The Image of Protestant Evangelical Worship, pt 4
The Image of Protestant Evangelical Worship, pt 5

Freedom Abused Within the Emerging Church


Over the past year I've often found myself thinking about the emerging church and an element of moral restraint within its ranks.  That's certainly not to say that the lack of  such restraint is unique to the emerging church  -- not at all.  But as institutional church structures have undergone the work of deconstruction, it seems to have bred a new-found freedom that has rejected legalism and embraced self-indulgance.  Alan Hartung receently blogged about this and the wisdom he gained from Todd Hunter:

Todd pointed out that within the evangelical church structure, I had external forces causing me to modify my behavior. With the structure removed, those external forces no longer served to restrain me. But the answer is not to get the structure back. Now, Todd pointed out, I needed to truly be transformed rather than rely on the rules, written and unwritten, of evangelicalism. The goal is to become the type of person who does the right thing naturally, rather than someone who only acts good when the structure is in place.

Have you noticed or thought about this phenomenon?  What's your 'read' on the whole thing?  I'm anxious to hear your thoughts.

Credit (and big thanks) goes to Brian Baute, who highlighted Alan's recent post .


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I think the emphasis on spiritual formation or disciplines is very helpful in fleshing this out. In my experience people in "structures" tend to not really form in to people where doing good comes naturally through proper habits. Its almost like a I don't want to get caught type thing. Of course this is not to say that all Christians in structures do good not to get caught but that was definitely my experience in more "structured" churches.

This has been my concern with the emergent "structure" - in terms of leadership - there doesn't seem to be any - and therefore, no accountability. A friend of mine and I discussed this issue and his position is - the community holds each other accountable. I think that only works when those in the community are mature enough to do so. What happens when you don't have those mature in Christ members? Who is accountable? Where does the buck stop? I can't get away from "someone has to be in charge."

I'm not sure if this is where you were going with your post, but that's what it brought up in my mind.

Thanks, Lorrie

I've noticed on several blogs discussing the emerging church that there is a lot of what I'll call "bad cussing". A friend of mine introduced me to this term. He was at his high school reunion and friends were asking him what he did for a living. He told them he was a pastor. To which many replied with "Sh-t Jim, that's just great. Sh-t!" The swearing was used to distance themselves from the other. As my friend told me the story he said, "It wasn't even good cussing!"

I often feel that many blogs discussing the emerging church are using "bad cussing" and discussing their freedom to drink and smoke stoggies and the like (which I too enjoy!) to distance themselves from the evangelical subculture. And this feels rather self-indulgent to me. I keep my freedom to myself for the most part because of weaker brothers and sisters in my church. Legalism is not a good thing, nor is flaunting freedom.

As far as leadership goes, I find that its not structure but community that influences me. I find that the strengths in my friends and seeing how it is incorperated in thier lives encourages me in that direction. That may be a poor way of saying it, but as an example: One friend who is strong in compassion is going to influence me towards wanting to be compassionate much more than a church structure/institution ever would. While another friend may encourage me towards stewardship... etc. I am also much more able to take personal constructive critisism from a friend than a church structure. Does that mean these friends are leaders... no. They may not even be spiritually mature. I can't speak about the emerging church because I only know of the phenominon through the expierince of others, but I do see a need for leaders who faciltitate discusssion.

And as far as needing someone with whom the buck stops... is that not one of the purposes of our rich history, to compare what we find to be truth with what centuries of other spiritual people have found. And also the purpose of the christian community as a whole, to dicern truth with the help of the holy spirit. I think I may have missed Lorrie's point with that.

So,in what ways, specifically, have you seen the emrgent church as embracing self-endulgence?

As a side note: I stumbled apon this site a little while back and I thank you. I have been hungering for this kind of discussion and appreciate your willingnes to facilitate. I also thoroughly enjoy the pics as I believe a pictures worth a thousand words and can be used to stir up interesting conversations.


Check out the post entitled "Sprit and Truth"

I'd be curious to see how you think it may tie in.

(See also a post of mine on this topic entitled "Freedom Within Structure"

"And as far as needing someone with whom the buck stops... is that not one of the purposes of our rich history, to compare what we find to be truth with what centuries of other spiritual people have found. And also the purpose of the christian community as a whole, to dicern truth with the help of the holy spirit. I think I may have missed Lorrie's point with that."

