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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Emerging Church Movement

I am taking a detour from teaching about the various prayers and creeds of the Church in order to address something that I have talked a lot about in my writings but have not really addressed in-depth like I should.  When I mention some of these issues, such as the "emerging church" movement, some of my readers scratch their heads and wonder "what on earth is he talking about??"  So, if you are one of those people, this is an aid to help you.  For the rest of you, consider this a resource and a tool to sharpen your spiritual discernment, because it is needed in this day and age.

I recently got in the mail a copy of my college's alumni newsletter, and it was a catalyst for me writing this today.  The college I graduated from back in 1996 in Florida is an institution affilliated with the Assemblies of God, and has recently celebrated its 75th year of existence.  Although in times past the college was a paragon of classical Pentecostal teaching and spirituality, in recent years it has gotten involved in some things - many of the same things affecting other Evangelical and Pentecostal denominations like a nasty cancer - that I frankly have concerns about.  For one thing, the college has basically given a carte-blanche blessing of Rick Warren's "Purpose-Driven" philosophy, and it has also begun to be closely identified with some figures in a similar and overlapping movement called the "Emerging Church."  Case in point, in the recent alumni magazine, my alma mater bestowed an honorary doctorate on one of the most vocal and prominent of the "Emerging Church" leaders, a California-based teacher by the name of Erwin McManus (more about him later on).  A couple of decades back this would have been inconceivable, and thus it raises some serious theological and spiritual concerns for those of us better grounded in our faith as Christians.   That is why a teaching like I am about to give here is necessary, but at the same time I know it is going to raise some hackles, as movements like this have a strong, well-funded and pervasive influence in American Christianity.  
Therefore, let us begin with some things that will be frightening, as they give evidence to the New Age and occultic/mystical influences found in much of this stuff that sells a lot of copy in religious bookstores. 

Johanna Michaelson is a very sincere woman of God who was at one time involved in the occult until Jesus saved her from it, and since then she has had a powerful ministry exposing the occult and its influences and also has a powerful sense of discernment.  I have gotten to actually talk to Johanna on my Facebook page, as she is on there quite often, and she has expressed similar concerns regarding Rick Warren, this whole "emerging church" business, and other such faddish cancers on today's Body of Christ.  In her 1989 book Lambs to the Slaughter (Eugene, Oregon:  Harvest House Publishers) Johanna makes a very ominous statement that today carries even more relevence in lieu of these trends in American Christianity, and what she said over 20 years ago has proven to be frighteningly prophetic:

In personal interviews with witches I have been told that their covens have "laughed themselves silly" at how the Church has so wholeheartedly adopted their occult techniques, thinking that as long as they tagged "Jesus" at the end of them that they were perfectly okay.  In my own earlier days I used extensive guided imagery/visualization techniques for developing psychic powers and mediumship.  Some of the techniques I learned through Silva Mind Control, some through the practice of hatha and Raja Yoga, and some were given to me by the medium with whom I worked for 14 months.   It was a colossal shock to me to discover that virtually the same techniques I had practiced as an occultist were being used in the Church!  (Michaelson, p. 110)

That was over 20 years ago too!  A recent author, Warren Smith, whose two books Deceived on Purpose and A Wonderful Deception were written years later, was also a former New Ager who came to Christ and was horrified to find that there was so much New Age influence in a lot of the Rick Warren stuff and definitely in the "Emerging Church" movement (both, interesting enough, al a Robert Schuller - THAT'S a big surprise; NOT!).  I will be talking more about his observations later, as I have given his two books a thorough reading in anticipation of this study and have copious notes from his books to use.  Point being, former New Agers who are born again through the Blood of Jesus have the discernment to see these things, and what they see are not pleasant images.  Also, all of them have expressed that this seems to be a growing trend, taking over much of the Church as we know it, and thus an alarm must be sounded. However, how did it get that way?  Pentecostal evangelist Perry Stone, in his book Nightmare Along Pennsylvania Avenue (Lake Mary, FL:  Front Line, 2010) notes something interesting as he talks about the inroads of secularism among American youth, noting how it has affected the Church too:

The full gospel churches (older Pentecostal groups) were once considered a backwoods cult for their stand against sin and worldliness.  Eventually they grew and prospered, attracting a more prosperous crowd that provided more tithes and offerings to move from the other side of the tracks to the more upscale sections of town.  Often individuals without strong Christian backgrounds pulled the others into a lifestyle of drinking alcohol, partying, and drunkenness. (Stone, p. 52).

