by Roger Oakland
When Christians begin to chase after powerful mystical experiences that supposedly bring them closer to Christ, this becomes like a slippery slope that will have disastrous results. The emerging church is on this slope.
When I do a series of radio programs or write commentaries for our website warning people about the dangers of ecumenism, I know ahead of time what the response will be. It is not popular to stand up for biblical truth these days. The message we often hear is unity at any cost. My firsthand experience not too long ago, when I was a speaker at a regional pastors conference, illustrates the unpopularity of the truth today. I was to speak on Catholicism in the morning. Then in the afternoon, I would show how the emerging church movement was going in that direction. When I finished my morning talk and had left the podium, the organizer of the event came up to me, notably upset. “These pastors didn’t come here to hear this sort of thing,” he began. “You aren’t going to talk about the emerging church this afternoon.” He conveyed to me that the topic was unnecessary. Thus, I was forbidden to issue my warning to this group of Christian pastors.
An article titled “Returning to the rituals: Some evangelicals are exploring high liturgy” explains the paradigm shift that is occurring:
New Hope, a nondenominational church of about 60 members, is one of a small but growing number of evangelical congregations that are beginning to experiment with worship elements more commonly associated with such highly liturgical traditions as Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Anglicanism.1
Matthew Hay Brown, the author of the article, notes that this movement is headed in a particular direction. He writes:
[O]bservers inside and outside the movement have noted a greater evangelical interest in the Eucharist, the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, and monastic life. Many of the practices can be traced to the early church.2
In Doug Pagitt’s 2003 book Church Re-imagined, he describes his initial attraction to rituals associated with the Eucharist:
The first day of Lent this year brought the first Ash Wednesday gathering in our church’s history and in mine.… Until this point, Ash Wednesday had not been part of my Christian faith experience. Not only had I never applied ashes to anyone’s forehead, but I had also never had them applied to mine. After this experience I wondered how I could have celebrated 19 Easters as a Christian without this tremendous experience.3
The Scot McKnight, another emerging church influencer, was professor of religious studies at North Park University and on the Coordinating Group for Emergent Village. Of the emerging church, he stated:
As a theologian, I have studied the movement and interacted with its key leaders for years—even more, I happily consider myself part of this movement or “conversation.” As an evangelical, I’ve had my concerns, but overall I think what emerging Christians bring to the table is vital for the overall health of the church.4
McKnight is the author of The Real Mary and The Jesus Creed. In referring to an Anglican service, McKnight speaks of the Eucharistic focus. He stated:
[T]he point of an Anglican gathering on a Sunday morning is not to hear a sermon but to worship the Lord through the celebration of the Eucharist.… First some scripture readings and then the sermon and then some announcements and then the Eucharist liturgy—with everyone coming forward to kneel and participate—publicly—in the body and blood.5
McKnight said that “the Eucharist profoundly enables the grace of God to be received with all its glories and blessings.”6 No doubt, McKnight has had an impact on those in the emerging church movement, and his views on the Eucharist will rub off. He was a popular speaker at many events including Willow Creek’s Small Group Conference and the National Pastors Convention. Both of these events reach the postmodern generation.
Webber was very influential in closing the gap between Eucharistic adoration and the evangelical church. A document he authored called “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future” states: “We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in … Eucharist.”7 Two well-known evangelical publishers, Baker Books and InterVarsity Press (both of which now publish emerging church authors) sponsored the document as did Christianity Today. The AEF, which the document is called, is endorsed by various emerging church leaders such as Brian McLaren who calls it “a preaching resource” that “emphasize[s] the importance … of Advent or Lent.”8 Participants of the AEF include numerous Christian seminaries like Bethel Seminary in Minnesota, Dallas Theological Seminary, and pastors from many different denominations including Nazarene, Wesleyan, Mennonite, Reformed, and Baptist.
The new reformation is supposed to bring enlightenment through spiritual insights gleaned from the mystics. Unfortunately, participants are not being drawn into the light of God’s Word but rather toward the authority and practices of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Robert Webber said that postmoderns were looking for “an encounter with God, they were looking for mystery, they were looking for more Eucharist.”9
If the current road to Rome through mysticism continues, we can expect Webber’s prediction to come true. Webber’s insights may well have been based on his own personal experience. There is reason to believe this was the case. For example, in an interview, Webber was asked the question, “What do you think the North American evangelical church is going to look like 25 years from now?” He answered:
Biblical symbols such as baptismal identity and Eucharistic thanksgiving will take on new meaning. The church will be less concerned about having an eschatology and more committed to being an eschatological community.10
Over the past several years, Webber’s estimation of the future of the church has turned out to be quite accurate. Many who were once anticipating the soon and imminent return of Jesus are now asleep. Some are saying: “The Lord has delayed His coming.” Others are saying: “We have been misled by pastors and teachers who taught us the second coming is a literal return of Jesus to set up His kingdom.” (from Faith Undone by Roger Oakland, from chapter 8)
1. Matthew Hay Brown, “Returning to the rituals: Some evangelicals are exploring high liturgy,” (Baltimore Sun, March 2, 2006), p. 4.
3. Doug Pagitt, Church Re-Imagined, op. cit., p. 103.
4. Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” (Christianity Today, February 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/40534).
5. Scot McKnight, “An Anglican Service” (Jesus Creed blog, http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2258).
6. Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus, (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2002 edition), p. 7.
7. Robert Webber, “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future” (Online at: http://www.aefcall.org/read.html.
8 . Brian McLaren, “The AEF Document as a Preaching Resource” (From the AEF Call website: http://www.aefcall.org/documents/TheAEFDocumentasaPreachingResource_000.doc).
9. Matthew Hay Brown citing Robert Webber, “Returning to the rituals,” op. cit.
10. Interview by Jordan Cooper with Robert Webber, “An Interview with Robert Webber, author of The Younger Evangelicals” (The Ooze, December 11, 2002, http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=385).