The people [of Beroea] were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11 HCSB)
My journey through the Emerging Church is coming to a close. I can’t say that any of this has been a waste of time, as some might be apt to say, though. I have learned a lot, and my faith in the God of the Scriptures has greatly increased. I have come away with some different ideas about some things, but none of those new ideas are going to effect my standing before God in the end.
One of the biggest idea changes has come in the area of Eschatology. At one time, I held the position held by the majority of the Christian community today: Dispensationalism I believed in the pre-trib rapture, and the 7 year tribulation, and the literal 1,000 year reign of Jesus before the final battle where Satan is defeated and peac is restored. But, as time progressed, I began to see some issues with this position.
The first came when I began studying the Scriptures and came to the conclusion that no one could say with any certainty based on Scripture that the 1,000 year reign was literally going to last 1,000 years. Other numbers in the book of Revelation were seen as figurative, and other numbers in the Bible were viewed as figurative, therefore it didn’t make sense to me that that one number was literal. If the 70 “weeks” of Daniel were not actual literal 7 day weeks, then how could the 1,000 years of Revelation be an actual, literal 1,000 years when there is no Scripture to prove this?
My next issue came with the matter of the history of Dispensationalism. “Born out of the restless religious environment in England and Ireland in the 1820s, dispensationalism is rooted in the Plymouth Brethren movement, especially the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882)…
“Dispensationalism was first introduced to North America by James Inglis (1813–1872), through a monthly magazine called Waymarks in the Wilderness (published intermittently between 1854 and 1872). In 1866, Inglis organized the Believers’ Meeting for Bible Study, which introduced dispensationalist ideas to a small but influential circle of American evangelicals. After his death, James H. Brookes (1830–1898), a pastor in St. Louis, organized the Niagara Bible Conference to continue the dissemination of dispensationalist ideas. Dispensationalism was boosted after Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899) learned of “dispensational truth” from an unidentified member of the Brethren in 1872. Moody became close to Brookes and other dispensationalists, and encouraged the spread of dispensationalism, but apparently never learned the nuances of the dispensationalist system. Dispensationalism began to evolve during this time, most significantly when a significant body of dispensationalists proposed the “post-tribulation” Rapture. Dispensationalist leaders in Moody’s circle include Reuben Archer Torrey (1856–1928), James M. Gray (1851–1925), Cyrus I. Scofield (1843–1921), William J. Eerdman (1833–1923), A. C. Dixon (1854–1925), A. J. Gordon (1836–1895) and William Blackstone, author of the bestseller of the 1800s “Jesus is Coming” (Endorsed by Torrey and Eerdman). These men were activist evangelists who promoted a host of Bible conferences and other missionary and evangelistic efforts. They also gave the dispensationalist movement institutional permanence by assuming leadership of the new independent Bible institutes such as the Moody Bible Institute (1886), the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (1907), and the Philadelphia College of the Bible—now the Philadelphia Biblical University (1913). The network of related institutes that soon sprang up became the nucleus for the spread of American dispensationalism.
“The energetic efforts of C. I. Scofield and his associates introduced dispensationalism to a wider audience in America and bestowed a measure of respectability through his Scofield Reference Bible. The publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 by the Oxford University Press was something of an innovative literary coup for the movement, since for the first time, overtly dispensationalist notes were added to the pages of the biblical text. The Scofield Reference Bible became the leading bible used by independent Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the U.S. for the next sixty years…” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism)
An understanding of the end times that originated in the 1800’s seemed, to me, to be questionable. If this was what the Bible was saying, how come earlier groups, and even the Bible itself, weren’t more clear on this matter? How could almost 2,000 years go by and no one understand the end times and, more specifically, the book of Revelation? How did the book of Revelation become an accepted book of the Canon of Scripture if no one understood a word it was saying?
I later questioned the pre-trib rapture, the identity of the anti-Christ, and many other things which Dispensationalists seem to have a grip on. But Scripture itself spoke to me the loudest.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:6-7 ESV)
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matthew 24:36 ESV)
If it is not for us to know, and only the Father knows when it is all going to take place, how can we know for sure about any of our understandings of the end times? It seemed ludacris to me to say that any part of it was lined out right there for us to see. Yes, Jesus told us that the signs were right in front of us, but that doesn’t mean that we can know more about the end of time than Jesus did.
It was in the Emerging Church that I found relief. They don’t emphasize some whacked-out view of the end times that seems to have it all figured out and nailed down. Rather, they read Revelation as a book of “promises and warnings” (Thank you to Brian McLaren for this terminology, which is found in The Secret Message of Jesus). This made perfect sense to me, and seemed to account for why such a picturesque and symbolic book became and remained a part of the Holy Scriptures.
Other subtle areas of change became apparent as well. For example, I began to view Creation differently. God never said Creation wasn’t good anymore and so I began to better understand what my relationship should be to it. But, most importantly, I began to see all of the New Testament Scriptures, and the Old Testament as well, more through the teachings of Jesus than through the teachings of Paul.
Jesus came to help us better understand the Law. He came to give us a more complete understanding of it.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17 ESV)
And I looked at the word “fulfill” here, (and this is NOT taken from McLaren or any other Emergent author, so don’t even think about accusing me of taking from their ideas) and it hit me that “fulfill” doesn’t just mean to finish, but to complete as well. In Jesus, the Law was completed. When Jesus “added to” the Law, He wasn’t adding to it. He was showing them how the Law was to be properly applied. He was “completing” the Law for them.
I did find many things in the Emerging Church that are very scary though. But, they are nothing that isn’t happening in the mainline churches already. For example, some Emerging congregations have a tendency to accept practices from pagan religions as parts of their worship. This is flat out heresy and wrong, and those who practice these things will meet a side of God that they don’t know exists.
One thing that has disturbed me through this whole journey, though, is the closed-minded-ness of the overall Conservative Evangelical community about this issue. They seem to have no desire to read or look into the Emerging Church. It’s almost as if they stop at surface knowledge of the subject and ignore the good that Emergent is doing in the Christian community and world as a whole.
The Emerging Church is so much more than a denomination, so much more than a “church”. It is a gathering of believers to do those things that the Bible calls all of us to do: take care of Social issues. The Evangelical community has become too absorbed in raising money and having seminars and being Purpose-Driven that they have lost sight of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ message has become “secret” in some sense. It is not talked about. It is not studied. It is not mentioned.
Jesus came to heighten our awareness of those around us who are in need. If we don’t meet people’s physical needs, then we are not doing what Jesus has called us to do.
My journey through the Emerging Church may be coming to an end, but I am not going to close my ears to what the movement is doing. I encourage all of you to study this movement. If it is total heresy and apostate, then one must understand its inner-workings before he or she can begin to dismantle it. We can’t just stand on the sidelines and yell “STOP!” and expect anything to happen. Forces generally don’t obey human reasoning or logic or noise.
May God bless us all as we seek to serve Him more fully.