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How to Know When the Emerging Church

Shows Signs of Emerging in Your Church

Commentary by Roger Oakland

http://understandthetimes.org/

The world is changing. So is the Christian evangelical church. There was a time— not that long ago—when the Bible was considered to be the Word of God by the majority of evangelical Christians. Now that we are well into the third millennium and the post-modern, post-Christian era, the term evangelical can mean almost anything. What has happened? Why is this happening and what is the future for mainstream Christianity?

For the past several years, I have been speaking around the world on current trends that are impacting Christianity. After these presentations, I am approached by Christians who come from many different church backgrounds. Many are expressing their concerns about what is happening in their churches, troubled by the new direction they see their church going. While they may not always be able to discern what is wrong, they know something is wrong and that it needs to be addressed.

Further, many have told me they have attempted to express their concerns with their pastors or church elders. In almost every case, they were told they had a choice to make—get with the new program or get out of the church.

This move towards a reinvented Christianity (one designed to “reach people”) seems to be here for the long haul. It is not just a passing fad. I am often asked by concerned brothers and sisters in Christ to provide an explanation in order to help them understand what they have encountered. They want to know why these changes are underway and what to expect in the future. As well, they want to know what, if anything can be done, to stem this tide. It is for this reason I am writing this commentary—to provide biblical insight regarding the Emerging Church and where it is heading in the future.

The Gospel According to the Scriptures

Throughout church history, various trends have come and gone. While culture changes from place to place, biblical Christianity has always been based upon the central message of the Bible which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the message never changes.

This gospel message is about who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done. A child can understand the gospel message. This message proclaims that life here on planet earth is finite and that life after death is eternal. The good news is that we can be saved from our sins if we will repent and simply ask for forgiveness and follow Him.

How we respond to the gospel message during the time we have on earth determines where we spend eternity—heaven or hell. Jesus, the Creator of the universe, provided a way and the only way we can spend eternity with Him. It is a matter of making a personal decision whether or not we will accept the plan He has provided.

God’s adversary does not want mankind to understand the simple message. His plan is to deceive the world. If he can blind people from the gospel or convince them that they believe the gospel when indeed they do not, his plan has been successful. Throughout the ages, countless billions have been duped, either rejecting the truth, or believing that they had believed the truth when instead they had been deceived.

The Gospel According to Postmoderism

Times change! However, the gospel must remain the same no matter what else changes. We are now living in the postmodern era. In a sincere attempt to reach the postmodern generation with the gospel, it seems many Christians have become postmodern in their thinking.

Perhaps the term postmodern is new to you. Let’s examine what it means.

First, the modern era was characterized by a time of rational thinking based on factual observation. Many claim the modern era ended in the mid 1900s.

The postmodern mindset moves beyond the rational and the factual to the experiential and the mystical. In other words, in the past it was possible to know right from wrong and black from white. In the postmodern era all things are relative to the beholder. What may be right for you may be wrong for someone else. There is no such thing as absolute truth. The only thing that is absolute is that there is no absolute.

We now live in a time in history that is characterized as postmodern. Professors at universities teach students there is no right or wrong. All things are relative. The gospel message to the postmodern mindset is far too dogmatic and arrogant. They say it is necessary to find a more moderate gospel that can be accepted by the masses.

Many church leaders are now looking for ways to reach the postmodern generation. They believe they can find the appropriate methods to do so without changing the message. However, in their attempt to reach this postmodern generation, they have become postmodern themselves and have changed the message. As the gospel is fixed upon the Scriptures, the gospel cannot change, unless of course it becomes another gospel. I believe this is what is happening in the Emerging Church.

He Didn’t Come

Many have noticed that since the turn of the millennium, their churches have changed positions on Bible prophecy and the Second Coming of Jesus. Many have given up on the return of Jesus. From the ‘60s on there was an excitement about the imminent return of Jesus. The Jesus People were excited about Bible prophecy and could see signs that Jesus would descend from the heavens for His Bride at any moment.