I agree with Perry in that it seems like riches often corrupt our spirituality, and often the twinkly gleam of the "good life" makes us put God on a back burner, and as a result true discipleship suffers.  That in turn breeds other mindsets that maybe certain things - rock music, shacking up, abortion, etc. - are "not so bad," and that perhaps all that talk about sin and repentance, well, it doesn't draw the crowds.  So, we have to compromise the Gospel in order to "preach" the Gospel (?).  And, that is ultimately the mindset out of which Rick Warren, James Rutz, Bill Hybels, and the whole "Seeker Church" and "Emerging Church" movements evolved out of.  Its roots go back decades though, but for some reason it exploded starting in the latter part of the 1990's.   As a result, teachings about the dangers of the New Age and the occult and their dangers, as well as the evils of things such as rock music and its corrosive influence, were no longer heard - pastors became strangely silent on these things.  In my notes, I see that Warren Smith, in his book Deceived on Purpose, elaborates further on what Perry said when he cites on page 17 two primary reasons he believes pastors were suddenly quiet about the New Age and other things:

1.  Obsession with church growth (butts in the pews, bucks in the bank - that is my additional thought!)
2.  Spiritual fads touted as "latest move of God." (Rick Warren is granted now almost prophetic status by some of these pastors)

My personal conclusion I drew from reading Smith's theory on this is that Satan has caused numerical growth, financial prosperity, and  so-called "latest moves of God" to distract the Church from his plans as he begins to prepare people to receive his "messiah," the Beast or Antichrist of Scripture.  Johanna Michaelson was talking earlier how occultic visualization practices have been introduced into the churches, and Smith some 20 years later elaborates upon that by noting that Rick Warren and others owe their inspiration to Robert Schuller, a "minister" who sounds more like a New Thought guru than he does a Christian clergyman.  Of course, Schuller was influenced by another by the name of Norman Vincent Peale, and Peale borrowed heavily from an occultist named Florence Shinn, whose works he was said to have plagiarized (see Warren Smith, A Wonderful Deception, pages 39-50 for more information on that), as well as giving full endorsement of Ernest Holmes, the founder of the Religious Science Church, and his New Thought classic Science of Mind (interestingly, Schuller had a copy of that very book in his desk drawer, and willingly shared it with a couple of Religious Science clergy who visited him - see Deceived on Purpose, pages 101-102, for more on that).  Schuller of course has thankfully always been suspect by strong Christians, as his teachings are just too bizarre and unbiblical, something a devout believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit and well-read in the Word of God has no problem seeing.   However, his legacy is not carried on by his son Robert Jr., but rather in the legacy of two other figures - one is Rick Warren, who is the structural architect, and the other is Joel Osteen, who is the "pretty face" of the Schuller disease to today's public.  Osteen, although influenced more by the charismatic Word/Faith movement (which, via its "father" Esseck William Kenyon, also has a connection to New Thought philosophy) has a message that is nonetheless in line with Schuller's "Positive Christianity" in that Osteen (who a high school friend of mine nicknamed "The Purpose-Driven Grin" incidentally for obvious reasons) talks about all this self-love nonsense - hugging yourself in the mirror and saying "I love me" and all that garbage.  Any rate, the Warren/Schuller connection is small potatoes though compared to the "Emerging Church" movement and its vision to redefine Christianity.

