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Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Response to "John Wesley and The Emerging Church"

This is the full text of a letter I sent to Preacher's Magazine concerning an article they printed by Hal Knight, entitled "John Wesley and The Emerging Church". The letter sent to the editor was an abridged version of this what is printed below. (End Notes will be added soon) To the Editor, My utter anguish was ever so slightly assuaged when I discovered that Hal Knight was not a Nazarene but rather a United Methodist. This fact renewed my hope, however feeble it may be, that our Denominational leaders have not “gone off the deep end”. Still, another fact remained; this article was published in a Nazarene publication. And so my anguish continues. Mr. Knight begins by claiming that the emerging churches’ vision of discipleship, church and mission is congruent with those of the Wesleyan tradition. He then attempts to prove that statement true to abysmal results. I first would ask Mr. Knight what is the emergent definition of discipleship, church and most importantly, mission? Definitions are of utmost importance when dealing with emergents as they have left no common word untwisted, unmodified or uncreated (as we shall see later). Coming up with answers to these questions is nearly impossible because of the decentralized nature of this movement but we certainly can arrive at what the definitions are not, if not what they are. Mr. Knight describes emergents as “deeply committed persons”. Committed to what, I wonder? Committed to Scripture? Committed to seeing lost souls saved? Committed to personal holiness? I would propose, none of the above. They are committed indeed, but to their own individual interpretations of Christianity. Mr. Knight also tries to equate this emergent movement with earlier “awakenings” such as the Wesleys were involved. Only, he forgets to point out a major difference. That being, in the past, reformations and awakenings drew the church back to Biblical truth, unlike this movement away from it. As Mr. Knight continues to characterize emergents, he states that “Pervasive rationalism…compromised mission” and “Individualism impoverished community.” In a Denomination such as the Church of the Nazarene, we find ourselves driven toward missions on every level and “impoverished community” would seem to be reserved for larger churches. However, I have been in large churches that had wonderful community. I think this statement is broad and over-reaching; therefore, it is unreliable as a foundation to reject an entire mindset and culture. Mr. Knight does manage to raise one concern about the movement, however oversimplified and generic it is, and then spends three paragraphs attempting to refute it though never actually addressing the issue at hand, the fact that the emerging church abandons truth and embrace relativism. Which is not surprising really, since it is a difficult endeavor to refute the truth. It is much easier to distract and confuse until everyone forgets what the refutation was about in the first place, which is precisely what Mr. Knight does. His first of four responses to this concern about emerging churches is remarkable. Mr. Knight asserts that “a commitment to truth does not necessitate a commitment to modernity or a rejection of post-modernism.” Yet, the opposite is true. A commitment to truth absolutely necessitates a rejection of post-modernism since post-moderns (emergents) whole heartedly reject truth or at least our ability to know it, which effectively eliminates truth, regardless of its existence. Mr. Knight’s second response is that “unorthodox” (i.e. heresy) may be needed for the “health of the church”. Since when has heresy been acceptable or healthy for the church to where it should be welcomed? How did the early church deal with heresy? They rejected it. Mr. Knight wants us to believe that the heresies found in the emerging church are somehow on the “fringe” but that the center of the movement is orthodox. This could not be further from the truth. The heretical “fringe” (or “unorthodox fringe” as Mr. Knight coins them) are not the fringe element at all. They are the leaders, the foundation, the inspiration and the driving force behind the emergent movement. And the few adherents to the emerging movement who still hold to some aspect of orthodoxy are far more inclined to dispense with sound Biblical doctrine than to address a heresy within their ranks. Continuing to his third point, Mr. Knight claims that “enlightenment rationalism is itself no guarantee of orthodoxy…” So what? This point does absolutely nothing to address the issue. Pointing out that heresy has existed at other times in church history is a non-point. Let’s address how the church dealt with heresy then compared to how the emerging church does so today. Let’s talk about the fact that heresy was never at the center of those prior movements while it is at the very core of the emerging church movement. Luther, Arminius, Calvin, Wesley all rejected heresy when it reared its ugly head. Emergents embrace it. Mr. Knight’s final response (or non-response) is an outright lie. He claims the emerging church has a “highly faithful appropriation of Christian tradition…” based on not much more than a couple emergent book subtitles. He lauds their “exult(ation) in traditional spiritual practices and imagery” and “respect for tradition”. But he fails to mention that their exultation of “imagery” is just that, an image. Images and traditions gutted of their very substance. What the emerging church practices is nothing more than ritual, ironically, the very thing they claim to detest in orthodox churches. From here, his last vain attempt to make us believe that emergents love truth as we do, Mr. Knight moves on to comparing supposed similarities between emergents and Wesley. The misrepresentations are vast and many. 1. Emerging churches “understand discipleship as ‘following closely and emulating the person and ministry of Jesus.’” Emerging churches have a complete disregard for doctrine and the prerequisite to discipleship, which is salvation. Does the above definition of discipleship reflect our Denominations’ definition or the Bible’s for that matter? Scripture and sound doctrine are the very foundation of discipleship. Neither of which are held with regard in emerging circles. 