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Questions for the Emerging Church

30 March, 2004 9:15 AM

Received this email from Angus yesterday. With his permission I post it here as a discussion starter. Angus is asking some interesting questions about Emerging Church. I find them helpful although probing - all good ideas need constructive critiques - and am interested in what others think.


I have a question about the whole emerging church phenomenon. I understand the disatisfaction with institutional church and its apparent inability to reach the community with the Gospel. However, what I have read of the emerging church has its own pitfalls.

Firstly, humans have the propensity for organization and formalization, this is even true of an emerging church. Very quickly the way they do things can become the way things are to be done. Falling into the same trap of that which they rejected in the institutional church.

Secondly, emerging church seems to work on the cell type principle of meeting with those of like mindedness. This has proven to be exclusivist in its actualization to the world. We end up having the rich meeting with the rich, poor wioth poor etc exclusive to the other. Is not the Gospel and a community of faith in Jesus be typified by the crossing of such sociological boundries.
I have heard of new emerging churches who have decided to target young families and although they would not say it, the expression of such churches is that those outside of the young families demographic are placed on the outer.
As far as I can see this is problematical for the whole concept of the Emerging Church as such. Does this mean I am against the emerging church movement. No I am not against it but I do have some concerns, and that there must be people who would call things into question, not to hinder it but to be a spur that will help them stay true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God Bless - Angus Cruickshank'

Looking forward to some fruitful conversation.

Update - Dave answers Angus's questions at his blog and Tim has been writing on Emergent Theology also.



Angus, I have all the same concerns, however I also hold them of the 'mainline' church also. I would say most of the 'normal' churches I know are rather exclusive, focus upon homogeneous groups of people etc.

I'm not knocking your questions, they are good, but I wouldn't just focus them upon 'emerging churches' but 'the church' as a whole. They are good things to keep in mind though.

Raymond » 30 March, 2004 4:45 PM

I tend to agree with you, however I would suggest that people would hold these veiws toward the 'mainline churches'. Especially those who are trying to do something new.
But your point is valid and thankyou for pulling me up on it.

Angus » 30 March, 2004 8:32 PM

I started to make my comments but space got the better of me so I have written an article and posted it on my blog

tim » 30 March, 2004 11:15 PM

here is the actual link to the article

tim » 30 March, 2004 11:16 PM


I agree that the two concerns you have raised can be problems for the emerging church. But I think the very process of a church emerging has much to do with the likelihood of those problems arising.

I think I can safely assume that you see the emerging church as essentially non-institutional, since you contrast and compare it with the institutional church. I also believe the emerging church is essentially non-institutional, or at least should be.

I would describe the ideal biblical church as essentially non-institutional, but still organised. Some have reacted to institutional ills by almost removing organisation from the church altogether. An example is "leaderless" churches, where everyone just "follows the Holy Spirit". Having been involved in attempts at this myself, I feel sure that an outside observer would think the Holy Spirit has no idea where He wants to go!

Instead, I am convinced that the human propensity to organise is a God-given one, and that the issue at stake is not whether we organise, but how we do it - do we set God-given parameters for operation, or try to control them ourselves?

If a church operates a certain way simply because it wants to do things that way, it creates both of the problems you have raised. It provides, man-made, "THE way" of doing things. And it creates a divide between those who agree (and who might consider joining), and those who disagree (and who are very unlikely to join).

But the very process of emerging a new kind of church will mean that even a thoroughly biblical mode of operation will create the same problems because of the way people choose to see it. Even if thoroughly biblical, it can cause the same divide because people see it as a man-made system. And it can easily happen simply because the most common types of contemporary institutional churches are so pervasive as to appear authoritative despite their thoroughly unbiblical operation. The effect is a high degree of suspicion upon biblical churches.

If a church has too specific or rigid a vision or way of operating, it has a higher chance of attracting a limited range of people. But the basic requirement is to be biblical - and the most sincere attempts at that will always result in some differences in operation, which will always create interest for certain types of people rather than others.

So I think the problems you have raised are by no means limited to the emerging church. They simply appear more prevalent in the emerging church because stands out so much as different.

But on that point, here is what I think is most important: the emerging church desperately needs to be different, because the status quo is ineffective. And if we truly understand how unbiblical modern church models are, its ineffectiveness should be no surprise.

In fact, especially while unbiblical forms are so prevalent, a biblical church will certainly attract a limited range of people - radical biblical thinkers.

But the emerging church has to start somewhere! And once the radicals have hung on long enough, biblical forms of operation will gain enough credibility in the eyes of others that even some non-thinkers will be willing to accept it - provided it works.

The good thing about a biblical church is that it does work.

We just need to remember: "Today's great oak is just yersterday's nut that hung on long enough."

