In this age of postmodernism, much has been said about the emerging church movement. This movement has influenced the way believers do church, read and interpret the Bible, and think about worship. As with any movement that has come about during the Church Age, the emerging church paradigm needs to be examined through the lens of Scripture to determine if it lines up with the truth of God’s Word.
To understand how the emerging church is affecting worship styles, it is important to understand the thinking behind this paradigm. From its beginning in the U.K. in the late 1980s, the emerging church (or alternative church) concept had spread to Australia by the mid-1990s and has been growing in the U.S. and Canada since 2000. One of the most disturbing aspects of this paradigm is found in the approach emerging Christians, or emergents, are using to reach today’s society. Emergents deconstruct and reconstruct Christian beliefs, standards, and methods and take a pluralistic approach to religion and spirituality. They believe this approach is necessary to engage a post-Christian culture in a two-way conversation, rather than proclaiming to the culture a message that is foreign and unpopular. Anytime Biblical standards are reconstructed, error occurs.
Emergents prefer presentations based upon personal experiences, as opposed to Bible exposition. Systematic theology and exegesis are out. Emergents reject absolutes and give importance to the subjective over the objective. For them, Biblical text takes on personal meaning as they experience it; Biblical text has little or no authoritative meaning as to distinguish a right from wrong interpretation. Tony Jones, a leader in the emerging church movement, says, “We must stop looking for some objective Truth that is available when we delve into the text of the Bible.”
An emerging church service might look something like this. You enter the dimly lit room of a house or building with candles burning to help supplant the darkness. Your senses are met with the smell of incense and sounds of soft music. The atmosphere is casual. People are talking, sipping cappuccino, and sitting on couches or overstuffed chairs. In lieu of a sermon, the leader for the evening asks questions of the group, suggesting several possible answers. The Bible may or may not be referenced. Someone leads in a praise chorus.
This new way of doing church has chosen experience over doctrine. The old model taught that if a person has the right teaching, he will experience God. The new model teaches that if the person experiences God, he will have right teaching. Emergents believe in an openness that leads to inviting open-minded people of all religions to contribute to conversations, which leads to a multitude of ideas about worship.
Emergents believe that by using a multisensory approach—that is, candles, incense, darkened rooms, and prayer stations in worship—a sacred space is created. They believe darkness represents spirituality and signifies that something serious is happening. They’re right: Something serious is happening. Millions are being taught to go back to the ancient mystics to learn and implement the ancients’ ways. By following the ancient mystics, emergents contend that a person will draw closer to God and truly understand Who He is. In his book Ancient-Future Faith, the late Robert Webber stated that worship needed to be revised for the new century. This revision of worship meant going back in order to go forward, hence the term “ancient-future.” Webber believed that a person who immerses himself in the writings of the ancient mystics and activists will come to realize that Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches are various forms of the one true church. This faulty concept of the one true church is a dangerous idea. The truth is that the church of Jesus Christ exists in only one form—a body of born again believers, cleansed from their sin by the shed blood of Christ.
The early mystics added ideas to Christianity that are not found in the Bible. One of those extra-Biblical ideas is that of “contemplative prayer” in which the participant attempts to empty himself of all thoughts and distractions. This emptying can be accomplished by saying a single word or short phrase over and over, much like chanting a mantra. According to emergents, this chanting helps the person to enter a trancelike state in which he will be free to hear from God.
Emerging church leaders are teaching what false teachers have been teaching through the ages: that there are different ways to God and that each person must find the best way for him. They propose that if a person participates long enough in certain experiences, he will find the way. This is a lie from Satan; if we can reach God on our own through meditation and ritual, why is the gospel of Jesus Christ necessary, and what truth is to be found in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus”?
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). That is the truth of the Bible: Faith and trust in Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Why are so many following the false teaching of this emerging church movement? Scripture tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. The emergents’ teaching may sound right, but it is a lie. Paul warned that false teachers would come and try to deceive believers, both from outside the church and from within (Acts 20:27–32).
If churches follow these emergent ideas, they will radically change what the Bible says worship ought to be. Worship of God should take place in response to His working in believers’ lives, not in response to the stimulus of means that mankind has created.
Mark Barrios, Worship Pastor
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church
Webber, Robert. Ancient-Future Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.
Oakland, Roger. Faith Undone. Silverton, OR: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007.