Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Legalism of the Emergent Church Movement

Posted by Christine Pack

Chris Rosebrough, talk show host of Fighting for the Faith (FFTF), was recently interviewed about his trip to Washington, DC for the TransFORM East Coast Gathering, an emergent church conference that was held April 30-May 2, 2010.

This is a brilliant interview, with Rosebrough explaining that the one thing that the emergents are missing is forgiveness. He explains that many emergent church adherents have had some kind of exposure to a legalistic kind of pietism, usually during their upbringing in a traditional church setting, from which they have turned away.  But what they don't understand is that, in embracing emergent, they have simply traded one system of legalistic pietism for another system of legalistic pietism.  The pietism is played out in different ways.....but it is still pietism.

Not drinking, not smoking, not going to movies, not dancing (or any combination of these rules) - these are some of the most common things people think of when it comes to legalism.  Today's emergents, however, while feeling freedom in these areas, are nonetheless burdened with a new, postmodern set of legalistic rules: advancing the cause of social justice, living sustainably, engaging in certain spiritual disciplines, etc.  While each system of legalism "looks" very different on the surface, both are identical at their core: they are both systems of bondage, nothing better than a set of hoops to jump through in the hope of gaining favor with the Lord.

We know from Christ's teaching that legalism not only brings a false understanding of God's character and nature, but also, legalism will always end in despair and hopelessness.  And more tragically than this, legalistic pietism does not have salvific power. Legalism is a broken cistern that will not hold water.  Broken cisterns are referenced in Scripture to illustrate a turning away from God - the fountain of living water - and turning toward worthless sources in seeking out life and sustenance.

Jesus spoke of himself as living water (John 4:10), He bade anyone who was spiritually thirsty to come to him (John 6:35), and He said that all who believed in him would never thirst (John 7:37-38).  Jesus, being God in flesh, knows of our feebleness, our humaness, our inability to know the difference between broken cisterns and fountains of living water.  That's why he tells us over and over to come to Him and drink.  He knows that in our human frailty and foolishness we are easily enchanted by the broken and empty cisterns of  the world, the systems of "works" designed to bring us righteousness, but which can never do anything but bring despair, and ultimately, death.  And so He bids us to come to him, the true - and only - source of life and living water:
"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come' And let the one who hears say, 'Come' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." (Rev 22:17)

 Additional Resources 

John MacArthur Says the Emergent Church Movement in "Disarray and Decline?" Not So Fast.....

Universalism: the "Gospel Message" of the Emergent Church Movement and New Age Spirituality

Emergent Church Pastor Rob Bell Praises New Age Author Huston Smith

The Legalism of The Emergent Church Movement....Yes, Really