This week I read many people declaring the death of the emerging church as a movement, even among its leaders. Worldmag.com’s Anthony Bradley wrote:
Reading a new book or going to a conference about the emerging church is a waste of time and money unless it’s to understand the movement as a recent historical one. The emerging church movement has ended.
There was even an interesting obituary for the emerging church. Apparently, Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill church, put a virtual nail in the emergent church coffin in his 2010 Easter message when he said that the church he built has become a big institution that wounded people in the way that he originally swore they wouldn’t.
The seeker-sensitive church also suffered a similar fate to the emerging church a few years ago when Willow Creek’s church survey results revealed that the seeker-sensitive movement might have contributed to church growth but did not achieve proper discipleship. And Mark Galli’s recent article “Long Live Organic Church!” is predicting an impending collapse of the organic church movement, within which some of the leaders already were wondering whether they’ve escaped the institutionalized church only to be re-creating another church institutionalization.
There have been a lot of well-meaning ideas about transforming church. Despite sometimes questionable theological issues, I myself have learned a lot from the works and ideas of the emerging church leaders. And the organic church movement inspired me and lighted a fire in me. But I know that all movements will fail if all we’re pursuing are ideals, and if those ideals drive a wedge between our brothers and sisters, and we spend so much energy defending our ideals that we lose sight of obeying God and relying on Him to transform the world instead of relying on our ideals to transform the world.
Recently I’ve been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together,” and he wrote about this very topic:
Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial. …… When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves.
Bonhoeffer also said:
The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more everything else between us will recede, and the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only one thing that is alive between us. …… Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.
Finally, I love how Mark Galli puts it in his article on the organic church:
When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously) — well, how could we ever be dismayed?