Faith -

I agree with what you say here - find the truth from centuries of other spiritual people - discerning truth with the help of the holy spirit. However, how does that stop emotional abuse from people within a church community where there is no one in charge to say, "that is wrong - stop it."

The post along with the picture (was that intended) speaks well about what Paul conveys in Rom.6:17b,"You become obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed."

The ideas of "the buck stopping" and "who is in charge" to check up on everyone speaks of authoritarian legalistic atmospheres. Maturity although giving privilege also on the other hand means responsibility learned while growing. We need spiritual parents not dictatorial authority heads leading Christ’s Church.

The Eph.4 directive of leadership instructs us that those who are "in charge" are gifts given to the Church for the result of maturing the members to do the work of ministry. The failure reflected in the words of response concerning leadership to bring to maturity and Kingdom thinking is evident. It appears everyone is looking for someone to point the way to go or not to go - kind of a play on to be or not to be confusion thing Shakespeare tried to dramatize.

The point of the Church, the task of Her leaders is training not ruling. The very nature of that should produce a community of equal interaction based on strengths and weaknesses, maturity and growth you know like a family. And like a family the intimacy and trust create an atmosphere of hope, love, and health.

The picture reflects Paul’s statement in a comic revealing of what is on each ones mind, a bottlehead a pointhead ect those are the outward forms of what those people were taught.
Pastor Art

I've read accusations that the EC no longer calls Sin, Sin and are for all sorts of things like abortion, homosexuality, accepting muslims and hindus into the fellowship of believers, but when I read the EC sites themselves I read about how we have to reach those who are totally turned off to church with the gospel, the good news of Jesus. And also how we need to have a more genuine and intimate relationship with God. I get really confused.
Freedom? Standards? Tradition? Smoking or even an occasional drink? I too am happy to have found this site, and enjoy "listening" in to the debates. They don't seem as mean spirited here as on some other sites.

Faith, you asked: "So,in what ways, specifically, have you seen the emrgent church as embracing self-endulgence? "

My first encounter with this coming from within the emerging church phenomenon came out of a discussion group I was part of 4-5 years ago. My friend was leading a triad of house-churches. Two of the groups were torn apart by fornication and the soul-wounding that resulted -- a very painful experience for her. As time went on, I began realizing that self-indulgence (reinforced by our individualism-saturated culture)was jeopardizing elements of the emerging church movement.

The 'accountability' that has been mentioned in the prior posts certainly is able to bring a 'measure' of restraint, but I'm much more excited about a return to radical discipleship. If we begin to focus on what Dallas Willard has identified as the "great omission from the great commission," (i.e. teaching followers to obey all that Jesus commanded), maybe we'll start seeing people's character transformed, rather than just their behavior.

Karl -- Seraphim's thoughts ( on rubrics and freedom are helpful only in so much as people choose to embrace our need for boundaries rather than decrying them as a form of legalism. Sometimes, I fear that it is our overly selfish, individualistic spirit which rejects such boundaries and conveniently labels them as legalism -- a pitiful attempt to liberate ourselves, but which probably only indicts us.

Maryellen -- thanks for posting your thoughts. I sure don't blame you for being a bit confused. Emerging churches come in all sizes, shapes and flavors. Institutionalized churches were often characterized by labels such as 'liberal' or 'fundamentalist', and the emerging church hasn't been around long enough for such distinctions to develop -- but it's probably inevitable. I'm glad you haven't written the movement off, though (at least it doesn't sound like you have). Many long-needed reforms are now in the works, thanks to the vision and courage of emerging church pioneers (not to mention their passion for Christ). Stay engaged in the conversation, and I hope to hear a lot more from you.

I'm not sure what you mean by "self-indulgent". In my experience, emerging church folk tend not to be hung up on the typical evangelical bugaboos of "cussing" and drinking and smoking, but frankly, I don't consider that kind of stuff (in moderation of course) "self-indulgent" at all. Just because we're not concerned with the man-made standards of holiness that have been created by one strand of church in the last century, doesn't mean that we're less concerned with sin. I would argue that we're in fact more concerned with sin and right living, it's just that we choose to focus our attention and effort on behaviors and attitudes that are truly important. We're so opposed to sin that we don't want to hamper our efforts at fighting it by letting ourselves be distracted by certain pointless legalisms.

But that's just my experience.


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