2. Emerging churches “seek to follow Jesus as Lord as well as trust Him as Savior.” Emerging churches disregard the need for a personal savior and view Jesus (even) if He is actually God) as nothing more than a model – certainly not a being to subject oneself to, certainly not Lord. 3. Emerging churches “announce…a promise of a world to come.” Now, I am assuming by the phrase “a world to come” he means Heaven, though I admit this might be a huge leap of faith on my part. He might be referring to the promise of a world to come without the oppression of Christianity and Capitalism, in which case, he would be right for once. But I am going with the first interpretation, in which case, he is wrong, again. Emergents not only ignore the promise of Heaven but ridicule those of us who mention it. In fact, the Christians’ focus on Heaven is one of the emergents biggest complaints, which Mr. Knight actually points out later on. He can’t have it both ways. 4. Emerging churches “understand the Gospel to encompass social transformation as well as personal salvation.” Where is this definition of the Gospel found in Scripture? The Biblical Gospel is very clear and simple, repentance and forgiveness of sins. Everything else, Entire Sanctification, Holiness, Love, comes from that starting point. Mr. Knight wants us to believe that Wesley held this same, unscriptural view of the Gospel. He states “John Wesley emphasized that salvation is ‘a present thing’ and entails not only forgiveness of sins but also the living of a new life.” Despite the fact that he mentions Wesley’s view of salvation not the Gospel which is what the discussion is about, it is an inaccurate representation of what Wesley taught concerning salvation. Wesley, in his comments referring to salvation being “a present thing” was delineating between a Scriptural view of salvation and one that stated salvation only truly occurred when one was glorified in Heaven. In other words – the forgiveness of and freedom from sin is not something merely to look forward to upon death but could be grasped immediately by the one repentant, thereby empowering the new Christian to a life of Holiness, Love and Service. This is right in line with Scripture, which tells us we are “saved to good works”. TO good works, not BY them, which is what emerging churches teach. The dirty little secret is that emerging churches preach a completely different gospel than that of Scripture – even Jesus Christ, whom they claim to so closely emulate. 5. Mr. Knight also claims that emerging churches are “rooted in Wesley’s vision of Holiness of heart and life.” Again, a falsehood of the highest degree. Emergents have an open disdain for personal Holiness (or “personal piety” as they call it). It is one point on which they dissolve often to verbal violence, hatred and vulgarity. Yet, this “personal piety” is exactly what Wesley is referring to when he speaks of Holiness of heart and life. Wesley’s point is that it must come from salvation by faith not be a means to salvation which was the contemporary mindset to which he was so opposed. Mr. Knight’s misrepresentation is unfortunate. He then comments that this “vision of Holiness of heart and life” has “never disappeared”. Which begs the question; why the need for an emerging movement? Why not just join with the people who have continued to hold true to this vision? Namely, the Nazarenes. I can answer the question. It is because the emerging church has changed the definition of Holiness and it is not what Wesley taught. It isn’t that the Nazarene Denomination has somehow wandered away from Wesleyan Holiness; rather it is that emerging churches do not teach Wesleyan Holiness – but some gutted, perverted shell of it, which hold resemblance in the spelling of the word only. Next, Mr. Knight references Dieter Zander who claims that “most church people have an understanding of the gospel something like this: Give a little, do a little, pay membership dues, get a “going to Heaven” ticket (through accepting the gospel)”. This statement doesn’t even make sense in and of itself. He said that people think the gospel is do X, do Y, do Z, and then accept the gospel. But he just finished saying the gospel was X, Y, Z yet on top of that one must accept the gospel which is do X, Y, Z. Nonsense. And it is nonsense that this is what most Christians believe. Just speaking from the perspective of the Nazarene Church (since that is my main concern here) we do not, nor have we ever taught a works based salvation. If anyone in our churches believed what is stated above then our leadership have gone terribly wrong somewhere. But I am more inclined to think that Mr. Knight ad Mr. Zander would be hard pressed to find even one person in our churches who believe what was stated, much less a majority. Ironically, though this quote is attempting to disparage nearly all current Christians for believing in a works based salvation, it is the emerging church itself which whole heartedly promotes a works based salvation. Strange. But I digress. Mr. Knight tries to connect Wesley’s view of contemporary churchmen with Zander’s fabricated view of current churchmen. However, amazingly, Wesley’s quote describes emergent churchmen far more accurately than it does Nazarenes! He describes a “religious man” who tries to live “honestly” and “fairly”, who is regularly at church involved in rituals, gives much and does good, in order to gain salvation. That’s an emergent if I have ever met one! Granted, there are people in our churches with the same mentality but it is not preached from our pulpits nor supported in our writings. Yet, it is exactly what is taught in the emerging churches. In fact, Mr. Knight inadvertently makes this case when he points out that the “only thing missing from Wesley’s account and Zander’s is the point about accepting the Gospel!” This inclusion by Zander is very telling about the emerging church. Acceptance of the Gospel (in this case meaning repentance and forgiveness of sins) is as abhorrent to them as is not giving enough, or not doing enough. Wesley’s point was that the contemporary religious man had no acceptance of the Gospel behind his good works. Zander includes acceptance of the Gospel as something of which to be ashamed. The two statements are