A CHURCH ODYSSEY
Can you relate to our story?
Several years ago my sister and I began what we now call our “church odyssey.” The Protestant church we had been attending for about twenty-five years in its several area locations had (ever- so-slowly) been changing over about a decade by a prayer here, a rite there, a focal point here, and a gradual exchange of the Word of God for the words of others, there.
In addition, we began hearing that elsewhere, people were encouraged to check out prayer labyrinths, various brands of extra-biblical “meditation,” and medieval-era type mystical practices. Still elsewhere, messages high-lighting the words “purpose” and “potential” were on the increase while the Word of God was becoming more and more a footnote.
Back in our own church, although we did hear some of the “milk of the Word of God,” the “meat” was gradually replaced by an appetizer tray of feel-good tidbits. Tantalizing, yes; satisfying, no. The focus was more and more on behavior and less and less on a systematic exposition of the scriptures. Verses seemed “cherry-picked” to fit somebody’s program or plan.
At one point, the changes came to critical mass for us and we began to wonder what was going on. Like the proverbial frog in a pan of water unaware of the gradual increase of temperature until it is too late, we were sensing the heat. But before hopping out we decided to politely and appropriately approach the leadership. However, no manner of talking or detailing our concerns—with supporting data—in emails or letters seemed to help. Some suggested another church might be better for us.
We decided to try to find a new church aligned with the Word of God and core Christian doctrine.
Our journey over the next few years was both enlightening and frightening. We investigated some fifteen churches in our area and a church in another location that friends of ours raved over. Here are but a few of these experiences and goings-on and will give you an indication why (after investigating further) we moved on. Do you recognize any of these?
After a few months in one of the first churches we investigated, a place that had great music, good worship and solid messages, the leadership began reporting “sightings” of gold dust, feathers, angelic “orbs,” and oil running down the aisles.
Another church (the one some of our friends travel to) features kundalini-like experiences “in the spirit,” “soaking prayer,” and a new healing technique that claims a speedy recovery from past trauma through a new genre of “memory healing”—but you might have to sign a disclaimer first.
Some other churches prioritized not offending “seekers,” thus little was offered along the lines of a man dying on a cross for our sins, for example, or the possibility of an eternal hell, for another.
And regarding one last notable church of this genre, we got only as far as the entrance. The pungent scent of incense, array of candles flickering in the dimmed lights, and little statues nested here and there prompted us to turn around quickly and head straight for the exit. Former Roman Catholics, it was just too much like the old days.
But about that time we had begun to realize that we might not be successful. After three years and so many churches and after doing extensive research in the Bible, Online and in bookstores we came to the realization others have come to as well in the last ten years or so: the church has been a changin.’ On steroids. Changes that most of us would never have imagined even twenty years ago. A brand new, 21st century, seeker-friendly, apostolically-reformed, spiritually-renewed, globally-ambitious, business model of church growth-savvy, purpose- and potential-driven church has emerged. And post-modernism, one of the foundations of much of the new phenomena, has seemingly supplanted “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” in the pulpits. It’s a new brand of church with many facets.
In addition, we have discovered that people like my sister and me, a couple of graying Boomers, are apparently waaaaaaay behind the times with our “dusty KJVs,” Greek and Hebrew lexicons, “hymns written by dead people (or old people),” and our beliefs in “scriptures only, faith only, grace only, and Jesus Christ only.”
So we went through, as we now think of it, a period of mourning, a kind of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, “Five Stages of Grief” process:
1. Denial (No, WAY! This stuff CAN’T be happening HERE!).
2. Anger “(HOW did this HAPPEN! WHO is RESPONSIBLE?! Were we ALSEEP?!)
3. Bargaining (Well, they DO preach SOME of the good stuff. Maybe if we just wait awhile they’ll get to the rest of it or get back to it… maybe NEXT Sunday…)
4. Depression (What’s the use, anymore? This stuff is so insidious and manipulative how can one or two people possibly do anything about it? We can just have our Bible studies at home or with a couple of others, if we can find anybody, and just forget the whole experience…). And, finally,
5. Acceptance (It does seem that the emerging church changes are firmly entrenched. Some of these churches are huge and make a lot of money and the leadership is good-looking, charming and articulate. HOWEVER, perhaps there is something we CAN do for ourselves and for others caught up in the same realizations and frustrations…)
Because my sister and I decided to listen, ask questions, search for answers, and learn more about this phenomenon, WE FOUND THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE! We have discovered that more and more Christians every day are exiting the “church du jour,” finding each other (and perhaps you, too), and connecting with others hungry for the unadulterated Word of God. We might now be fellowshipping Online, in small home groups, or in coffee shops, but we no longer need thirst on the vine.
(We have also learned that many experiential aspects of the “new church” aren’t really “new,” but rather familiar old diversions inspired by that ancient artificer who continually prowls about seeking whom he might devour…)
Those of us “on the outside” now, are not only connecting, we need each other. The times mandate this; our hearts cry out for this. And though we may be few, we still have Jesus’ promise: wherever even just two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is in our midst. (Matthew 18:20)
So be encouraged, brethren—whether “Jew, Greek; bond, slave; male (or) female”—and stay the course. And to help you in a more practical way here are some pointers based on our odyssey on how to identify what’s going on in your church and what you could do now, should you decide to go further.