In my estimation, the "Emerging Church" movement and Rick Warren's teachings are basically the same thing, but with one important difference - whereas Warren is a bit of a maverick and rebel who wants to "contemporize" the Church, The Emerging crowd is much more subtle.   What is called the "Emerging Church" started to take shape at the beginning of the 21st century, when a group of people - many of them neo-Evangelicals and charismatics of some stripe or another - began to, in their "infinite wisdom", "discover" that church as usual was not working. So, they had the mentality to "deconstruct" Christianity as it is and rebuild it in such a way that it would relate to contemporary culture.  Oddly, a movement I was part of at one time, the Convergence Movement, actually had some overlap in this to a degree, although the Convergence Movement was actually more Biblical and sought to reconnect with Apostolic Christianity rather than "deconstruction." Many Convergence people today are still on-fire Christians who stand for Biblical truth, and will have nothing to do with some of the things that are part of the "Emerging Church."  However, some of the terminology did get fuzzy in the early days between the two movements - for instance, many Convergence proponents (myself included until I learned better) touted Emerging Church guru Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline, as a great resource.  However, Foster it must be noted is an Emerging Church pioneer, and although supposedly an Evangelical Quaker minister Foster nonetheless consults mystics and other esoteric personalities such as Madame Guyon, Henri Nouwen, and Bede Griffiths, for wisdom and insight.  He is also a proponent of the so-called "Contemplative Prayer" movement, which uses such things as Enneagrams and the practice of "tracing the Labyrynth" (a circular maze that one "walks" with a small stick in meditation that is eerily similar to the New Age mandala devotions) as well as controlled breathing and other quasi-yogic practices (there are now also, speaking of which, practitioners of "Christian Yoga" nowadays, including a guy on the internet who developed some thing he calls "Maranatha Yoga.").  The deception in these practices - especially for those of us who have embraced a liturgical/Catholic Christianity - is that they are often taught as "traditions" of the historic Church, which I can assure you they are not!!  As a matter of fact, the Church condemns some of these things for what they are - thinly-veiled occultism.   A deaconness in our Church, Sister Bridget (Susan Stanley), wrote a two part article concerning this issue that is one of the best and most well-written on the subject entitled "The Monastic Call and the Problem of the New Age," and it is available for reading at www.orderofdesertcompanions.org/monasticcall.html.  I want to quote something Sr. Bridget said from her article that fits well with this teaching:

The monastic realm is especially vulnerable in our time. There has been a very strong new age influence in many Orders, and also in contemporary writings on the subject, with many classic writings of the Saints and monastic writers being reinterpreted and republished with a new age slant and commentary added. It is best to seek out the original writings of the Saints and early fathers of the church that are free from added influence

She is right - you have to be careful with reading some "translations" of Church Fathers' writings, as they can be tainted with a universalistic or neo-Gnostic slant by some Emerging Church proponent or outright New Ager (a whole New Age movement, the Liberal Catholic Church, has been doing this for years, as well as the movement of a renegade heretical bishop in Nebraska by the name of Mar Joseph Narsai, who is a closet Theosophist for all intent - the Liberal Catholic Church also has roots in Theosophy as well, being many of its early clergy were disciples of Alice Bailey and followed Helena Blavatsky's teachings.  Liberal Catholics are still around today, although hard to find, and they still have their poison out there in the independent Catholic movement for the unsuspecting, so be careful!).  And, the same is true now among Evangelicals, something I never dreamed I would see happening - Rick Warren, for instance, relies heavily on a bad paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, authored by Emerging Church proponent Eugene Peterson.  Peterson's "Message" is filled with cryptic New Age terminology, notably in the Lord's Prayer and elsewhere with the terms "as above, so below," used by New Agers and occultists regarding a panentheistic concept they have that God is all, and all is God.  And, talking now about Erwin McManus, whom I mentioned earlier - McManus is a Baptist minister and Emerging Church leader who uses another New Age term - "force" - very liberally in his writings.  He talks a lot about "the God within," a foreign concept to Christians as he means it, but sounding so "Christian" that it is being swallowed hook, line, and sinker by millions who are making him rich by buying his books.  This terminology also goes back to Schuller again. 
More could be said on all this, but I would end up writing a book myself!  However, when visiting "Christian" bookstores, there are some authors you need to be aware of and avoid like the plague, because they are "Emerging Church" proponents and their teachings are potentially hazardous - a partial list of these people includes Richard Foster, Bede Griffiths, Thomas Merton, Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Erwin McManus, Ken Blanchard, and a former classmate of mine from college by the name of Tom Kyllonen, among others.  These people are false prophets, and they along with more higher-profile people such as Rick Warren, Tommy Barnett, Ed Young Jr., and Joel Osteen, should be avoided by the Remnant of faith like the plague.    Now, let me also do a little teaching from the Word of God about this.

