- Rick LoPresti
Postmodernism and the emerging church
The pride of man likes to overlook his tendency to keep making the same mistakes over and over. Man likes to credit himself with the ability to solve his problems on his own without God. It has been famously said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (often attributed to Albert Einstein).” Another famous saying is “, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (George Santayana).” This is also related to the saying, “History repeats itself”. The wise man Solomon said, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (Ecc 1:9).” Unfortunately, these problems also apply to spiritual movements. The latest “trend” or “new revelation” to come out is usually just a rehashing of some previous failed attempt at revolutionizing Christianity. Christianity is defined by the Bible, not man, and does not need a revolution. What the church needs is a return to the book of Acts, not some new definition or experience. Jesus was not a revolutionary or a rebel. His enemies were the ones out of order, not Him. In fact, He specifically stated that He did not come to start some great upheaval. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil (Mt 5:17).” When asked about how to inherit eternal life, He said, “What is written in the law? how readest thou (Lk 10:26)?” He repeatedly asked if people were reading the Bible (Mt 12:3-5, Mt 19:4, Mt 21:16 & 42, Mt 22:31, Mk 12:26). He publicly read the scriptures (Lk 4:16). In His story of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham refers the rich man to the scriptures for saving faith (Lk 16:29-31). The Lord said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (Jn 5:39).” He said His life, death, burial, and resurrection were fulfillments of the scripture (Mt 26:54, Mk14:49, Lk 4:21, Lk 24:44, Jn 13:18, Jn 15:25, Jn 17:12). Even when He overturned the moneychangers' tables in the temple, He was removing something man added and restoring what God intended, quoting scripture while He was doing it (Mt 21:12-13). The apostles also affirmed this (Acts 1:16, Acts 3:18, Acts 13:27-33). When Paul preached in Thessalonica, the Christians were accused of being "they who have turned the world upside down", but it was actually the enemies of the gospel who were causing a riot (Acts 17:1-9). When Paul preached to Festus, Festus accused Paul of being a raving madman; but Paul responded, "I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness (Acts 26:24-25)." We can discuss adapting methods to make them effective as long as we stay in the framework of the pattern laid out in the Bible, but there is no room for modifying the doctrine that Jesus gave the apostles (Acts 2:42, Gal 1:6-9, Eph 2:20, Eph 3:5, 1Tim 4:16, 2Pet 3:2, Jude 17). The scriptures are the only sure source of doctrine (2Tim 3:13-17, 2Pet 1:19-21). The Bible is the word of God to man, not just man writing his thoughts about God. It is not to be tampered with (Deut 4:2, Prov 30:5-6, Rev 22:18-19). Anything that contradicts the scriptures is false, no matter how sincere it seems or what its source or appearance is (Deut 13:1-11, Deut 17:2-7, Deut 18:20-22). It doesn’t matter if the message is accompanied by miracles. The antichrist will deceive with miracles (2Thes 2:8-12, Rev 13:14, Rev 16:14, Rev 19:20). Despite all this, the devil continues to deceive the gullible with the same bag of tricks he used on Eve in the garden (Gen 3:1-7). He gets people to question the word of God (vs 1), he removes the fear of tampering with the word of God (vs 4), he alludes to greater revelation to be obtained (vs 5), and assures men of their ability to obtain such revelation on their own outside of the word of God (vs 5).
God only reveals Himself through one covenant at a time. He revealed Himself to Adam (Gen 2). When that covenant passed, He made another one with Noah (Gen 6-9). Then He made one with Abraham and his descendants who would be a blessing to the whole world (Gen 12-22). This was passed through Isaac and Jacob to the nation of Israel (Gen 26:1-5, Gen 28:12-15). About 400 years later, God gave the Israelites the covenant of the law through Moses (Ex 20-Deut 33). This covenant stood for about 1,500 years until Jesus came and instituted the new covenant in His blood (Mt 26:28). This covenant was put into force in Acts 2 when the church began (Heb 9:14-17). This covenant is still in force, and will be until the second coming of Christ (1Cor 15:22-28). There is no basis in the scripture or any other reliable source that there is to be any modification to this covenant before then. God does speak to people, but it is to give specific direction, and never to change doctrine. God does not contradict His own written word. That is confusion, and undermines the whole meaning of the Bible. The Bible is not a secret code book which requires some special person to come along and discover its hidden meaning. It is meant to be understood, believed, and followed. Some passages require deeper study, and deeper meaning is certainly to be gained by serious students, but its main message is clear.
