I have been trying to locate the doctrinal statements held by Emerging churches. As it turns out, many DO NOT HAVE doctrinal statements. This seems very bizarre to me – one of the first things I check out when visiting a church for the first time is their doctrinal statement. Even if the church does not stick with its doctrinal statement, at least the visitor has an idea what the church perhaps believed in the past.
The lack of a doctrinal statement should immediately throw up a red flag for any attender. I am providing excerpts here from a Crosstalks episode entitled “What’s So Dangerous About the Emerging Church?”, a discussion between Phil Johnson and John MacArthur. The transcript of the entire episode can be found here:
JOHN: You know, I would be so bold as to say this, I don’t…I don’t even think a person should go to a church that isn’t answerable to a doctrinal statement. If you’re going to a church that doesn’t have a doctrinal statement, you need to get out of there because you’re at the whim of a guy who can invent anything he wants any time. This entrepreneurial approach to the church is a very serious breach. “We need to hold to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” There needs to be accountability to a mature godly eldership that aren’t just guys raised by the entrepreneurial leader in the church. We need to be…we need to be faithful to a doctrinal statement, to historic doctrine, to what has been stated through historic doctrinal creeds. This flash in the pan, invent your own deal entrepreneurial approach to the church is very, very serious. You know, in Calvin’s day if you preached without being ordained, they put you in prison, they were so protective of the truth. I don’t think people should even be in a church unless that church is anchored to a historic doctrine and there are…there is an association with or a fellowship with. That’s one of the reasons we have the Shepherds’ Conference, there’s so many independent churches that we need to network these guys so they sense accountability to other preachers and other teachers who hold to sound doctrine. They need that accountability as well as that fellowship and that association. And the thing about the Emerging Church is there are no rules, there is no doctrine and there’s no official connection, right?
JOHN: It’s completely amorphous, every guy does exactly what he wants to in his own eyes. And that is very, very dangerous. And when one of those guys comes along and says, “Well we do it our way and they do it their way,” that’s really dangerous stuff. You mean to tell me that you got it right after 2000 years? You’re the guy who got it right? Can everything in the past, dump everybody in the present, it’s your deal, you’re doing it your way. I think God has been faithful to protect His truth and to pass it down through the centuries in the hands of gifted, godly men and churches and it’s articulated in creeds and doctrinal statements and books and things like that. These guys don’t want anything to do with that. They want the freedom to shape their own Christianity to suit their own whims.
PHIL: A few years ago, it’s probably been fifteen years ago, so this was before there was ever any idea of the Emerging Church on any kind of wide scale, you wrote an article called, “What does it mean to me?” where you critiqued the common practice of people in Bible studies to sit in living rooms full of people and just go around the room and each person says what does this verse mean to me. You critiqued that trend. Doesn’t it seem that the Emerging Church is actually just the institutionalization of that methodology? That’s what…
JOHN: Yeah, I guess with the exception that we don’t know what it means so maybe we should say the Emerging Church is what I think this might mean to me.
PHIL: Remove all the dogmatism from it.
PHIL: Is this…do you think this is another fad that will quickly go away, or what do you think the long-term ramifications…
JOHN: It has nothing to do with the Bible. It has nothing to do with the true church. It has nothing to do with real Christianity. It has nothing to do with the Holy spirit and therefore it has nothing to do with God. Is that a fad?
Sure it’s a fad. It’s just more pop religion. Does that mean that these people none of them are Christians? I think there are probably some people in here…in this kind of movement who may be Christians who are seduced by this in their ignorance they are the children tossed to and fro, carried about by every blowing wind of doctrine, which is a terrible situation. And then to elevate that as if that’s real spiritual nobility is sad. But I think it is faddish because post-modernism is faddish. It will have a short shelf life, shorter than ever because everything exhausts itself faster in an explosive media environment. Because you run everything to its limit, you exhaust every option faster. You’ve got thousands of years of pre-modernism, hundreds of years of modernism, maybe a few years of post-modernism and I don’t know what is going to come next.
PHIL: Maybe the Lord will return.
PHIL: In fact, as you look toward the future, just the past generation or so, the Evangelical Movement, particularly in America but really worldwide, has been ravaged by a series of these fads. The Seeker-Sensitive Movement, and all the various fads like Purpose Driven books and Jabez books.
