I recently overheard half of a phone conversation regarding the “missional” movement and the “Emergent Church” which prompted some thoughts.
My thoughts gravitated to the two great commands. The first is to love God with my entire being. The second is to love my neighbor as myself.
We, as humans, seem to prefer extremes – finding life in the gray to be uncomfortable. Those in the orthodox camp seem to gravitate to the first command and strive for doctrinal purity as an act of worship toward God. Those in the “liberal” or “emergent” camp (I am increasingly uncomfortable with these types of labels since they can become more judgmental than informational) seem to gravitate toward the second and seek “social” justice and reconciliation between men.
The orthodox are often content to meet in their enclaves on Sunday waiting for the bold soul who will darken their door and ask them what they believe. The emergent people eschew formal meetings and seek to spend time “in community” reaching out to those who are not part of the church.
The pitfall for the orthodox is that we can be so focused on doctrinal purity and proper understanding that we fail to live out the second command and love our neighbors who are lost and going to Hell.
The pitfall for the emergent church is that they can be so focused on those who are living outside the church community that they can compromise the message of the gospel in order to draw people into the community. The danger lies in the ecumenical or “big tent” mentality which tends to gravitate toward the lowest common denominator. The lowest denominator ends up being the moral law which all can accept. This mentality can cause them to stay away from divisive ideas like “Jesus is the only way to God.”
I clearly fall within the orthodox camp and take a strong stand on critical issues such as the deity of Jesus, virgin birth, inspiration and authority of Scripture, etc. The challenge to me from the missional movement is that I have a message that I rarely share with those outside the church. Those in the missional movement put me to shame with regard to their efforts to reach out to a lost community. They put me to shame with regard to their efforts to live out the second greatest command.
But, I am reminded that the second command cannot be lived out without the first being first. In other words, to live out the second command, without prior living of the first, is doomed to failure from and eternal perspective. It does only temporary (temporal?) good to feed and clothe and commune with lost people and allow them to remain in their sin. To minister to physical needs without addressing the core issue of sin only provides temporary relief and could perhaps do greater harm.
The analogy I would use is giving pain killer to an athlete to get him back in the competition, the end result being that the lack of pain allows him to do further damage to the injured member. A line I heard recently is “God loves us just the way we are but loves us too much to allow us to remain that way.” To make it OK to remain in sin does no-one any good.