Breath of Fresh Air
About three years
ago I picked up a copy of Dan Kimball's book The Emerging Church which I found moderately
interesting, especially because Dan ministers just over the hill from me in
nearby Santa Cruz, California. In the ensuing months I have accumulated about
two dozen books under the umbrella of "emerging church" developments
in America. The subject is so complex that reputable survey and analysis books
are required to get a sound grasp on what is happening. I recommend D.A.
Carson's, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, and David Wells' Above all
By the way,
nowadays "Emerging" does not mean the same thing as
"Emergent" so for a brief survey of what this is all about, Wikipedia
is a good place to start. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerging_church).
one branch of this new movement seems to be detaching itself from the historic
Christian faith and from mainstream doctrine in order to be more culturally
relevant and more seeker-friendly. In contrast there is a smaller stream of
young and gifted new leaders who strongly adhere to the historic proclamation
of the gospel and to conservative theology. Both types of churches tend to
"deconstruct" denominational and traditional evangelical/charismatic
traditions, and they all take a strong "missional" approach of
vigorously engaging the local culture. Many of the leaders in
this movement are disillusioned evangelicals, some, I would say, are real
apostates, others are theological liberals, yet a good number are well-read and
godly reformers--rooted, anchored in the Bible and allowing Jesus Christ to
direct all they do. Wikipedia's section on Values and Characteristics in the above article covers lots of
ground which I'll skip over. The main point is that (in my opinion) no serious
Christians can write off this movement as spurious.
I am always
interested in genuine movements of the Holy Spirit in any period of
history--especially nowadays, so I have picked only one example from the last
class of "emergents" to discuss briefly.
Mars Hill Church in
Seattle (http://www.marshillchurch.org/) started about ten years ago with a
small home group and after long and painful struggles has been taking off
lately with a current membership of over 4000. They are meeting on several different campuses
in pagan Seattle (where the density of Christians is only about 7%).
Driscoll, age 36, has two books out, both of which I heartily recommend, Confessions
of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church, and The
Radical Reformission: Reaching Out without Selling Out.
Even more fun than
reading his books are Driscoll's sermons. I decided to listen this summer to 35
sermons by Driscoll (available by Podcast or downloading from their web site).
Driscoll generally preaches for a full hour, he is obviously never boring,
often hilariously funny, and very radical. Some would call him crass, but he is
obviously well-read and has been mentored by sound pastors in the sixteen years
of his Christian experience.
In listening to his
sermons it is important to keep in mind the audience he is appealing to. He is
very outspoken, sometimes blunt, (as in "we are fools for Christ's
sake"). His preaching is straight from Scripture with an appropriate spin
to make the text relevant and appealing to today's culture. Most all of the
members of Mars Hill Seattle are converts who have been nurtured in the church
family. So this is a new and leading-edge church with some distinctives I like
very much. So far I haven't found any doctrinal issues where we differ--and I a
bit of a stickler when it comes to sound doctrine.
Driscoll notes that
Fundamental churches stress sound doctrine but have insulated themselves from
the culture and have little to do except to bash various and obvious sinful
forms of behavior in the surrounding culture--thus not attracting any converts.
Liberal churches have watered down their doctrine and hence have little to
offer that is life changing and redemptive, but they may draw large crowds. The
Biblical model, he says, is faithful preaching of the gospel with lots of
content, backed up by vigorously discipled church leaders--who either meet
Biblical qualifications or are asked to step down. Non-Christians are warmly
welcomed in the services, but membership in the church is for the genuinely
converted. The new members are given lots of pastoral care, tracked, mentored
and discipled. No matter how deep their struggles may have been with sexuality,
drugs, alcohol, divorce--whatever--MHS is committed to the healing and
wholeness of each member.
One of the most
fascinating of Mark's messages (two hours long) is his talk on church
leadership and church discipline. (This message is temporarily also on my web
site for your easy access, http://ldolphin.org/audio/discipline.mp3). I found this message extraordinary. Here was a church that
insisted on Christian life-styles in all of the members, yet with lots of
latitude on the marginal issues, and very high standards for pastors, elders,
and deacons--according to the specifics laid down by the Apostles as one
finds them in the New Testament.
Driscoll has a
burning compassion for the lost which is evident in every sermon. He is
transparent, real and credible. Listening to his messages has been, for me, a
breath of fresh air.
I suspect many of
you will not feel as I do about this man or his church and that's OK. You may
not like his style at all and that's OK, too. He is a young preacher just
getting started. I'm sure he'd appreciate your prayers. He has a wife and five
kids, travels a lot, and so far seems indefatigable. He amazes me frankly!
I don't see how
older well-established churches could ever make the changes necessary in
leadership and membership standards to "revive" their churches along
the lines of Mars Hills Seattle. A great start for many churches would be to
restore real Biblical content back into their preaching, that is, if they have
strayed from in-depth expository preaching, which I believe is the Biblical
In answer to the
question, "You know this growing church probably as well as any Westerner
does. I wonder how you evaluate it?", John Stott said recently, "The answer is 'growth
without depth.' None of us wants to dispute the extraordinary growth of the
church. But is been largely been numerical and statistical growth. And there
has not been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth
in numbers." (CT October 2006)
In His personal
words of commendation and correction to seven representative churches found in
Revelation 2, 3, our Lord
addresses the strengths and weaknesses of various types of churches.
For a long time I
have felt that by and large "we" American evangelicals have now moved
from the Philadelphian era into the Laodicean, so that the real life of many
churches is carried by a small believing remnant. In the Old Testament, "true
Israel" was but a small remnant within a professing nation. (http://www.ldolphin.org/church.html)
Jesus also warns
the church that He can and does remove the "lampstand" of a given
church when their performance falls below minimum standards.