not only incongruent but they couldn’t be more different! As Mr. Knight continues trying to compare Wesley with emergents, he comes to a central theme in the emerging churches, being missional. He describes emerging churches as “Pre-eminently missional”. I can’t help but wonder if that is what a church should be Biblically but that is a “conversation” for another time. Mr. Knight tries to equate emergents’ idea of God’s mission in the world and Wesley’s God-given mission for the Methodists. My questions are as follows; what is God’s mission in the world according to Scriptures? What do the emergents say their god’s mission is in the world? What was Wesley’s God-given mission for the Methodists? How do they compare? Wesley’s stated mission was to “spread Scriptural Holiness over the land.” “Scriptural Holiness” assumes two things; first, it is based in Scripture. Second, is salvation which is a pre-requisite to Holiness. Emergents’ mission is a little sketchy. I think that it is fair to say that it is to live as close to how their version of Jesus supposedly lived. Since they reject the authority of Scripture and only hold loosely to Jesus’ words, there is no need for this emulation to be based on Scripture. There is no pre-requisite of salvation either. God’s mission in the world, according to Scripture is to reconcile people to Himself by eliminating the thing separating people from Him, sin. This is accomplished through salvation – that is repentance and forgiveness of sin, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wesley’s mission for the Methodists matches up well with Scripture and Jesus’ own description of the Gospel and the Great Commission. The emergents come nowhere close on any level. Mr. Knight says that emergents see all of the life as “potentially sacred”. I would say they see all of life as already sacred. He quotes Bolger and Gibbs as saying “for emerging churches, there are no longer any bad places, bad people or bad times…” this, I think, is a true description of emergent churches. If all is sacred and no one is “bad” then what need is there for salvation or the Cross? None. And they are not timid in saying so. Mr. Knight, then, strangely, militates against the concept of the “elect and the dammed (sic).” I say this is strange, as coming from a Wesleyan background, there is no such doctrine in the Methodist church or the Nazarene Church. Still, he feels the need to misrepresent once again, Wesley’s position by claiming that to Wesley, all people are in one category – sinners. Of course, everyone begins life in this state of being a sinner but Scripture and Wesley both make a distinction between regenerate and unregenerate persons. Regardless, Mr. Knight just got done telling us that for emergents there are no “bad people” and then he follows that with Wesley saying that everyone is sinful and wants us to somehow come to the conclusion that emergents and Wesley agree. Amazing. Even if what Mr. Knight says about Wesley were true, which it isn’t, that would effectively make Wesley incongruent with emerging churches – exactly the opposite of Mr. Knight’s point for writing this article in the first place! Mr. Knight continues with a series of statements that, if they were not so serious, would be laughable. He claims that, while leaders like Tony Jones travel the world explaining why the Bible has no authority, emergents “hold(ing) strongly to the authority and primacy of Scripture.” This is a bold face lie. He highlights their sacrilege of the Eucharist as “being very traditional” – though it is gutted of its meaning and purpose and often as far from “traditional” as one could imagine. So, again, an untrue statement. Now Mr. Knight takes on emergents' championed phrase, “generous orthodoxy,” which simply means anything goes, except orthodoxy, of course. He mentions that Wesley distinguished essential doctrines from opinions yet is remiss in leaving out that emergents hold no such list of essentials. He lists Wesley’s essentials as “The Trinity, the deity of Christ, the Authority of Scripture, Original Sin, Grace, Justification and Sanctification.” The only one of these that emergents may hold to is the Deity of Jesus and that I can say with no serious amount of certainty. He goes on to say that Wesley believed that “one could not be a Christian and have that life apart from belief in the essentials.” At this point I am not really sure where Mr. Knight is trying to go because he just proved that Wesley would not consider emergents as Christians at all. Maybe one can have too much education. Finally, we reach the end of this as Mr. Knight introduces some “emergebabble” that they are so known for. He brings up some convoluted argument about orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. Orthopraxy turns out to be a medical term referring to treatment of deformities by use of mechanics and “orthopathy” doesn’t seem to actually be a real word. At least I could find no reference to it outside of emergent circles where it was not clearly defined. But beyond this, he makes this statement which should be clear in its error to any Christian. He states: “our beliefs and hearts are shaped by our experience of serving God and our neighbor…” This is the heart of what is wrong with the emerging church. Beliefs are shaped by the shifting sands of experience not the solid rock of Scripture. A house built on sand will surely fall and this emerging house cannot fall soon enough! The end finally arrives with Mr. Knight saying that “generous orthodoxy must be not only generous, it must also be orthodox.” Finally, with this I can agree and again shake my head, wondering what the point of this whole exercise was. Mr. Knight set out to show the congruence of Wesleyan theology with emerging church ideals and in the end proves just the opposite. I am glad I could assist him in his endeavor. But, seriously, my concern about this article being printed in a Nazarene Publication is heart rending. If this cancer called the emerging church is allowed to infiltrate our denomination – the end of our church as we know it will come within the next decade. It was totally irresponsible for this to be allowed into print. I pray to God for better leadership in the future. In His Majesty’s Service, Nicholas Edinger


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