There is a difference between being like the Bereans who heard Paul preach, and then studied the Bible to see if his words matched the scriptures (Acts 17:10-12), and just open-ended questioning. The Bereans’ kind of questioning led to faith. The kind of questioning that seeks to deconstruct everything in doubt leads to confusion and darkness. There is a big difference between examining past practices for current effectiveness and a wholesale “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” approach. That is what was wrong with the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. It was not a careful, reasoned re-evaluation of specific practices guided by sound principles. It was a total rejection of good values and traditions which are still needed today. It was rebellion for the sake of rebelling with no consideration of the long-term consequences of destroying things that society is built on. It was an attack on foundational things without thinking about what it would do to the building sitting on the foundation. They wanted to be free from the old constraints, but free to do what instead? Anything? There is no such thing as unlimited freedom, and freedom always comes with responsibility. We shouldn’t just jump off a cliff because things are not perfect on the plateau. Man tends to oscillate between extremes rather than finding balanced responses. Some traditions, even in the Bible, are good (2Thes 2:15, 2Thes 3:6). Jesus challenged the made up traditions of men that caused people to ignore the scriptures (Mt 23, Mk 7), but He also told people to do what those same traditionalists said to do when they were telling them to follow the Bible (Mt 23:1-3).
There have been many movements started that claim to be a new revelation, an improvement over the “old” way of doing things, a modernization of outdated traditions, etc. They are really just rehashes of the same old delusion. This should not be surprising. This has been going on since the garden, and Jesus and the apostles repeatedly warned this would happen under the guise of Christianity. Babylon attempted a world religion after the flood (Gen 11:1-9). This not only led to the confusion of languages, but of faith. Their religion spread all over the world, and substantively remained intact only changing the names of their idols for their new languages. Common components included a female deity and a three-person deity. In the 1950s and 1960s, ecumenicism and the latter rain movement claimed to be the new idea that was going to unite all religions. In the 70s and 80s, the charismatic movement said it was going to bring parts of Pentecostalism into the mainstream. In the 90s and 2000s, there came the megachurch with its coffee shops, etc. This led to bringing a consumer mindset to church. People now expect church to cater to their personal flavor instead of the church expecting people to seek the will of God and be transformed by His word and His power. People now expect church to cater to their personal flavor instead of the church expecting people to seek the will of God and be transformed by His word and His power. They go to church as though they are at a restaurant. Have we been properly greeted and seated? How is the atmosphere? Do I feel the right ambience? What are the menu options? How am I being served? Did the server earn a tip? Did we enjoy the experience enough to want to come back? The church has gotten so occupied with catering to this mindset and making people feel comfortable that its real purpose is being hindered. I have actually seen people giving massages at the altar. The job of the church is not to make people comfortable. It is not to go to the other extreme either, but people need repentance which is spurred by feeling decidedly uncomfortable with their current spiritual state. Conviction of sin does not make one feel good. We can make ourselves comfortable, or we can be comforted by God. We can have self-esteem, or we can be upheld by our relationship with God. What happened to a hunger for truth and righteousness? So the prophecy of 2Timothy 4:1-4 is fulfilled. John Crist has two humorous videos called “Church Hunters” about this, but it is no laughing matter. He also has one called “Swag Seminary” about helping pastors get their “swag” so they will be more appealing to the church shoppers. Christians have started taking scriptures out of context because of the consumer approach. A very popular verse is “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Phil 4:13).” People take this to mean that God will serve their desires and will endorse and empower whatever they want to do. It means the exact opposite. Paul was saying that he will continue to do the will of God no matter the circumstances because God will give him the strength (verses 11-12). Another popular verse is “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2Tim 1:17).” People think this means they don’t have to fear their earthly circumstances, but it really means they should not let the threat of persecution intimidate them from doing what God called them to do (verses 6-12). Religious people turned the temple into a marketplace, but Jesus came in, overthrew their tables, quoted scripture (Is 56:7), said, "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves (Mt 21:12-14)", and ministered to people. Now there is the emerging or emergent church which claims it is going to make Christianity relevant to the young generation. All of these movements have common problems. They seek to bring people into a spiritual experience that is not based on the Bible. The book of Revelation talks about a worldwide religion based in the same spirit (Rev 13, Rev 17).