The year 2000 was of particular importance. When Jesus didn’t show up, it seems many were apparently disappointed. “Perhaps Jesus has delayed His coming,” some have said. Others are even taking the position that He may not be coming at all, at least not in the manner we have been taught. They are now convinced that we need to be busy about “building His Kingdom” here on earth by “whatever human effort is required.”

The Gospel of the Kingdom

One of the main indicators that something has changed can be seen in the way the future is perceived. Rather than urgently proclaiming the gospel according to the Scriptures and believing the time to do so is short, the emphasis has now shifted. No longer are “signs of the times” significant. The battle cry is very different. A major emphasis among evangelicals is the idea that the world can be radically improved through social programs.

This concept, while on the surface may sound very good, has some serious biblical implications. According to the Scriptures, there will be no kingdom of God until the King arrives. All the human effort man can muster up will fall short of bringing utopia. In fact, according to the Scriptures, fallen man will lead us further down the road to a society of despair and lawlessness just like it was in the days of Noah.

Thus, this purpose-driven view of establishing global utopia may be a plan, but it is “driven” by humanistic reasoning and not led by the Holy Spirit. While it is of course good to do good unto others, all the goodness that we can do will not be good enough. Pastors and church leaders who get involved in such man-driven programs can usually be identified by certain characteristics:

Sound biblical doctrine is dangerous and divisive, and the experiential (i.e.,mystical) is given a greater role than doctrine.

Bible prophecy is no longer taught and is considered a waste of time

Israel becomes less and less important and has no biblical significance

Eventually the promises for Israel are applied to the church and not Israel (Replacement Theology).

Bible study is replaced by studying someone’s book and his methods

Church health is evaluated on the quantity of people who attend.

The truth of God’s Word becomes less and less important

God’s Word, especially concepts like hell, sin and repentance, is eventually downplayed so the unbeliever is not offended.

Spiritual Formation and Transformation

Much of what I have described provides the formula for a dumbing-down of Christianity that paves the way for an apostasy that will only intensify in the future. This trend away from the authority of God’s Word to the reinvented form of Christianity has overcome all evangelical denominations like an avalanche. Few Bible teachers saw this avalanche coming. Now that it is underway, few realize it has even happened.

However, there is another big piece to the puzzle that must be identified in order to understand what is emerging in the Emerging Church. While biblical Christianity has been dumbed-down and the light of God’s Word diminished, another avalanche of deception is underway that is equally devastating.

This is best described by the Word of God giving way to experiences that God’s Word forbids. The best way to understand this process is to recall what happened during the Dark Ages when the Bible became the “forbidden book.” Until the Reformers translated the Bible into the language of the common person, the people were in darkness. When the light of God’s Word became available, the gospel according to the Scriptures was once again understood.

This trend, which is underway today, shows us that history is in the process of repeating itself. As the Word of God becomes less and less important, the rise of mystical experiences is alarming and these experiences are being presented to convince the unsuspecting that Christianity is about feeling, touching, smelling and seeing God. The postmodern mindset is the perfect environment for the fostering of what is called “spiritual formation.” This teaching suggests there are various ways and means to get closer to God. Proponents of spiritual formation erroneously teach that anyone can practice these mystical rituals and find God within. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is not a prerequisite.

These teachings, while actually rooted in ancient wisdom (the occult), were presented to Christendom post-New Testament and not found in the Word of God. The spiritual formation movement is based upon experiences promoted by desert monks and Roman Catholic mystics – these mystics encouraged the use of rituals and practices, that if performed would bring the practitioner closer to God (or come into God’s presence). The premise was that if one went into the silence or sacred space, then the mind was emptied of distractions and the voice of God could be heard. In truth, these hypnotic, mantric style practices were leading these monks into altered states of consciousness. The methods they used are the same that Buddhists and the Hindus use as a means of encountering the spiritual realm

Such methods are dangerous, and are not sanctioned in the Bible – God gives no instruction for this. On the contrary, he warns severely against divination, which is practicing a ritual or method in order to obtain information from a spiritual source. While proponents of spiritual formation (like Richard Foster) say these methods show that the Holy Spirit is doing something new to refresh Christianity, I would suggest that what is happening is not new and is not the Holy Spirit.

