What Happens When The Emerging Church Holds Up A Mirror To The Established Church

Brian Mclaren recently addressed the 2008 Lambeth Conference (see Wikipedia), and while he does not (despite media opinion to the contrary) represent the entirety (one could question even a significant minority) of the MEECM, it is often worthwhile to hear what he has to say.

In the article above, there are a couple of quotes attributed to him that I would like to address.

“You might say that evangelism is almost non-existent because the Christian faith is, to be very frank, almost non-existent.”

This quote is interesting as, from what I understand of him, he does not view the established church as a faithful community. There are many that are not, but most of them are, it is just that they are established so that many (if not most) of their people are not faithful, but cultural Christians. However, this is where I might at least annoy a few people, as anytime I hear “America is a Christian nation,” I squirm. Now, I squirm not because some of the founders were Deists (even that, especially in regards to Thomas Jefferson who later in life called himself a Christian, has recently come into question), but because most Americans were, at best, cultural Christians, “even” back then.

This constant delusion (harsh, I know) that the United States is a Christian nation is much of the problem in regards to many Christians asking, “how did our culture/country get to where it is today?” If you assume (an old politically-incorrect phrase comes to mind) that everyone is a Christian because they were born in a “Christian” nation, and thereby share your understanding of Scripture and relationship with God, you will be sorely disappointed. A Christian should look at the story of the Jewish people who were Jewish and therefore “God’s People.” Look where that mentality got them.

So Mclaren is correct, but this is not a new thing.

…they needed to ditch “internal institutional maintenance” and focus instead on the “outward mission” of making disciples among all people. That, he said, was “our only hope of saving the church from division, diversion, implosion, irrelevance and triviality”.

This argument against the “institution” of the church is a contact refrain in the MEECM. I can’t, and won’t, say that is does not have some validity, especially in regards to the historical fact that the institutional church has been used for power and control too many times, and also the fact that too often preserving the institution has come at the expense of the message (that will be the next and last section in this post).

There is NO question about the outward mission. In fact, the Church of the Nazarene stepped up to the plate, acknowledging its failures in that are, and changing its focus to the outward mission.

One of the other refrains in the MEECM is that there are too many denominations, while I will agree with that to some degree, how many people are there in the world. Also, much of that argument is based on IRS records. If I start my own church (like many of those in the MEECM), but do not declare that I am part of a larger organization (whether I am or not), I am another denomination according to the IRS. Makes for a lot of denominations of one church.

The real question is do we define ourselves by our denomination, or by our belief in the essentials of the Christian faith: Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who came to atone for our sins (okay, that is a very short version).

There is also Mclaren’s inferred assumption that all these denominations are invalid, for the very reason that there are so many (the same view the Roman Catholic Church has of those not in communion with it). I have heard it expressed that we are finite, and each Christian tries to live a life imbued by an infinite God. As we cannot fully express the entirety of God, what makes anyone think that one church will do the same?

“Will it be the gospel of evacuation (to heaven after death) or will it be Jesus’ Gospel, the Gospel of the kingdom of God, the message that brings reconciliation, hope, transformation and engagement?”

This, in many ways, is one of Mclaren’s more dangerous—faithwise—statements (I’m going to leave the sexuality one alone, as I have discussed it enough…for now), as it creates a choice where there is none. Both are the message. However, I suspect that “reconciliation, hope, transformation and engagement” is being viewed from a humanist (that is human-to-human) perspective, rather than the biblical view (God-to-human, and then human-to-human by extension). I am not saying that these are not good objectives of the church, in fact, they are, in many ways, the fruit of the church. However, without the underlying faith in the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ, these become good works, and works without faith are dead.