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of modernism, which basically was an attempt to say that traditional approaches were outdated and needed to be reshaped. Although this was more of a political and philosophical movement than a religious one, it did have parallels in religion. Now there is postmodernism, which takes modernism to another level, stating there is no such thing as absolute truth, only relative truth. It says truth is not objective, but subjective. This means that no one can be certain about anything, and that what is true for some people in some places at certain times is not necessarily true for everyone, everywhere, always. A few of its early proponents were Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucalt. This philosophy also has a religious parallel in the emerging church movement. Some leaders of this movement are Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, Leonard Sweet, Steve Chalke, and Phyllis Tickle. If you ask these people to define their movement, describe their beliefs, and explain their intentions and direction, they will be purposely vague for at least two reasons. The first is that they claim that is the whole point of their movement. They claim they are moving away from being boxed into narrow traditional definitions and embracing diversity. They state they seek to have a “conversation” about examining outdated and irrelevant methods and teaching in order to reach this generation, and be relevant to the culture. They seek to avoid offending or alienating people with doctrines such as separation from sin to God called holiness, and judgment with places to end up in eternity called heaven and hell. They seek to welcome and embrace all without requiring forsaking previous beliefs and lifestyles, and embracing and applying the absolute truth of scripture. They choose unity over contending for truth (Jude 3-4). Jesus did not purposefully come to stir up divisiveness just for spite, but He knew that truth divides people because not everyone chooses to embrace it (Mt 10:34-36). They used catchwords just like their political counterparts such as tolerance, love, and compassion; and just like them they use false definitions of these words, and are hypocritical in their application of them. They proudly think they have come up with something new, but they are just being led by the same spirit that spoke to Eve, and led Babylon and other previous movements which attempted to “bring everyone together in a new enlightenment”. They allege that other people are taking the wrong approach, and they are taking the right one. If truth is not absolute, how do they know this? Doesn’t that make them guilty of the very thing they are accusing others of?
Another reason for the vagueness of this movement is a cover-up of the real spirit and agenda behind this movement. Although they are wearing a Christian mask, if you look behind the mask you will see what they are. The most dangerous teaching is not outright lies, but that which masks itself in partial truth. Even the devil quoted scripture to Jesus (Mt 4:6). Satan presents himself in costume to deceive (2Cor 11:13-15). He does not arrive in red with a pointy tail, horns, and a pitchfork and say, “Hi, it’s me!” These people say they want to be relevant to the culture because the millennials don’t get organized church and doctrine. There is no problem wanting to show people how God, the Bible, and church are relevant, but that is not what they are doing. What they are validating is not God, the Bible, and church; but rather “the culture”, which is really just what the Bible calls the world. The New Testament has two basic meanings when it talks about the world. It can mean the people that live on this planet, as in ,”For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…(Jn 3:16).” The world can also mean the value system which most of the people in the world follow, and the people that follow it. Statements such as “ye are not of the world (Jn 15:19)”, “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (Jam 4:4), and “Love not the world (1Jn 2:15-17)” make this clear, and do not contradict John 3:16. God so loved His creation despite their animosity toward Him through sin, that He came and died for us (Rom 5:6-10). It is possible to love someone without condoning specific behavior they may be involved in. Christians can affirm the value of the eternal souls of people who practice sodomy without approving their behavior, which is clearly not approved by God in the Bible. So who defines what the church should be and do – God or the world? We should use the Bible to interpret culture, and not use culture to define the Bible. The word of God is eternal and inerrant. Culture is fickle and subject to failure. Who are we seeking to please – God or people, especially people who do not even have a strong relationship with Him?
When the veil of the emerging church is pulled back, we see that their attempt to embrace everyone is leaving one person out – Jesus Christ. People are practicing mysticism, candles, prayer beads, mantras, unbiblical forms of meditation, icons which are nothing more than idols, Islam and even “Chrislam”, and Hinduism which includes yoga. Yoga teaches people to use physical positions, focusing on self, breathing techniques, and unbiblical “emptying of the mind” in meditation to relieve stress. What happened to prayer, meditation on the Bible, and good Christian fellowship and advice? There is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum (Lk 11:14-28). When we remove the institutions and teachings of the Bible, they get replaced with other things, and obviously they will not be Biblical. When spiritual experience is placed above doctrinal truth (experiencing what exactly?), when people are talking about an evolving church, when emphasis is placed on “non-traditional church” such as online versus physical gatherings (not in addition to but instead of – Acts 2:42-47, Heb 10:24-25), when people are saying “doctrinal soundness is dead religion”, when Biblical spiritual authority is not validated and respected, when the spirit of feminism is prevalent (not valuing Biblical femininity but the deconstruction of the highly esteemed role of women), and when abominations are not only allowed but fully accepted, you are in the wrong church and should find a church and a pastor that believe the Bible is the word of God, teaches what Jesus and the apostles taught (Jn 3:3-5, Jn 14:6, Acts 2:38, Acts 4:12), and encourages people to follow the Bible.