The spiritual formation movement is being widely promoted at colleges and seminaries as the latest and the greatest way to become a spiritual leader in these days. These ideas are then being exported from seminaries to churches by graduates who have been primed to take Christianity to a new level of enlightenment.

As well, these contemplative practices are being promoted by emergent leaders such as Brian McLaren, Robert Webber, Dallas Willard and others. Publishers like NavPress, InterVarsity and Zondervan are flooding the market with books promoting contemplative practices based on Eastern mysticism. Pastors and church leaders read these books and then promote the ideas as if they were the scriptural answer to drawing close to God.

Signs the Emerging Church is Emerging

There are specific warning signs that are symptomatic that a church may be headed down the emergent/contemplative road. In some cases a pastor may not be aware that he is on this road nor understand where the road ends up.

Here are some of the warning signs:

Scripture is no longer the ultimate authority as the basis for the Christian faith.

The centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being replaced by humanistic methods promoting church growth and a social gospel.

More and more emphasis is being placed on building the kingdom of God now and less and less on the warnings of Scripture about the imminent return of Jesus Christ and a coming judgment in the future.

The teaching that Jesus Christ will rule and reign in a literal millennial period is considered unbiblical and heretical.

The teaching that the church has taken the place of Israel and Israel has no prophetic significance is often embraced.

The teaching that the Book of Revelation does not refer to the future, but instead has been already fulfilled in the past

An experiential mystical form of Christianity begins to be promoted as a method to reach the postmodern generation.

Ideas are promoted teaching that Christianity needs to be reinvented in order to provide meaning for this generation.

The pastor may implement an idea called “ancient-future” or “vintage Christianity” claiming that in order to take the church forward, we need to go back in church history and find out what experiences were effective to get people to embrace Christianity.

While the authority of the Word of God is undermined, images and sensual experiences are promoted as the key to experiencing and knowing God.

These experiences include icons, candles, incense, liturgy, labyrinths, prayer stations, contemplative prayer, experiencing the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of the Eucharist.

There seems to be a strong emphasis on ecumenism indicating that a bridge is being established that leads in the direction of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.

Some evangelical Protestant leaders are saying that the Reformation went too far. They are reexamining the claims of the “church fathers” saying that communion is more than a symbol and that Jesus actually becomes present in the wafer at communion.

There will be a growing trend towards an ecumenical unity for the cause of world peace claiming the validity of other religions and that there are many ways to God.

Members of churches who question or resist the new changes that the pastor is implementing are reprimanded and usually asked to leave.

What does the Future Hold?

If the Emerging Church continues unfolding at the present pace, mainstream evangelical Christianity will be reinvented and the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures will be considered too narrow and too restrictive. In other words, the narrow way to heaven that Jesus proclaimed will eventually be abandoned for a wider way that embraces pagan experiential practices. I call this reinvented, re-imagined form of Christianity that is unfolding—“Christian Babylonianism”.

This new form of Christianity will replace biblical faith with a faith that says man can establish the kingdom of God here on earth. The Word will continue to become secondary to a system of works driven by experiences.

An ecumenical pattern towards unity with Rome will become more apparent. Those who refuse to embrace this direction will be considered spiritual oddballs that need to be reprimanded. Those who stand up for biblical faith will be considered the obstructions to the one world spirituality that is promoted as the answer for peace.

The best way to be prepared for what is coming is to gain an understanding of what is happening now. While there are not many who seem to discern the trend underway, there are some. Without the Bible and the Holy Spirit as our guide, the darkness that is coming would be overwhelming. However, the light of God’s Word penetrates the darkness and there are those who are being delivered from deception and see what is taking place.

