Tuesday, November 27, 2007


By Keith Giles

Last week I received an email from someone who was interviewing various people regarding the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. She wanted to know what my thoughts were regarding the movement and had several specific questions for me about the differences between this and the Traditional Church.

I suppose she thought to ask me to weigh in on the subject since she assumes I am part of the "Emerging" crowd. For the record I don't consider myself to be an "Emerging" Christian.

I know I write for Ginkworld.net and TheOoze.com, both of which do categorize themselves as being among the "Emerging" Church camp. I also can understand how a lot of what I write about and the ideas I propose find a receptive audience among this group of believers. I just don't consider myself to be "Emerging" in any way.

First of all, I need to spend some time defining what the Emerging/Emergent movement is since there's a lot of confusion within and without on this very subject.

According to the entry at Wiki, "The emerging church (also known as the emerging church movement) is a controversial 21st-century Protestant Christian movement whose participants seek to engage postmodern people, especially the unchurched and post-churched. To accomplish this, "emerging Christians" (also known as "emergents") deconstruct and reconstruct Christian beliefs, standards, and methods to accommodate postmodern culture."

My simplification of that is that it's a movement of mostly younger Christians who are tired of the traditional structure and practice of doing church and who long for a newer, simplified, "faith-in-action" version of Christianity that goes beyond talking about doctrine and moves into actually putting the faith into practice every single day.

Truthfully the entire "Emerging" movement is difficult to define or categorize because you have no real leaders identified, no set doctrine or theology, and no specific examples to point to. Basically anyone who wants to distance themselves from the "old way" of doing Church can call themselves "Emerging" and then proceed to teach or preach or model whatever form or model of Church they please.

What does it really mean to be "Emerging"? I have my ideas, but others have their own ideas. The movement is difficult to grasp, like a wet bar of soap in the shower. It seems like anyone can call themselves Emerging as long as they're not a traditional church.

Because of this, I do not consider myself to be part of the Emerging movement. Although I'm personally inspired by many within the Emerging movement like Brian McLaren and Philip Yancy who have helped me to think about Jesus in a more radical way. I'm also very indebted to people like Dallas Willard, Todd Hunter, Scott Bartchy, David Ruis and A.W. Tozer. None of those guys are part of the Emerging movement, but they have great things to teach us about following Jesus, understanding the Gospel of the Kingdom and learning how to die to ourselves every single day.

So, what am I? I guess I'd classify myself as being part of the House Church movement, although even that feels like a limited label to me. While I'm currently leading two small house churches in my house each week, I'm largely an outsider when it comes to the various house church communities locally and internationally.

Even within the house church/simple church crowd there's a division of models between the "Organic Church" (ala Neil Cole) and the "House Church" (ala Wolfgang Simson or Frank Viola). Organic churches are more like open door evangelistic groups where anyone and everyone is welcome to come and debate Christianity whether or not they consider themselves to be followers of Jesus or not. The House Church is much more like a weekly gathering of believers who come together to worship, pray, encourage one another and share a meal. Unbelievers are not unwelcome, but our group isn't tailored to answer their questions or perform evangelism.
Instead, our house churches are designed to make disciples of those who already believe so that they can live a missional life outside the group.

Neil Cole and I have different perspectives on the nature and function of small groups, but we agree on the idea that this model of "being church" is more Biblical and closer to what Jesus had in mind for those who wanted to follow after him.

Having said that, one of the questions in the interview from last week really got me thinking. It was about the "Us vs Them" mentality and what causes it. Honestly, I wasn't sure if she was asking about the "Us vs Them" mentality between Christians and Non-Christians or the one between the Emerging Church and the Traditional Church. I'm still not exactly sure what her question was getting at, but I decided to answer her question by assuming it was about the divide between the Emergent/Organic Church and the Traditional Church since that topic is one
I've not spent a lot of time talking about previously, and also since I've already written quite extensively on the other issue lately.

When it comes to the divide between the Traditional Church and the Emerging Movement, or the House Church Movement, I think people on all sides of the issue are to blame. We tend to make the other side look misguided and often pick out the areas where they are wrong or (in our opinion) off base.

It's very easy to get tunnel vision and start believing that your way or model is the best and only way to do, or to be, the Church. There are very good reasons why we hold the opinions that we hold. Most of the passion, and therefore the "heat", is on the side of those who are called to step outside the Traditional model. We've got issues. We've decided to do something different. Some of us because we felt God calling us to step outside the existing model, others because we felt pushed out, or invited to leave if we didn't like the food on the traditional Chuck Wagon.
Because some of us have been hurt we feel at liberty to loudly proclaim our righteous indignation at the old guard.

Honestly, I really do believe that God is doing something exciting and new within the house church movement here in America. I've met too many people who feel just like I do, and none of us have watched the same movies, attended the same conference or read the same book. This movement is one being lead by the Holy Spirit as He calls individuals to step outside of the traditional church and into something new and radical like house church.

God has humbled me more than once and rebuked me for running down my traditional brothers and sisters. He's shown me that good, awesome Kingdom work is being done in those churches. God loves them. God is at work through them. He loves them just as much as He loves us in the house church. They are not the enemy.

Our house church partners with two local, traditional churches to serve at a local motel where hundreds of families live below the poverty line. This partnership forces us to work hand in hand with and to love our brothers and sisters in traditional church. One of the churches we partner with is a mega-church, the other is a small college fellowship with less than a hundred members. While I still couldn't fellowship or worship (long-term) the way they do, I still don't begrudge them for doing things the way they do it. They're my brothers and sisters in Christ. I'm learning to love them. They're learning to love a crazy house church pastor too.

The perspective we all need to gain is that we're all part of the larger Body of Christ, regardless of how we worship or what model we follow. We need to get over the labels and the models and start getting busy advancing the Kingdom of God.

I still believe we have a right, and even a duty, to express our different opinions to one another on issues of culture, practice, theology, eschatology, exegesis, and what have you. It's not wrong or a sin to disagree with other Christians about particulars of our Faith. We just have to get better about communicating with one another without hurting each others feelings. Just like every family does.

Let's be the Family of God, then. Let's focus on following Jesus first and foremost. We can debate the specifics, but we have to learn to love one another first of all.

No one wins unless Jesus wins. No team can celebrate if the other team suffers.

We are the family of God. Baptists, Methodists, Organic Churches, House Churches, Charismatic Churches, Pentecostal Churches, whatever.

Let freedom ring.

1 comment:

The Dan Ward said...

What a beautiful posting, Keith. Thanks for speaking out so clearly in favor of brotherhood and mutual respect & cooperation.

I'd definitely put myself in the emerging category, although it's not a term I've heard used at the church we're attending now. But it is a blessing and a pleasure to know we are serving Christ alongside you.