Emerging Church

  • Question from DM, United Kingdom

    Dear Freelance Theology
    What is emerging Church? And what is post-modern Church? And what is liquid Church? Are they real biblical models of Church or are they a sell out to modern culture?

    ‘Emerging church’ is the latest phrase in common use among church planters attached mainly to charismatic church streams. Simply put, it is a church ‘without boundaries’, with no set style of meeting or clearly defined membership. Similarly ‘liquid church’ and even the term ‘post-modern’ are used to try and describe this different way of acting as a Christian community. There is no such thing as a typical emerging church, but it could be a community reaching a particular age group or sub-culture through ‘relevant’ means (beach barbeques to reach surfers, for example).

    Some traditionalists have criticised emerging church on two fronts. Firstly that it is all style over substance and secondly that these new forms of church borrow heavily from a number of different traditions. A recent article in the UK magazine Christianity and Renewal likened emerging church to Unitarianism, due to its propensity to use ideas from all over the place. However, reactionary nonsense aside, there is the serious question of Biblical and doctrinal authenticity.

    Non-traditional ‘emerging’ churches can be Biblical. That doesn’t mean they necessarily are – it will depend on the local leaders and their emphasis. Because ‘emerging’ churches have no central pattern to follow, they can vary greatly. Obviously, as was seen in what have become the main charismatic denominations, a lack of co-ordinated accountability could result in spiritual abuse (like ‘heavy shepherding’) or erroneous extra-Biblical teaching.

    A better question to ask is ‘How Biblical are emerged churches?’ – churches with established patterns of worship and church order going back centuries (or just a few years to when they ‘emerged’). And then we have to ask ‘Is it even possible to develop a Biblical ‘New Testament’ church? ‘– a quest that many of the churches that have formed as a result of 20th century ‘revivals’ or ‘renewals’ have consciously claimed to be on.

    The honest truth, given what has happened in the past, is that a quest for a New Testament church seems bound to fail and will end in a culturally irrelevant backwater. We are Christians in the 21st century, not the 1st century. We have a wealth of Christian heritage to draw on, and we carry doctrines that were the product of five centuries of intense debate and several decades of Reformation.

    Even if we put that aside, which Biblical church do we want to model? FF Bruce’s short book Men and Movements in the Primitive Church is an excellent starting point for people wanting to study the varied nature of the earliest Christian communities. Do we want a Jewish-styled ‘Jerusalem church’, or a cosmopolitan ‘Corinthian church’, or are we trying to recapture the mysteriously elusive church that grew up around the apostle John?

    It would seem that the 1st century apostolic church was an emerging church too, adapting to its surroundings and the particular needs of the local area. Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Rome – each had it’s own part to play as Christianity spread throughout the Empire. As a model, ‘emerging church’ fits the Biblical example better than any traditional set-up, even if the churches that are emerging do not seem to.

    Thanks for your question DM. I hope the answer was helpful. If you would like to comment on this or ask a question of your own, please email it using the ‘contact me’ button.

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