I have news for every author of every book I have read recently on the subject of how to fix the American Church’s problems:
You are wrong. Every last one of you.
To your credit, though, your ability to note everything that is awry in churches across this country is astute and well-cataloged. It’s just that your solutions are no solutions at all.
Over the last year, I’ve been following much of what is being called “The Emerging Church” or “Emergent.” This is a new movement that is calling churches out from their country club mentalities into a vital first century NT church life. It caters to the postmodern crowd, is heavily invested in relationships, story, mystery, and being “organic.” It has a whole host of its own buzzwords, authorities, and conventions. And—to its credit—it loathes consumeristic, megachurch seeker-sensitivity.
But any random reading of authors like Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Len Sweet, Randy Frazee, and a growing legion of others finds the very core of the movement very much rooted in a sort of sentimental humanism. Buried beneath the buzzwords and angry polemics against the crusty institutional church is the real source of this trend’s power: what I like to call (with apologies to C.S. Lewis) “That Hideous Strength.”
That Hideous Strength has been behind much of what churches in America call progress in the last forty or fifty years. In recent years, the Church Growth Movement largely abandoned itself to that strength, and Emergent is taking it one step further—at least if a decent reading of the acolytes of Emergent is any indication.
What is That Hideous Strength? Well, for my purpose here it is not quite what Lewis defined in his novel as the power of the Eldils (fallen angels), but it is another monstrosity virtually on par with it: the power of Man.
Here is where we are going wrong. Here is why the Church in America is failing to live up to Her glorious potential. We have put all our faith in what we can do through our own strength. In almost every Ermegent book I have read, I have come away noting that to make the solutions they espouse a reality, we really don’t need the Holy Spirit at all. If we just love people and love God, reach out with a tender touch in a missional way to our communities and to the downtrodden, then all will be well.
Except we left the Lord out of the equation altogther. My heart breaks thinking about this.
Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit to His disciples in the upper room and then told them to await the Spirit coming in power at a later time. When the Spirit fell on the disciples, they went out and ministered in a power that was not their own.
Check out every occurance of the Spirit falling on believers in Acts. The result was that they went from being average people to being someone touched by the Divine. Everything they did after that point was extraordinary. No longer were they people who were satisfied with being loving neighbors or nice people, but they were energized and bold saints of God!
How is it that in a charismatic generation, we have entirely forgotten the Holy Spirit? Why do we think a model, no matter how wonderful it sounds, will make a difference in our churches if our people are not filled with the Holy Spirit?
Some will argue that the average person in the pew is filled with the Holy Spirit. My question then is, when was the last time that person’s shadow fell on the sick and they were healed? When was the last time he was caught up to the third heaven? When did she last prophesy? When did his testimony drive the lost to cry out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” or cause others to pick up rocks to stone him?
The major distinction between all of us in the Church and those of all other religions is the fact that the Spirit of the Living God dwells in us! All those advocates of Emergent are preaching a Gospel that is no different than what the average Buddhist or Shintoist preaches if there is no Holy Spirit involved. You can be missional all you want, you can have a love for other people around you who don’t know Jesus, but if nothing you do is flooded with power from on high, then it is doomed to failure in the long run.
Are we ever going to learn this lesson? The reason no one cares about our message anymore is largely because we Christians in America are no longer supernatural people. Our faith has become one largely of mental assent and Hallmark card sentimentality, devoid of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. We have shoved the Spirit out the doors of our churches and tried to do it all on our own strength.
And just who out there on the street is impressed with that? Our bankrupt results speak for themselves.