Sincerely in Christ


James » 31 March, 2004 10:22 PM

Hey Angus,

First of all, I have a dog named Angus! He's a Scotsman (Border Collie). Anyway, on to more pertinant things. Good points on the emerging "phenomenon." I can definitely see the caution on moving, once again, toward institutionalism. I've already seen it and heard that warning within myself. It would be an easy road to step back onto - because the one we're on is so unfamiliar and frustrating. It's easy to go back to over-organization and control as a means of taming things down. I'm with you on that one - we need to keep encouraging each other to watch that.

On the "THE way" deal - that's interesting. One thing is that not all "emerging" folk follow the postmodern propensity for rejecting anything that smacks of objective Truth. So, that said, some of us are not so much merely reacting to our former ecclesiastical settings because they "believed" things strongly. We are looking harder for even stronger things - Truths, to believe in fully and live out. Man, I hope that made sense. I don't mean to say we want to be more "dogmatic" - not that - but that we may come to some conclusions in our journeys where we actually do, from time to time, say "that's just not right and healthy" or "that's really how it was designed to be."

I also don't want these churches to all end up homogeneous in their make-up. The problem then becomes what your philosophy is to remedy the situation. I can speak for myself, and some of my friends in this thing, as to our highly relational way of living and "being church" - meaning, natural and organic relationships developing into churches. The problem, as I see it, is more with the people that make up the churches - their attitude and openness to relationships with those who aren't just like they are. Sometimes they are and sometimes they're not. Unfortunately, most natural relational networks don't cross socio-economic, or many times, racial lines. To force these things more than not, doesn't work very well. We can be more open. We can be somewhat intentional, but beyond that, again, as I see it, we risk becoming an "unnatural" entity if we push too hard. Keep being transformed, changed, growing, and maybe we will see these things develop in time. We can't, though, set up a "program" to deal with the problem - that would be to move backwards.

Thanks again for pointing some things out - good food for thought and discussion. Pax vobiscum.

+ Alan » 1 April, 2004 3:24 AM

Sorry I don't write using the big words.. Simplicity is how I view things.. For the genuine seeker of all things to do with the Church of Jesus Christ I have to direct you to the word of God..
Emerging Church is a concept that strays from the truth.. To even ponder the idea takes you away from the truth.. God gave very simple instructions about fellowship and we Yes we the Church have blown that out to what it is today..
Acts 2 verse 42
"They devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer".. going on to verse 44.. "All the believers were together and had everything in common".."

Here it is in simple words.. Take these to heart, and see that God himself does not give you the understanding you desire..
His answers are all that truly satisfy the longing in our hearts..

Sharon » 1 April, 2004 9:17 AM


I have to disagree that pondering the idea of the Emerging Church takes us away from truth.

The term may be new to you - as it is to me - but it can still have truthful meaning, provided we take it the right way.

There really is an emergence of churches with certain characteristics which is happening right now. We might stray from truth if we try to define the church from what we see in some of those, because often their forms are somewhat experimental. But there is no need to assume that people defy the truth by just discussing the Emerging Church.

There's a lot of value in looking at the differences between biblical and non-biblical church characteristics to get a better view of how God has already reformed the church, and how He wants to reform it further.


James » 1 April, 2004 5:40 PM

The Church being the focus or Christ? But I am not coming back to debate the point any further because while we sit here discussing this point.. Someone out there may be about to slip the rope over their head ready to end their life not knowing that there is any hope out there..
Which would your rather discuss.. the emerging church or the way to eternal life? I think the man with the rope around his neck does not need the Church rather he needs the Church to need Christ then someone might find their way to him before it is too late..

Sharon » 1 April, 2004 11:20 PM


I can understand your concerns about discussing church and emerging church as being some what a diversion from the truth. However, I would contend that the form of the church is of utmost importance. As far as the world is concerned, the church is Jesus!!!!!! What I mean by this is that when the world comes into contact with the church , it is there that they get their understanding of who Jesus is.
Today, more then ever in modern history we have a population that knows little if not nothing about who Jesus is. We have a church who is largely inept at reaching them. Therefore we need to see how the church can reach the lost for Jesus by being Jesus to the world. This is where the church is the body of Christ.

I think the we need to hold in a tension the Gospel of Jesus which we know must be expressed to a desperate world and the way this expression is lived out in the world as church.


Angus » 2 April, 2004 7:39 AM

I agree with you Angus.. I just cannot sit still because I know of someone who deals with seeing the results of suicide too often... These would not happen so much if at all if the "Church" was not so asleep.. I do feel no matter what is said or thought that many in the Church are asleep or dead.. You are right in saying the world is desperate.. You are right in saying the Church is inept at reaching them..
I know that in my own personal life it is not the "Church" around me that Jesus calls me to address in my own life because of their failings.. When I am kneeling in agony for what I see around me in frustration at the lack of love and care towards those within the Church.. Jesus simply points my thoughts toward Him.. Simply said each of us within the "Church" need Him and only Him..

Sharon » 2 April, 2004 10:30 AM

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