JOHN: And what’s in common with all these, Phil? What’s in common in all these is the downplaying, if not the absolute disappearance of theology. That’s what’s common to all of them, whether you’re talking about the Willow Creek which is the Seeker thing back up one generation to Schuller, or back up one generation to Norman Vincent Peale, back up one generation to Harry Emerson Fosdick and take it back to the great Presbyterian controversy in the U.S. Harry Emerson Fosdick who denies Scripture is the father of Norman Vincent Peale, who is all positive thinking. He is the father of a neoorthodox named Robert Schuller who uses the lingo that sounds familiar but infuses it with all different meaning. He told me that personally in his own conversation with me. The father of Schuller is Norman Vincent Peale, the son of Schuller is Delhivos(??) who buys in to methodology rather than theology which gives birth to Rick Warren which gives birth to the Emerging Church. And a common thread in all of it is the downplaying, the depreciation, the diminishing of theology, of biblical interpretation and the priority of the Word of God verse by verse being taught and being preached.
PHIL: Exactly. It’s left the Evangelical Movement without any kind of boundaries or definition though. There is no coherent, cohesive movement called evangelicalism anymore. That word has lost its meaning.
PHIL: So what do you see as the future?
JOHN: Well what could it be if you don’t…if theology isn’t the issue? Then now evangelical as a word describes a broad kind of undefined, non-specific connection to Christianity.
PHIL: And every man does what’s right in his own eyes.
JOHN: Right. But the bottom line is, just look at any kind of movement, whatever it is, and see if historic sound doctrine and faithful exposition of the Word of God is at the center. And if it’s not, you’ve got problems. Even if it looks like a traditional church, right? You’ve got traditional churches where they still sing some old gospel songs and the preacher preaches a 30-minute evangelistic message. Those people may have no more discernment than somebody in an Emerging Church cause there’s not a substantial theology, there’s no a faithful exposition of the Word of God at any kind of depth. And so that contributes to people’s susceptibility to these other movements which the style of which is more appealing.
Okay, let’s say you’re an 18-year-old kid or 20-year-old kid, you’re at the university, you’re up to your neck in post-modernism, but you’ve gone all your life to, let’s say, a Baptist church where you hear the same old evangelistic sermons, you sing the same old hymns. And you watch people live a sort of superficial Christian life and you grew up…and it was a little bit legalistic and maybe it was…it was not powerful, you know, and the Word of God wasn’t captivating, and all of a sudden along comes a guy at school and takes you off to an Emerging Church and they’re smelling things and doing candles and it’s cool and the guy’s really anti-church and he’s whacking all the stuff that you thought was dumb about your church, and it’s just…he’s shredding your experience…and you’re saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right, I hated that organ and that old soprano singing every other week. It never had any effect on my life.” And you buy in to the deception of this thing. That’s who they’re capturing. I don’t think it’s nearly as appealing to the non-churched people as to the marginally churched young people. In fact, most of the leaders in the Emerging Church Movement are those guys that grew up in a traditional church that didn’t have a lot of depth or breadth and they reacted to the superficiality and somewhat maybe even the legalism of it. They’re the ones that have been the architects of this thing.
PHIL: You know, I think most of our listeners, the majority of them are lay people in churches where within the next few years, if not already, they are going to be under pressured to adopt and embrace some of the methodology and style and coolness of the Emerging Movement. How would you counsel them to respond if in their church there are leaders who are promoting this kind of thing?
JOHN: First of all, I would say this, if your church is really committed to sound doctrine, if it’s really committed to the exposition of Scripture, it’s going to be committed to historic theology. And in itself that…that should have some control because it’s going to revere the past. It’s going to honor the past. And that becomes some kind of a controlling factor.
If you’re in a church that is just grabbing every new fad that’s coming down the line, they’re more committed to methodology than they are to theology. There may be some exceptions to that, but to me methods are a non-issue. It’s…it’s…it’s about the Word of God and where there is a church anchored to the Word of God, they make changes very slowly because they revere the tradition, they revere the historic theology, they revere the Word of God and their changes are conformed more by that. So if your church is jumping on every bandwagon, the real issue there is that there’s a lack of that great depth and continuity of holding to historic doctrine and that the sound teaching of the Word of God that should be the controlling factor. It’s a symptom when churches jump quickly from one fad to another.
And I’ll tell you how it happens, it’s so sad. It happens very often in the transition among pastors because it’s hard for pastors to make that shift. So the pastor leaves and somebody says, “Let’s get a guy who is on the new edge.” He comes in, these guys are very ambitious, they want to build the mega church, all their heroes have big, big, big effective deals. They come in, they can’t pull it off in their town, you know, Visalia, or Hocus-Pocus, Texas, they can’t pull it off. So they shred the church in a year or two and then they leave. And then the church is sitting there, having been led down the primrose path like the Pied Piper and they’ve all walked off the end of the pier. And they don’t know where to go. That’s the scenario. But what holds the church is that strong, strong biblical doctrinal foundation. When it’s not there, it’s very hard to prevent those trendy things from captivating people. And they do it with good intention…we’re going to win more, reach more, and all that.