This “new” Christianity is sick of culture wars, political agendas, hypocrisy and legalistic doctrines. They prefer inclusion over restriction, dialogue over debate, practice over preaching, and love over judgment. Authentic communities are preferred over institutionalized organizations, and grassroots groups gain wisdom and knowledge from relational interaction, social media, the web, and an array of other sources—there is no monopoly controlling leadership or sources of information…
And while many traditional Evangelicals decry this movement as being shallow, theologically weak and even heretical, many see it as a step in the right direction—a revolution similar to that of the early church: authentically living out Christ’s model of service, sacrifice and holistic love….
When it comes to following Christ, it’s easy to get distracted by things that don’t matter, and Satan is always trying to divide and destroy. This is how something as simple as following Christ’s example becomes a complicated mess filled with thousands of theologies, practices and conflicting beliefs.
Source: When Revolutions Become Religions – Stephen Mattson – Red Letter Christians.
The above words come from a blog that I am a regular visitor. It very much aligns with my views of religion and it also aligns with the title of this blog. The story above is a discussion of the “emergent church” that is happening in much of the world today.
I find it totally disheartening that our most powerful Christian denominations in the U.S. today are so intertwined with the extreme radical right edge of our our political processes. The political agendas that are prevalent in that group run very counter to the teachings of Jesus, at least to me. Much of the evangelical community today seems to be more interested in rules and restrictions to keep their followers in line than they are about actually living as Christ taught us.
Something is drastically wrong when we find it necessary to divide into 39,000+ different versions of Jesus. This fact is not going unnoticed by the current younger generations. It is unlikely that they, like their mothers and fathers will return to established churches that cling to outdated agendas.
Many evangelicals have nothing but disdain for the emergents in their midst and yes there are many in their midsts, whether they recognize it or not. Many of the current religious leaders somehow believe that this new movement to get back to the roots of Christianity is a passing fancy. I see it as anything but that. The movement is about living Jesus’ teaching instead of just listening and agreeing to what their leaders say about Jesus. They are just too attuned to things that just don’t matter to many of us in the 21st century.
I am totally convinced that the emergent movement will eventually take back the church to its early roots. But to do that means tearing down some of the man-made rules and traditions that currently stifle that idea. Yes, the times they are a-changin.
I want to close out this series of posts with some unfounded complaints about the emergent movement. This list is mine and therefore might not align with the leaders of this movement.
Emergents don’t have a foundation, they allow their members to believe anything — While it is true that emergents don’t, as most common denominations do, try to prove anyone wrong about their current beliefs they do have fundamental things that guide them. They believe that Jesus is God and gave us the Great Commandment to love him and to love each other. They believe that God intends us to work with him to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. Unlike many Christians they admit that they might be wrong about things they think they know today. Just as much of theology is temporary and local, their thinking about different things related to God may be overturned by future knowledge or revelation.
Emergents are trying to tear the church apart — As the second practice in the previous post states the emergent movement is trying to do the exact opposite from tearing the church apart. In fact they are about the only group of the 39,000 different flavors of God that are committed to Christianity in all its forms. They believe that all of them have good points and not so good points. They will not align with one version and discard another. We are all wrong about the nature of God in one form or another.
Emergents are confusing the unchurched by their lack of a specific stand — Standing firm on certain beliefs that were meant to be temporary is actually what is confusing the unchurched. When Christians say, for instance, that the earth is only 6,000 years old and all the scientific proof otherwise is just God tricking us they are “confusing” the unchurched. Emergents have a strong commitment to living in God’s world today. They do not isolate themselves from it but instead firmly believe that Jesus told us to get involved in bringing his kingdom to earth.
Emergents don’t like other Christians. They are just a passing cult — The most basic belief of emergents is God’s command to love him and to love each other. They are committed to strengthening our shared values and resolve to and encourage other Christians to learn from each other. They value interactions with other Christians. Emergents are not trying to form yet another flavor of God but instead they are trying to get all the current flavors to come together. The emergent movement has a very strong foothold in Africa and South America and is daily becoming stronger in all the rest of the world. They are definitely not a passing cult.
I am very aware of the threat many in Jesus’ church feel toward the emergent movement. They feel that the things they hold dear will go by the wayside if emergents become dominant in the world. They fear the unknown if they have to admit that they might not have all the answers. The emergent movement is nothing more that the continuation of the evolution of the church. I find the emergent movement as the only one out there that are trying to make the church one as Jesus and God the Father are one.
Please don’t feel threatened by this movement. Instead study it and embrace it. Instead of destroying the church it just might save it for future generations….
I am going to use a quote from one of my favorite authors and that is Philip Gulley from his book The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christianity:
Some Christians have thus concluded that we are our own worst enemies, that our best option for a viable future lies in our determination to embrace a rigid faith in order to stave off the adulterating influences of other cultures and religions. But I would contend that this has been tried repeatedly throughout our long history and always ends the same—in suspicion, intolerance, exclusion, division, and, finally, war. No, if the church has a future—indeed if our world has a future—it will rest in the church’s ability to honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition, just as Jesus found virtue in Samaritans, publicans, centurions, and Gentiles. How this good man came to be the focus of a creedalism that ultimately excludes others is a mystery for the ages.
