Over the last couple of days I’ve been trying to think of a way to express what I find so disturbing about the “emerging church” debate.
Let me try this. Many of us know that just before the end of the first century our resurrected Lord returned in a vision to his dear friend and disciple, John, who at that time was exiled on the Aegean island of Patmos. The vision began with seven letters to seven fairly young churches located in what is now the nation of Turkey.
In these letters (Rev 2-3), our Lord indicated that each of the seven churches had real and serious issues. Ephesus had sound teaching and a lot of activity, but they had lost their “first love” (probably their first love for Jesus) and were in danger of being shut down. Smyrna was enduring persecution and needed courage in the face of real fear and loss. Pergamos was facing issues of sexual behavior that were as unhealthy for the church as common in the culture. Thyatira seems to have had the sexual scandal of a teacher combined with false teaching. Sardis was a traditional church with a good reputation who was now just going through the motions. The church in Philadelphia was a weak church in a tough area. And then there’s Thyatira that apparently was as spiritually poor as they were materially rich.
In each case the Lord did not ignore their issues. Instead he showed that he loved them enough to encourage them to first look at him, and then work to work together to overcome the problems that were threatening their ability to be light in a dark place.
Now imagine this “what-if.” What if the events on the ground, just before these letters were read in these churches, looked something like this. What if each of these churches had been doing the equivalent of writing books, posting internet articles, and adding to the rumor mill about the problems of the other “six” as if they themselves didn’t have real issues that could turn the lights out at “their place”?
The point is not that others don’t have problems that need to be addressed! All of them had ways in which they were either messed up and in danger. And so are we– messed up– and in danger.
The issue is one of both attitudes and facts. Are we having a conversation that acknowledges that all of us live by the grace and mercy of God? All of us have our blind sides. All of us need to be in the process of constant change and renewal. All of us need to take another look at our resurrected Lord today– and to realize that he died as much for those we don’t like or agree with– as he did for us.
I can’t imagine that all of us who have weighed in on the emerging/traditional church debate don’t need to pray again today for the kind of wisdom and discernment that will enable us to treat one another the way we’d want to be treated– so as to help one another grow in truth and grace– while knowing that our Lord deserves far better than we ourselves have given him.