In Matthew 24, a number of warnings are given by the Lord about the coming deception that will shake the Church, and He gives us several signs to look out for:

1.  Deceptive uses of Christ's name (24:5)
2.  False prophets (24:11)
3.  False signs and wonders (24:24)
4.  The appearance of the Antichrist

The deceptive use of Christ's name - more so that saying the "GD" word, this is the ultimate taking of the Lord's name in vain (note my earlier article on that subject).  There are many today who have "the form of godliness but not the power thereof (II Timothy 3:5)," and they deceive many.  They sell a lot of books, and they have big churches and draw as many people to their shows as do the latest musical acts, but what they offer is deception.   1 Timothy 4:1-2 describes this to a tee - in latter times, it says, many will depart from the faith giving heed to lying devils and demonic doctrines, and they will be led by those who speak lies in hypocrisy.  Moving over to 2 Timothy 3:5, it says such people have what appears to be godliness, but they don't have the power to back it up - in short, they are deceivers and charlatans.  Going over to 4:3, it says that people will have "itchy ears," and although sound doctrine offends them (sounds like the "Seeker church," doesn't it?) they will listen to almost everything else that comes down the pike and will listen to all sorts of bizarre people teaching wacky things because they "look good" or some other dumb reason.  It is talking of course not about the unbelievers, but about those in the Church who will in time apostasize from the faith.   However, its influence can be felt - the other day at work for instance, I listened to a group of women at a table across from me extolling Joel Osteen's virtues because he was, in their words, "nonjudgemental" and because he had supposedly unofficially 'blessed" gay rock star Elton John's new child he and his "wife" adopted.  What I heard made me sick, and they measured his success by the size of his church!!  Unbelievers are thinking big churches mean something!  However, they are deceived, because many tares sit in the wheatfields, and some fields are more tares than wheat these days, in particular bigger fields!  We as true Christians must be grounded in the Word of God, because this deception is widespread.  Remember, only a couple of chapters separate Laodicea, the lukewarm church of Revelation 3:14-22 which many prophecy students see as a picture of today's Christianity, and the "Mystery Babylon" cult of the Antichrist described in Revelation 17.  On the clock, the gap is smaller than 14 chapters of Bible though, and as Smith points out on page 147 of his book, Warren and others that ignore the signs of Christ's return (prophecy, according to Rick Warren, is "none of our business," which places him with the scoffers it talks about in Scripture rising in the end times) are failing to discern the deception taking place and could one day be some of the False Prophet's clergy heralding the virtues of the Antichrist.     As a result, there are ten concerns I want to copy here from Warren Smith's A Wonderful Deception from pages 15-30 that we must be attentive to concerning many false teachers today:

1.  Warren, McManus, Schuller and others liberally cite New Age leaders such as Bernie Siegel in their writings and spoken appearances
2.  Warren sends a confusing New Age-flavored message he derived from Schuller's influence that "God is in everything."
3.  Rick Warren's dependence upon Eugene Peterson's The Message.
4.  The "Purpose-Driven Life's" ignorance and distortion of Bible prophecy
5.  Rick Warren's consorting with New Age/neopagan philanthropists such as John Marks Templeton.
6.  The Robert Schuller factor
7.  The "New Reformation" and "God's Dream" concepts and their eerie resemblance to Alice Bailey's utopian Theosophist visions.
8.  The New Age movement's embrace of Robert Schuller
9.  Implications of Robert Schuller's influence on both Warren and many in the "Emerging Church" movement.
10.  Serious concern - the deception of countless millions by such people.

Similar concerns could also be raised about a number of televangelists, especially those who follow the Word/Faith movement, which has similar New Thought influences al a E.W. Kenyon.  Kenyon, Peale, and countless others from ages past were tares of heresy and apostasy planted in a fertile wheatfield that originally was birthed of God in revival.   As the tares gained ground, they spread, and eventually their work of destroying the witness of true Christianity was extensive, and today its influence can be really felt.  Other factors tie into this as well - the rise of "Contemporary Christian Music" is a good example - and they are a sign that a prophesied apostasy of the Gentiles is upon us.  However grim this subject matter was though, it must be remembered that these signs mean our redemption is nigh, for the Lord will come in glory one day to claim His Bride and defeat the works of the enemy.  Also, a positive sign is the movement among Jews coming to Christ in recent years, recognizing Him as their Messiah - they are the future of the Church, folks, and surprisingly both the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Catholic movements thankfully have been largely untainted by the fads happening in much of today's American Christianity.   And, I feel that is a sign that God has His hedge of protection over His people.  I have talked about that in the past, so will not elaborate on that now, but that too is a prophetic sign.

I also hope that this article will be educational to you, because there are many things out there today masquerading as "Christian" but they are evil and occultic - do not have anything to do with them, please!  And, no doubt, I may offend some, but that is okay - the truth must be told and sometimes opposition is a consequence of standing for the truth.  God bless you all until next time.