1. In your church, if you have heard the following buzz words or have noted the following trends or and institutions that support them, or if your church now participates in anything that seems non- or extra-biblical to you, do an Internet, bookstore, or library search. When you find the items of interest, you will also learn the names of dozens of leaders in various aspects of this movement. Or you can scroll down now to the list of Internet resources listed under “Sites” that link to websites and blogs that specialize in researching trends and people in the church to alert, inform, and warn us.
Kundalini effect in the church
New Age practices in the church
New Apostolic Reformation
Post-modernism in the church
Spiritual Formation Movement
Total Quality Management in the church
2. Ask what your church leadership is currently reading or following, whom they admire, and what they recommend you read. Pay attention to what is quoted during services as well, other than the Bible, and make sure you get the name of the texts and the authors. This is what first alerted us to what was going on in one of the churches here. The pastor used a quote from a book by a noted “contemplative spirituality” author. The quote seemed innocent enough all by itself. But because it was included in a message given by a pastor—the authority figure—some in the congregation might have assumed the quote came from an author who had been successfully vetted as per his qualifications to teach on the standard tenets of the faith. They might have gone on to purchase and read the book and to be further influenced. When we heard the reference, we only sensed the author was a little off kilter. Later investigation proved just how much.
3. Make sure the Bible references quoted are in context.
4. Search the Internet for credible critiques of books and programs espoused by your church leadership. Better yet, research the authors yourself, and read the books—Bible and concordance at hand. (We recommend Bibles, concordances, and commentaries with publication dates prior to 1980 as revisions have been made in some newer versions.)
5. And it can’t be said enough: know the Word of God. Immerse yourself in the scriptures. Be good “Bereans,” who were commended for their careful study of the Word of God. How can we know if what is being promoted at the pulpit is incorrect if we aren’t familiar with the core text of our beliefs? Especially, how can we know that some idea or philosophy is “just a shade off” truth? It’s easy to spot the big themes, but not so easy to follow the subtleties, the nuances, the almost-but-not-quite information which is how many are duped, led astray, and manipulated. Many are left with only a suspicion, a hunch, a doubt about what they’ve heard. But, be of good cheer, this is generally where it starts because the Holy Spirit is still leading, guiding, and inspiring. It would be nice if we all had chapters and verses memorized, but most of us just don’t.
6. Remember to BREATHE! This new “church,” known by some of the many names above, is vast and deeply entrenched. Many beliefs and practices, specifically the New Age insertions, that used to be OUTSIDE the church, are now INSIDE. Coming into your first awareness of all of this might be a little overwhelming. It was for us. Even though my sister and I had some general knowledge about cults and the occult, it was still breath-taking to find out what has been going on in the church! We needed to take breaks from time to time.
7. Lastly, if you feel so led and in keeping with the Scriptural admonition to present the truth in love, you might e-mail, call, or, over coffee, discuss your findings with your church leadership. We found that a series of questions directly related to the topic of concern, along with copies of the research, to be best and least apt to cause defensiveness. We have not had much success with this approach in our area, but that does not mean that someone in leadership in your church might not also be questioning and wondering about the same issues and might be positively influenced by your presentation. And grateful.
A CAVEAT–BUT MORE ENCOURAGEMENT
But also be aware that it is more likely that you will be patronized, criticized for being a “complainer,” invited to leave and find some place more suitable, or written off in other ways. There are reasons some churches will remain involved. The “21st century church,” which includes many mega churches, can be very lucrative, for one thing. In addition, many of the new trends align with the “spirit of the age,” i.e., that the efforts of man, collective, can achieve what solo churches and institutions have not been able to achieve for millennia. There is also an emphasis on experience as stand-alone, credible validation of truth and younger generations, having been steeped in post-modernism via educational and other venues, are highly susceptible to this kind of thinking.
And it is just possible that your leadership is unaware of the full nature and origins of some of the popular new programs catching on like wildfire in the churches. Expressing your genuine concern and taking the time to respectfully share information with them might be of great value.
If you are put off, though, and/or decide this is just not a church you can continue to attend, allow yourself time to mourn; grieve over the possible loss of church friends, the safety and comfort of a familiar fellowship, and the disheartening prospect of finding someplace else at this stage of life or of need. Let the God of comfort attend you.
But, be encouraged, also. We’re “out here,” too. As the kids say, you’ve still got “peeps!” Lots of us! And there are still many solid, biblically-based teachings and devotionals to read, watch, and listen to. Access them.
And, most encouraging, Jesus promised He’d never leave nor forsake us…
From our hearts to yours, then, and with our great gratitude to the individuals represented in the sites below and others who have so enriched, enlightened, and encouraged us on our journey.
Praise be to God!
Here are some Internet sites that, as noted above, include innumerable postings to assist you in your research. But, of course, discern and cross-reference as needed. In them you will read personal testimonies of those who, like us, have come out of the “church emerging,” those with a scholarly bent who have vetted her, and those who track the newest fads to emerge in her. And this is only a small listing of sites available for research.