The Emergent/Emerging Church Movement (ECM) is an unholy gluing together of the true Church, the Roman Catholic Church, postmodernism, and a kind of New Age mysticism that would make Alice Bailey proud. As I mentioned before, there are many different lanes on the ECM freeway, and many different types of vehicle travel on the freeway, but what they all seem to have in common is a dissatisfaction with the conservative “evangelical” churches from where they usually came. That dissatisfaction gets stronger the closer you get to the outside lane. This is perfectly illustrated by Brian McLaren’s own spiritual journey. For example, in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, he writes:
By my mid-20s, I had met the conservative Protestant Jesus, the Pentecostal Jesus, and the Roman Catholic Jesus (p. 62).
His dissatisfaction with the “conservative Protestant Jesus” led McLaren to search for something less limiting. He found the Roman Catholic Jesus and found what he was looking for in the Catholic mystics:
I discovered other Roman Catholic writers – twentieth-century writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Romano Guardini, and Gabriel Marcel, as well as the medieval mystics and others (p. 59).
Let us take brief look at just two of the people McLaren mentions as being influences.
Thomas Merton (31/1/1915-10/12/1968) was a Trappist monk who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky from 1941 until his death in 1968. His pursuit of mysticism led him to conclude that he was “deeply impregnated with Sufism” (a mystical sect of Islam) and:
Asia, Zen, Islam, etc, all these things come together in my life. It would be madness for me to attempt to create a monastic life for myself by excluding all these. I would be less a monk (Merton and Sufism by Rob Baker and Gray Henry, p. 69).
Merton also stated in his own book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race,... If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are... I suppose the big problem would be that we would all fall down and worship each other... At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth... This little point... is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody (pp. 157-158).
At the end of his life Merton said he wanted to be the best Buddhist he could be:
I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity... I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can (Recollections of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West by David Steindl-Rast).
Brian McLaren is not alone in naming Henri Nouwen as a significant influence. For example, in his book, Letters to a Young Evangelical, Tony Campolo describes Henri Nouwen as “one of the great Christians of our time.” Nouwen is just one of a number of Catholic mystics quoted by Rick Warren in, The Purpose Driven Life (p. 108), and his website has several positive references to Nouwen. Warren’s wife, Kay, recommends one of Nouwen’s books, In the Name of Jesus, and loved it so much she said, “I highlighted almost every word” (Ministry Toolbox, Issue#54, 6/5/2002). Bearing in mind Nouwen is quoted and praised by such prominent “evangelical” leaders, one would expect Nouwen to have “evangelical”views of Christianity. Not so. For example, in his book, Sabbatical Journey, Nouwen writes:
Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God (p. 51).
In contrast to Nouwen’s New Age statement, speaking of Jesus Peter said:
Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. – Acts 4:12
In his book, Here and Now, Nouwen states:
The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being (p. 22).
Again, in contrast to Nouwen’s New Age declaration, the Word of God is clear that God (the Holy Spirit) dwells only in those whom have believed on His Son for forgiveness and eternal life (e.g. John 7:37-39; Acts 2:38).
At the end of his life Nouwen declared all paths lead to God. Not according to Jesus...
Whilst McLaren claims (in A Generous Orthodoxy) to have met several Jesus’ along his spiritual journey, I do not believe He has yet met the One True Jesus. The Jesus he has encountered through the writings of people like Merton and Nouwen is not the Jesus of the Bible, but is the same Jesus known to the New Age Movement and Roman Catholic mystics.
Tony Campolo further reveals the ECM’s reliance on Catholic mysticism for its spirituality. For example, in Letters to a Young Evangelical, Tony Campolo says:
I learned about this way of having a born-again experience from reading the Catholic mystics, especially The Spiritual Exercises of [Ignatius of] Loyola... Like most Catholic mystics, he developed an intense desire to experience a ‘oneness’ with God (page 30).
He goes on to say:
After the Reformation, we Protestants left behind much that was troubling about Roman Catholicism of the fifteenth century. I am convinced that we left too much behind.
The methods of praying employed by the likes of Ignatius have become precious to me. With the help of some Catholic saints, my prayer life has deepened (p. 31).
As a self-professed “evangelical” like Campolo praises Ignatius of Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises, perhaps we should consider for a moment who Ignatius was and what his Spiritual Exercises were.
Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the Jesuit Priesthood in 1534 and emerged as a religious leader during the counter-Reformation, i.e. he was at the forefront of trying to reverse all the good that people like Luther and Calvin had achieved by breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church (although in fact they did not break away enough). The Jesuits were (and still are today) an order of military monks with their own secret initiation ceremony, who tried to return the world to Roman Catholicism at whatever cost and by any means; they became the agents of political subversion for the Roman Catholic cause, trying to overthrow governments to bring them under papal rule. The Jesuit Priesthood was directly responsible for the torture and murder of thousands upon thousands of true born-again believers. The Jesuit oath contained the words:
I do further declare the doctrine of the Church of England, of the Calvinists, the Huguenots and other Protestants to be damnable and those to be damned who will not forsake the same... I do further declare that I will... do my utmost to extirpate [exterminate] the heretical Protestant doctrine and to destroy all their pretended power.
The Jesuit Order has continued to be such a dark sect that Adolph Hitler ordered Heinrich Himmler (a devout Roman Catholic) to constitute his insidious and evil SS according to the principles of the Jesuit Catholic Order, with Jesuit priests holding most of the main posts. Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, that are so enthusiastically used and endorsed by supposed “evangelical” Tony Campolo, were fully integrated into the SS by Himmler. This alone should give at least an indication of how unbiblical Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises are.
There were so many Jesuit priests within the SS that the medieval castle in Westphalia, Germany, was known as the SS monastery. Speaking of Himmler, Hitler said:
I can see Himmler as our Ignatius of Loyola (Libres Propos, p. 164).
Hitler is further quoted as saying:
I learned much from the Order of the Jesuits. Until now, there has never been anything more grandiose, on earth, than the hierarchical organisation of the Catholic Church. I transferred much of this organisation into my own party. (Smokescreens by Jack Chick, Chick Publications)
Loyola’s “conversion” was as a result of experiencing a vision of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus whilst visiting the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat in March 1522. Thereafter he spent seven hours a day praying, often in a nearby cave, whilst formulating the fundamentals of The Spiritual Exercises that Campolo refers to, which is Loyola’s set of mystical meditations and prayers; a method of brainwashing and visualisation techniques and contemplative prayer, copied in part from Eastern Shamanism, rather than being rooted in anything biblical.
The “born-again experience” described by Campolo was instigated by a dark and unbiblical Roman Catholic mystical practice, rather than by the Holy Spirit.
Back on the Freeway
Whilst the inside lanes of the ECM freeway tend to represent ecumenism, the outer lanes lean towards pluralism and ultimately interfaith dialogue. Rick Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. Plan is based on religious pluralism, and he openly talks about religious pluralism. For example, at the 2008 World Economic Forum he declared:
The future of the world is not secularism, but religious pluralism.
The Loving God and Neighbour Together document (in response to the Muslim, A Common Word Between Us and You), is an interfaith dialogue that was signed by Rick Warren and key ECM leaders, including Brian McLaren.
The closer you get to the outside lanes of the ECM freeway the more deconstructionism is used to interpret the Word of God. After all, the faster you travel on the ECM freeway, the more fuel your vehicle needs - the fuel of deconstructionism. This results in absolutes such as sin, hell and judgment being talked about less and less. Instead, people are encouraged to find God through their own ways, including ways that “evangelical” Christians should recognise as New Age and occult.
Whilst all traffic on the ECM freeway is heading in the same direction, the outer faster lanes are broader, thus allowing interfaith traffic to travel comfortably together side by side. This of course ignores Jesus’ warning:
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it – Matthew 7:13.
There is truth everywhere according to the broad outer lanes of the ECM freeway; relative truth anyway, with objective biblical spirituality being replaced by subjective experiential spirituality. As I have already mentioned, Alice Bailey would be proud.
In, The Emerging Church, Dan Kimball writes:
In a post-Christian world, pluralism is the norm. Buddhism, Wicca [witchcraft], Islam, Hinduism, or an eclectic blend – its all part of the soil (p. 60).
Leonard Sweet, friend and associate of Rick Warren, writes about pluralism and truth being everywhere in his book, Quantum Spirituality:
It will take a decolonized theology for Christians to appreciate the genuineness of other’s faiths, and to see and celebrate what is good, beautiful, and true in their beliefs without any illusions that deep down we are all believers in the same thing (pp. 130-131).
One can be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ without denying the flickers of the sacred in followers of Yahweh, or Kali, or Krishna (p. 130).
Let us not forget that Rick Warren co-produced with Sweet an audio series titled, The Tides of Change – Riding the Next Wave of Ministry, and Warren wrote a glowing endorsement [printed on the front cover] to another of Sweet’s books titled, Soul Tsunami. No true“evangelical” Christian would do that.
