Thursday, May 26, 2005

On a Thirst for Authenticity, and Avoiding Dumb Rules

Last week I posted about the Emergent movement for the first time (1, 2, and 3). There's some lingering things out there, from the comments and from other pieces I've read, that I'd like to address.

Keith wrote,

"You're right: emergent outreaches DO tend to differentiate themselves from traditional churches even in their naming, because post-modern people encounter only modern approaches in them - and no connection is made. "Different" is not always "sinful." Maybe what we need to be doing is examining scriptural approaches that do reach post-modern people, and incorporate them into traditional churches.

Have you found anything about emergent approaches (hopefully on their web sites, not just on those who criticize them) that's worthy of commending? The apostle Paul once said he was delighted that Christ was preached, even if for the wrong motives. Is there something to that?" (emphasis mine)

Maybe I gave the impression in my other posts that I wholly condemn everyone who has associated themselves with this movement; that isn't the case (and I would never paint with so broad a brush).

Rev-Ed's recent post, Culture Shock, made me think of the EC, and the conversation, I think, intersects with what we've been talking about here:

"Not only does America have it's own culture, but Christians -- especially American Christians -- tend to have our own culture as well. We have certain standards of behavior to which we expect conformity. "Don't rock the boat. Don't examine our reasoning too closely. Don't look at things as Jesus would. Just do it our way." How nice.

There are many customs which we elevate to a status equal with Scripture at times. Oh sure, we'd never admit outloud that our traditions were that important, but just try to break one of those unwritten (and occasionally written) rules. Some church boards come unglued if the pastor changes the order of service. Tongues start to wag if a person attends church in less than shirt and tie or a dress and heels. And heaven help the mother who doesn't sprint from the sanctuary when the baby starts to fuss during the sermon....

Today a lady was telling me about the current controversy at her church. There are a few young men who attend the services wearing ball caps. And apparently there are some who equate a baseball cap with the gates of hell. Actually, many are complaining that the guys are not showing respect by refusing to remove their caps in the sanctuary. Such an act, they believe, is an offense toward God. I haven't spoken with the young men in question, but I'd bet it has more to do with them not wanting to fix their hair on a Sunday morning. But these guys don't consider it a lack or respect. To them a hat is just another item of apparel, not an instrument which causes disruption. Either way, some questions are raised. Is it more important to honor cultural norms like removing one's hat or simply to be in worship to begin with? Is covering one's head disrespectful in general or just disrespectful in our current culture? What standards of behavior do we expect to be a part of a worship service? Are we just being legalistic? "

(Ach, the whole post is so good I just want to re-post it in its entirety!) THIS is where I see merit in what some people who are attracted to the EC are saying. Some relatives of mine were recently incensed with a young male friend of my cousin's. Why? He, like MANY other guys his age, didn't remove his hat after coming indoors and eating with the family.

This stuff happens in churches all the time, and it's nothing short of ridiculous. It brings dishonor to the name of Christ. I once attended a church that had people who were apoplectic when the order of service was rearranged (I'm not kidding--the poor pastoral staff was fielding angry calls all week!).

I commented to Ed's post,

"I would agree with those who find Emergent stuff tantalizing because they have a thirst for authenticity, which I think for many people translates to: "I just want Christianity without all these Pharisaical rules." (Your example of the baseball cap was, IMO, a great example of this, as were your other examples.)

I am sure you know what I think of the other aspects of the EC, but I can totally relate to that passionate desire to break things down to the bare bones.

You wrote, 'More importantly, how many people have we driven away from Christ and from His Church by expecting a recent convert to have instantly rid herself of all habits and behaviors which traditionalists could find offensive?'

ITA. Even when it comes to not living like the world--it's a process. God works in our lives over time. We have to help new (or stumbling) disciples understand what it means to live the Christian life without snuffing out the smoldering wick."

So, to answer Keith's question--yeah, I find things in what the EC people say that isn't all bad. And I apologize for leaving that part of the discussion out. I do find it more important to warn my brothers and sisters, though, about a movement I (still) consider errant and very capable of leading others astray than to talk about the areas in which it's okay. But there is a time and place to do that, so here we are.

The thing is, the major problems with the Emergent movement are not about baseball caps and contemporary songs vs. hymns (and Ed's post wasn't about the EC). The problems I've mentioned go deeper--what is truth? Is the Bible the inspired, infallible message from God? Is Jesus the only way to salvation and the Kingdom? I can't and won't compromise on any of these big issues that I see the EC wanting to "question." I asked those questions, and had them answered by the Holy Spirit (and by subsequent study), when I decided to follow Jesus and be His disciple. Actually, He's still answering many of questions--but I know that He does have all the answers, and that they're not found anywhere else.