Please forgive this first paragraph, but I think it will help you understand where the concerns of my heart have come from...
Over the past two weeks or so, I have been reading Deep Church by Jim Belcher. Last week, I finished up Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur and Intimacy Ignited. I'm almost done with Prayer Saturated Children and part way through Practical Theology for Women. Then, yesterday, I opened up Doctrine by Mark Driscoll. Heavy books.
I am going to set Deep Church down. I have just a little more of Prayer Saturated Children (which I'm going to go finish after this entry) and then I'm going to step away from Doctrine (after writing a pre-review of it). I'm not sure if I'm going to pick up Practical Theology right away or not. There's a really big reason why I need to do this. It's a little involved, but I'd like to explain what I'm beginning to realize has been going on in my head and my heart.
It all comes back to my fight against cynicism in my heart. I've written before how one of the ways I fight cynicism about popular Christian culture is to read books by authors I know. One of the things that reviewing books has done, though, is to bring a lot of authors across my path that I don't always know or know of. I have had to think more critically about the things that the authors are saying--and question whether or not they are biblical or leading my heart and mind astray.
A defensive and somewhat combative spirit has crept into my mind as I've tried to discern what is "right" and "true". I have a hard time finding peace and accepting a plurality among beliefs.
The pastor of the church we used to go to was big about unity in the essentials and tolerance in the non-essentials of faith. Rick Warren's Purpose Driven-Church is based upon a similar idea, as are the ideas put forth by the Emerging Church Movement. One of the hard things that I found about taking that approach was that we heard about Jesus, but not how to live rightly before the Lord.
In an attempt to sidestep touchy subjects, peace was kept by ignoring them. In the process of attending that church, my convictions weakened and I faltered in my walk. I did not feel that there were elder women I could or would look to for advice because submission and parenting were two of those subjects that were regarded as personal and involved convictions that were non-essentials about salvation.
When I first started reading Deep Church, the hackles on my neck stood up. I immediately felt defensive. I was surprised at how defensive! I'm not even Southern Baptist which (my husband assumes) the author and the Emerging Church Movement see as the "traditional" church! I could see the reason for my defensiveness. It is rooted in my own story and I felt attacked.
I grew up Quaker. I went off to college and went to an Evangelical Covenant Church during those 4 years. I returned home to work at an evangelical Quaker camp in the summer. After college, I moved to Denver where everyone went to non-denominational churches. If they weren't nondenominational, they acted as if they were. The church I was on staff with for a year and a half was a part of the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Denomination), which is very different from other presbyterian denominations.
Denominations were bad words--only old people, please forgive me for this stereotype, went to Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist or Lutheran or Episcopal churches. (I don't feel this way now at all, but it was the stereotype I perceived from the culture at large in Denver.) None of the young people I knew went to denominational churches. I also saw two of the biggest young churches fold because of sins of the pastors. I saw the church I went to for three years get drawn into the charismatic movement and experience huge division and the exodus of long time members. Then, I got married and moved to Texas. We went to a Bible church--again nondenominational.
Six months later, we moved to Georgia and attended a house church, then a Southern Baptist Church that was following the Purpose Driven Church model, and then finally we found a home in a Presbyterian Church. But, we struggled there. We wanted contemporary worship and found fault with the ecclesiology of the church and the liturgy, so we left for a summer. We went to a Calvary Chapel church where we were the oldest members. The pastor felt seminaries are cemetaries. He did not believe elders or deacons were needed. This pastor felt he was the head of his church--like Moses and that he would delegate. He was only accountable to God.
After only three months, we realized that he would not let us mentor the young people in the church or teach any Bible studies because we did not agree exactly with him and desired more accountability for the congregation and the pastor, so we left and returned with a new appreciation for the PCA denomination. That experience changed our ideas about church in huge ways.
We were humbled by our summer away. I went to the pastor and apologized and asked forgiveness for my unneeded words when we left. We came away seeing a need for accountability for pastors and churches. We saw a need for solid doctrine and conviction about the Truth of God's Word. We longed for teaching, for elders in the faith that we could look to as examples and for encouragement.
What I encountered in Jim Belcher's description of the Emerging Church Movement was what felt like a rebellious spirit to me--a desire to have no authority over one's church or an individual as they walk through their lives. The claim could and I'm sure is made that we are all under God's authority. True. Absolutely True. But, God uses people in our lives to hold us accountable and to be His hands and feet--because our hearts are deceitful.
We justify and rationalize the choices we want to make. We can often even find scripture verse to back our choices up. Being accountable and honest with others--being in fellowship is important--as important for church pastors and church leadership as church members. Denominations are not bad things as they are often portrayed to be today. The other sentiment that grieved me was what felt like a disrespect and dislike for the old ways of doing things. After attending three churches which all were culturally relevant, we longed for depth and Truth--not culturally relevant truth, but the unadulterated Truth of the Gospel.
I fell into what it seems like the Emerging Church Movement is doing--except that I'm on the opposite side. I'm defending the Old Faith--the Old liturgy-- Everything new is not better--I once thought it was. But, I found that path to be full of folly and hot air. Change is not all bad, I'm not saying that it is. But, if we focus too much on what is wrong with something, I believe it can lead to a critical and judgmental spirit, rather than a gracious and loving one towards others.
I have to set Deep Church down because I got too mired down in the discussion of metaphysics and reality and reading why they believe they are right and others are wrong. It made me feel like I had to stand up for myself and say why I think I am right and why others are wrong. Yuk!
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. (from Desiring God by John Piper)
I want to get back to glorifying God and seeking to live rightly before Him in all I say and do. It is not bad for me to ponder doctrine and what the Word says--but it needs to be for the purpose of my own understanding not because I want to debate who is right and who is wrong. It needs to be from a loving and uncritical spirit.
I found myself twisted into knots because I couldn't understand how someone else could be right about their convictions and I could be right at the same time--if those convictions are in opposition. But, I'm not accountable to the Lord for the convictions of others. I am accountable to the Lord for how I live and what I believe. I'm not advocating politically correct tolerance, a plurality of truth, or that there's more than one way to heaven (Jesus says He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father, but through Him), but I am going to leave the other issues I have been wrestling with in the Lord's hands. Rather than trying to understand everything, I think I'm going to step back into my rightful place and seek to understand only the plate God has put in front of me.
As for my thoughts about the Emergent Church, the Emerging Church Movement, the Prophetic Movement, and the Seeker-Sensitive Movement, I think it would be wise to go back to the Word. At this moment, I feel grieved by the divisions among Christians. The Truth can be found in God's Word and I think it is wise to ground ourselves in the Word and to write His Word upon our hearts. We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
I'm not sure what this will mean for the reviews I have to write this week. But I do know that I will be speaking from my personal perspective and what I find in the Word. My goal in reading books has never been to be critical of what others' think and write. I continue to believe that there is an important place for discernment and wisdom. We are not to be misled and encouraged to seek ourselves rather than the Lord.
Whew...that was a very long explanation and if you made it to the end and thought that what I wrote was worthy of reading--I am honored--thank you for listening. What are your thoughts about all of this?