience using their new-found symbols, rituals and traditions, they're
infusing them with vitality and spirit and life, which is reaching people."
can be documented that Dr. Robert Webber’s books are winning converts. But who
is being converted and what are they being converted to? The answer to this
question can be found at a Roman Catholic web site called “Ancient and Future
Christian Reading List.” Several of Dr. Webber’s books are listed there such
as Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking
Evangelicalism. Under the books heading, there is the following description:
Webber writes about
how many Christians today, especially younger ones, are seeking a faith
connected to the ancient Church. Thus, postmodern Christians are seeking an
ancient and future faith, one that embraces the past for the future, rather than
ignoring the past completely. Also, thanks to the reality of relativity (how's
that for an oxymoron!), gone are rational apologetics, and coming back are
embodied apologetics (i.e. defending the faith by living as Jesus did). Creeds
and Councils are in, as is mysticism and community. Editor David Bennett admits
that Webber's writings helped lead him to the Catholic Church, although much of
what Webber says is far too "cafeteria" in approach. Also, Church
Tradition is treated more as an evangelical trend as opposed to what it is: the
Truth. Nonetheless, Webber is a good transitional author. 
Ancient and the Mystical
seems that the “Emerging Church” is reemerging. However, rather than going
back to the inspired Word of God found in the Old and New Testaments, the goal
is to reintroduce an “Ancient-Future” faith based on the ideas, dogmas,
traditions and views of the Roman Catholic Church Fathers.
the past number of years I have had the opportunity to travel the world speaking
in various countries visiting many old churches that are dark and mystical.
These churches were founded by the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church many
these churches I have observed, icons, statues of Mary holding baby Jesus, Jesus
hanging on the cross, candles, incense, relics, and statues of the “saints.” While there is a lot of emphasis on the
visual sensual and mystical, there is very little evidence that the Bible was
ever taught to the people. If it had, there would not be an emphasis on
extrabiblical paraphernalia, extra-sensory images, sounds and smells.
appears to me the “Emerging Church” of the present era and the church that
emerged after the New Testament was written are one and the same. Remember the
words of Paul as recorded in the book of Acts:
I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you,
not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking
perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 
Rick Warren, Dan Kimball and Dr. Robert Webber and others may be excited about
the “Emerging Church” and the direction it is presently headed, I am
concerned the “Emerging Church” may actually be a re-emergence of what has
already occurred in church history. If the pattern continues expect to see
evangelical Protestants become more and more Roman Catholic.
the Emerging Church Lead the Church to the Roman Catholic Church?
It is important
to keep scripture in mind when we are looking for a method or a means to promote
church growth. A Christianity that is not based on the Scriptures is a false
Christianity. It may be ecumenical and it may be successful in attracting
numbers, but it is not biblical. It could even lead people to believe they
believe, but instead they follow false teachers and false doctrine and are
You know where they could spend eternity, separated from God!
2 Timothy 3: 16
Understand The Times is an independent non-profit organization in
Canada and the United States.
P.O. Box 1160