In contrast to Kimball’s and Sweet’s New Age claims, the Word of God declares that the gods of all other religions are false:
For all the gods of the peoples are idols – Psalm 96:5.
...the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons – Corinthians 10:20.
The gods of all other religions are demons and Paul tells us to have no fellowship with them. Followers of false religions are not believers. Of these people Paul declares:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God – 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.
It is important to understand that people on the ECM freeway generally did not start their journey in the fast lane; most of these people started off on the narrow and straight road called “evangelicalism”, but over time, for a variety of reasons, the narrow and straight road of “evangelicalism” became too narrow and straight for them. They therefore took what initially seemed to be only a slight detour down the slip road that introduced them to the slow moving traffic in the inner lane of the ECM freeway. Once on the perceived freedom of the broad ECM freeway it was easy to build up enough speed to join the traffic in the even broader middle lanes and then eventually into the expansive fast lane. The ECM freeway is full of traffic that got there through one small compromise at a time.
The point is that whilst there may be some reading this article who know people (or are even themselves) travelling in the slow lane of the ECM freeway who do not share (at least some of) the views held by the people travelling in the outer lanes, all lanes of the ECM freeway are travelling in the same direction.
The frightening thing is that many Christians are expressing postmodern Emergent theologies whilst still professing to be orthodox and “evangelical” and in no way being consciously connected with the ECM; this is the dangerous extent to which Emergent postmodern doctrine is spreading. For example, I recently read an article in a Christian magazine written by an “evangelical” Anglican vicar. In his article he claimed that:
Scripture, tradition and reason – the three indispensible participants in the dialogue, discussion, the debate, the dynamic process through which the Word of God is revealed.
How very Emergent and postmodern!
I can find time and time again numerous references to God stating very clearly that the Bible is the Word of God, and I can find references to God encouraging people to use their God-given brains and powers of reason (such as Isaiah 1:18), but I find absolutely no reference for tradition being equal to the Word of God. In fact, I find God’s Word warning against teaching man-made ‘tradition’ as if it were God’s Word:
And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men - Mark 7:7.
Christian books can contain the word of God, but only the Bible is the Word of God and is the only authority for the Christian faith. Traditions may be valid only when they are based on Scripture and are in full agreement with Scripture. Traditions that contradict the Bible (such as the many used in ECM worship and prayer) are not of God and are not a valid aspect of the Christian faith. Sola Scriptura is the only way to avoid subjectivity and keep personal opinion from taking priority over the teachings of the Bible.
The vicar wrote further in his article about 2 Timothy 3:16-17 by adding his own words to it as follows:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, but is intended as a tool, an item of equipment, whose proper use depends upon proper interpretation, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
The words in bold are the additions the vicar made to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. By adding his own words to a passage of Scripture, this individual is guilty of doing precisely what Scripture (i.e. God’s Word!) tells us not to do. This is not unusual nowadays, but why shouldn’t you when you regard the word of men equal to the Word of God. Whether this vicar (or his congregation) knows it or not, he is professing Emergent postmodern theology, which is most certainly not biblical.
The ECM freeway is a one-way only road with the travellers in the outer lanes showing those in the slower lanes where all lanes are heading; those in the outer lanes are merely getting to their destination quicker than those currently keeping to the speed limit in the slow lane, but all lanes are heading in the same direction. What direction is that? Back to Babylon, to apostasy.
In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul describes the church as “the pillar and ground of the truth”. Paul does not describe the church as “a” pillar and ground of truth like the ECM would have you believe, it is “the” pillar and ground of the truth. If a church is not the pillar and ground of truth then it does not have the right to call itself a church. The ECM is not the pillar and ground of truth and is not a church by any New Testament definition. It is a pack of “ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15) out to devour the flock.
The leaders of the ECM have forsaken the fountain of living waters and have dug for themselves other wells that do not hold water (Jeremiah 2:13).
About The Author
James (Jamie) Smith is a financial adviser who gives specialist advice to doctors and dentists based in Sheffield, England, where he was born in 1970. He was raised in a Christian family and became a believer in his childhood. Jamie is married to Emma. They have two young daughters, Holly and Heidi, and are members of a small independent evangelical church in Sheffield. Jamie writes on various matters of the Christian faith with the aim of encouraging and equipping fellow believers to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) by being able “to give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope within us” (1 Peter 3:15)
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