Lord's evaluation of the Church at Ephesus Ray Stedman has written:
I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height
from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you
do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But
you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I
also hate." (Revelation 2:4-6 RSV)
we can see that this is a church in serious trouble. Despite all the
commendable things, there is something seriously wrong. Our Lord puts it in one
brief phrase, "You have abandoned your first love." That is the
problem. So serious is that that he says, "If you do not correct it, I
will remove your lampstand." This indicates this is a very serious matter.
The removal of the lampstand does not mean that the individual members of the
church would be lost or condemned to hell. What it means is the church would
lose its ability to shed the light of truth. The light from this church would
stop shining. They would become a church with no influence or impact
spiritually upon the community around. They would be busy doing religious, but
entirely irrelevant, things. They would still be working, still orthodox , but
inconsequential, with no light, no impact.
we have to say that there are thousands of churches like this in our country
today. There are churches where congregations are still meeting year after
year, Sunday after Sunday, doing religious things -- singing hymns, reciting
the Apostles' Creed, perhaps doing some good works in the neighborhood -- but
having no spiritual impact, seeing no change in people's lives, no releasing of
them from their sins, no changes in the morals or outlooks of a whole
community. Their light has failed.
causes that condition? Our Lord says it is because they left their first love.
They abandoned it. When we ask, "What is first love?" the answer is
almost obvious. It is the love you felt for Jesus when you first came to know
him. It is that wonderful sense of discovery that he loved you, and had
delivered you, and freed you from your sins. Your heart went out to him in
gratitude and thanksgiving; you had eyes for no one but him. Watch a couple who
have fallen in love. Note how they have eyes only for each other. How spacey
they are! Talk to them, and they do not even hear you. They are only thinking
of the wonder of each other…
gradually there comes an almost imperceptible shift of focus. We get busy, and
what we do for Christ begins to loom more and more important to us. Gradually
our position, our status, the longing for approval by others, begins to take
first place. We go on doing the same things but not from the same drive or
motive. We drift into the loss of first love.
are always symptoms, signs, of this happening. Here are three of them: The
first one, visible at first only to the individual, is the loss of the joy and
glow of Christian life. It soon becomes humdrum and routine. You begin to feel
like you have heard it all already. Even the church service loses its impact.
It seems mechanical, routine, dull and drab. That is a sign you are beginning
to lose your first love. Second, you lose your ability to love others. One of
the great revelations of the Scripture is that the reason we love others is
because we have first been loved ourselves. When we lose that consciousness of
the wonder of Jesus' love we also lose our awareness of others and find our
love for them fading. It is difficult to love. We become critical, censorious,
complaining. We begin to choose our friends more closely and only associate
with those we like. We lose the compassion that reached out to everyone at
first. Then, third, we lose a healthy perspective of ourselves. We become more
and more important in our thinking. Instead of what the Lord wants and what
will please him we begin to think of what we want and what will please us.
Gradually, we become sensitive and touchy, unable to bear criticism. This
begins to make divisions and often schisms in a congregation. Individuals in
the church are no longer interested in evangelism. They are no longer concerned
about those around them without Christ, but are focused on themselves, their
own comfort, their own pleasure. Self-centeredness sets in.
are the marks of the loss of first love, and this is what was happening at
Ephesus. I am fully aware that we have all done this at times. I have. You have.
We have all felt the debilitating symptoms of a loss of first love. When a
whole congregation begins to reflect that atmosphere it soon loses its influence.
Its light goes out. Its lampstand has been removed. (http://www.raystedman.org/revelation/4190.html)
Driscoll notes that
many churches today do more harm than good! They really ought to disband he
suggests. This remark reminds me of God's words of exasperation at Israel
recorded in Malachi at the close of the Old Testament.
"A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If
then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My
reverence?" Says the LORD of hosts, To you priests who despise My name.
Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?' You offer defiled food
on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, ‘The table
of the LORD is contemptible.' And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is
it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it
then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you
favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts. But now entreat God’s favor, That He
may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept
you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts.
Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that
you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you, Says
the LORD of hosts, Nor will I accept an offering from your hands." (i.e., 'I wish someone
would lock the doors of the Temple and stop all this nonsense of fake and phony
worship.') "For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My
name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered
to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:6-11)
At Mars Hill
Seattle, their Senior Pastor is openly stated to be Jesus! There is no
hierarchy in the church as far as I can tell--which is my style for sure. I can
not detect any of those non-biblical "clergy/laity" distinctions which
characterize many churches--but their leadership is visionary and clear--it is
both written down and adhered to. "Leadership" is after all one of
the spiritual gifts. "Without a vision the people perish," sort of
thing. Preaching without content is anathema to any church and Driscoll
delivers a full meal straight from the Word for an hour or more. No one seems
bored as far as I can tell.
I am greatly
encouraged! It is too soon to see if the current "breath of fresh
air" in some parts of the emerging church movement, such as MHS, becomes a
"mighty rushing wind," but shall we pray? We certainly desperately
need the latter.
and the key words "Mark Driscoll" one can quickly see that this man
is nationally very popular and much discussed, almost always favorably. I
Contacts: I answer my own email every day,
and am glad to be able to do so.
Working with me on email questions is a splendid team of men and women in the
Paraclete Forum, http://paracleteforum.org. You may write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Paraclete Forum also
addresses questions sent to us from the Ray Stedman and PBC web sites, http://pbc.org and http://raystedman.org/. For excellent help in studying the
Bible I always recommend Blue Letter Bible, http://blueletterbible.org/.
October 4, 2006