Sunday, October 18, 2009

Emergent detergent

This past Friday, I sat around a table drinking coffee and discussing the so-called emergent church movement with a few friends. Two of them in particular were doing what the church has been doing for the last two millennia: placing the emergent church in opposition to the evangelical church. If the church – the whole church – is the body of Christ, then why are we treating certain members of this body as if they don't belong. If a hand is hurt, do we cut it off in order to examine what is wrong with it? I agree that some of the doctrines of various factions of the emergent church may be a tad suspect, but I always find myself defending some of the nobler facets of the movement. After all, some of the doctrines of standard evangelical denominations are equally suspect. In fact, I don't know of a church with a perfect doctrine.

In this conversation, one of my friends in particular was very adamant that the emergent church – especially as represented by people like Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt and Brian McClaren – is tantamount to the worst kind of heresy. But I think that even if these guys have got some things wrong, surely not everything they say is utter hogwash? Is there nothing to affirm in what they're teaching? I feel that this sort of vehement denunciation does nothing to build anyone up, and further extends polemical reasoning into a terribly irrational state: it's the kind of thinking that throws the baby out with the bath water. 

In the end, I've worked out that my main problem with all this stupid arguing over things that we have no control over is that it shows up our desire to prove, like true pharisees, that we have it more figured out than other people, who themselves feel that they are more clued up than we are. Everybody thinks they're right, which is precisely why everything goes wrong all the time. I left that conversation on Friday feeling downcast and heavyhearted. It has taken me two days to figure out why. It felt like we were speaking about God's people behind His back.  The words did not honour God or His holy church. There may have been truth in what was said, although I am doubtful of this, but there was no love.

This letter from Pseudo-Dionysius (5th century AD) to a friend  of his (named Sosipater), who was doing some church bashing of his own, is very helpful:

"Do not count it a triumph, Reverend Sosipater, that you are denouncing a cult or a point of view which does not seem good to you. And do not imagine that, having thoroughly refuted it, all is therefore well with you. For it could happen that the one hidden truth could escape both you and others in the midst of falsehoods and appearances. What is not red does not have to be white. What is not a horse is not necessarily human. So cease from the denunciation of others and speak about truth in such a manner that everything you say will be irrefutable."

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