The incorporation of other traditions into our own will undoubtedly change us, but for the better, for it will lead us toward one another, which is also and always a movement toward the Divine Presence and the universal grace that Presence represents. To be sure, if one believes Christianity is primarily about worshipping Jesus, a faith that incorporates other religious traditions will be considered heretical. But if one believes Christianity is primarily about following the example of Jesus, then it is easy to imagine a faith informed by men and women of goodwill, though of diverse traditions. If the future of the Christian faith is creedalism and believing the right things about Jesus, then other traditions will be viewed as the enemy at worst, or contaminants at best. It will be a return to the Age of Belief, and in that sense a spiritual regression. But if the future of the Christian faith is about taking the best from each tradition, while helping people negotiate their spiritual journeys with grace and dignity, then the church might well inspire a world made new.
Mr Gulley got it perfectly when he said excluding others, especially Christian others, has been proven again and again to be a failed strategy. When we quit fighting each other and instead welcome and celebrate our differences then, and only then, will our world and our spiritually be better. As usual it comes down to whether you believe that following Jesus’ words and examples takes priority over man-made beliefs and creeds about him. You know which side of the argument I reside in.
The age of the Spirit is a central theme of Mr. Gulley’s book here and it is also adopted into the emergent movement that is happening today. When we quit arguing and continuously splitting over just what we are supposed to believe and start celebrating our diversity of thought about what God wants us to do then, and only then, does the church stand a change of surviving as we go further into this new century. Thank you Philip Gulley for having just the right words to help me communicate that belief.
This will probably be my last post about the early christians for a while. Next time I will begin to concentrate on some of the early theologians,bishops/historians/leaders or whatever you want to call them, and how they influenced the direction of the church. Closing this chapter, at least for now, it is important for you to remember what “faith” was to the early Christians. Here are a couple of quotes from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith that I think summarizes this important topic.
At its outset “faith” meant a dynamic lifestyle sustained by fellowships that were guided by both men and women and that reflected hope for the coming of the Reign of God. But when Christianity became swollen into an elaborate code of prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations policed by a hierarchy, the meaning of “faith” was warped almost beyond recognition….
Initially faith had meant a primary life orientation, but the evolving clerical class now equated “faith” with “belief in” certain specified doctrines and patterns of authority, which, in any case, themselves changed periodically depending on who held the ecclesial scepter. The result was a disaster for dissent and open discussion. Yesterday’s heretic may be tomorrow’s saint, but the heretic is still dead…..
If the people of the Way were to see what became of their church I think they would be totally shocked!! To them faith meant a primary life orientation, a way of life, not strict obedience to a fixed set of belief about Jesus. Most of those belief were solidified long after Jesus left the earth. They would also be confused as to why women were pushed out of leadership roles in the church.
The people of the Way would be very disheartened to find that it is very difficult to discern today’s Christians from those others around them! To them their faith meant following a very dynamic lifestyle that was generally in conflict with the empire around them. How did the church come to be much more like the empire than a foreign group called the Way?
The People of the Way would be devastated to see how today’s Christians seem to ignore those around them that are struggling for their very existence! The very cornerstone of the people of the Way was to take care of these unfortunates as Jesus taught them. How could they now be more likely a target of church goer’s venom as “those people who are takers instead of producers”. How could the church of Jesus Christ have devolved into what we see today?
The People of the Way were more about living the life that Christ taught them and about the coming Reign of God on earth as well as heaven rather than prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations to be forced upon them. They deemed their faith as a way of life rather an altar called that instantly secured a path to an afterlife that they generally cared little about.
What happened to make such a dramatic change. That is what we will be studying next.
I am going to jump ahead a little here so that I can put something into your mind before we tackle early church leaders. To illustrate my point I want to once again use a quote from The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox:
Thus, it is now clear that the “official Christianity” that eventually emerged was only one among a range of “Christianities” that thrived during the earliest years. The distinction we still make today between “orthodox” and “heretical” movements did not exist. There was nothing inevitable or preordained about which version, if any, would predominate.
It is very important in our study of church history to remember that what we know today as “the church” was initially only one of several Christianities that thrived during the early church history. We will be studying how this one version came to dominate all the others. I think you will be surprised at how that came about.
For now it is enough to know that for several centuries there were no distinctions such as heresy or orthodox. To me heresy has a particularly brutal history of its own. What the power structure did to stamp out opposing beliefs was initially beyond my comprehension. I had no idea how draconian those practices were.
I only bring up this particular topic as being one of many surrounding church history. We must never forget that the church was not immune from the old saying that “power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts”. Like our constant disputes today between Republicans and Democrats in empire politics the church has had similar battles throughout its history. Each side was totally convinced that they are right and the other side was wrong/heretics/blasphemers.
We must remember that the history of the church is also and maybe primarily about the history of man and power struggles. All power seekers claimed divine inspiration but the “official Christianity” that survived was more, at least in my mind, because of the brutal power they held over their advocates than having more divine authority.
Church history is indeed a very messy history that is only recently beginning to see the light of day. But it is necessary to see this mess in order to understand why the Age of the Spirit will likely dominate in the decades and centuries ahead…..