I am convinced we are seeing apostasy underway, exactly as the Scriptures have forewarned. This means that this current trend is not likely to disappear. We must continue to proclaim the truth in the midst of deception with love. As Paul instructed Timothy:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2: 24-26).

There are still pastors and churches who are dedicated to proclaiming the truth. Find out where they are and support them. If you are in a location where this does not seem to be possible, seek out materials that are available from solid Bible-based Christian ministries and hold Bible studies in your own home.

And keep looking up! Jesus is coming soon.

Confusion on the Davidic Tabernacle

 

Submitted by Craig “Lee” Dorsheimer 

 

The current issue [July 2008] of Charisma Magazine contains an article by Mike Bickle, president and director of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City, MO, titled The Tabernacle of David.  This piece is essentially a word for word reprint of a 2000 article of the same name.  The only difference is that the original added an introductory sentence referencing an article from the previous month.  Here’s the original article from the Charisma archives:

 

http://charismamag.com/index.php/columns/265-passion-for-jesus/507-enjoyable-prayer

 

Compare the original to the current piece:

 

 

http://charismamag.com/index.php/charisma-channels/prayer/18744

 

Given that the deletion of this prefatory comment is an obvious revision, it is curious that some of the errors in this article as pointed out on The International House of Prayers’ “Affirmations and Denials” tab are still there.  Is Mike Bickle aware that this article, which he corrects in part on his website, is uncorrected at Charisma?   Is Charisma aware of Bickle’s correction?

 

The original article and its current version point to the fallacy upon which the whole teaching is based and IHOP’s 24 hour worship is practiced.  The faulty premise comes from an incorrect exegesis of Acts 15:16-17 and an incorrect assumption about the unveiling of the Ark of the Covenant.  First, the Acts misinterpretation:

 

I came across this secret when I was studying the tabernacle of David (see Acts 15:16-17), the perfect model of a 24-hour-a-day prayer and worship ministry. King David assigned musicians and singers, whom he had trained in the prophetic spirit (see 1 Chr. 25:1-3), to worship God continuously before the ark.”[1]

 

Here are the Acts 15:16-17 verses:

 

16 ‘After this I will return

And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;

I will rebuild its ruins,

And I will set it up;

17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD,

Even all the Gentiles who are called by my name,

Says the LORD who does all these things.’ [NKJV]

 

Put in the context of the whole of Acts chapter 15 we see Paul, Barnabas and Peter explaining why the Gentiles did not need to conform to the Mosaic ritual of circumcision and to Mosaic Law.  Verses 16 and 17 are James answer to the Judiazers using words from the prophet Amos.  The ‘tabernacle’ which had ‘fallen down’ was the Davidic dynasty/lineage fulfilled in Jesus.  In Jesus, Gentiles, not just Jews, would be saved.  This passage speaks nothing about David’s make-shift Tabernacle housing the Ark of the Covenant [1 Chronicles 15:1 and 16:1].  Bickle’s error in the original article was clarified on the IHOP “Affirmations and Denials” page shown here:

http://www.ihop.org/Articles/1000050149/International_House_of/About_Us/Our_Beliefs/Affirmations_and_Denials.aspx

Following is the complete statement:

 

The Tabernacle of David

 

WE AFFIRM

the Holy Spirit is orchestrating a global worship and prayer movement that will operate in great authority (Luke 18:7–8; Matthew 21:13; Revelation 5:8, 8:3–5, 22:17; Isaiah 62:6–7; Joel 2:12–17 and 32). This prayer movement will operate in the spirit of the Tabernacle of David.
 
WE DENY the restoration of the tabernacle of David is the same as the end-time prayer movement.
  
Explanation: In the days of King David, he established a tabernacle that had singers and musicians who ministered to the Lord day and night. Today, the prayer movement is in the spirit of David’s Tabernacle. This means that the prayer movement will have some components of the Tabernacle of David, specifically pertaining to singers and musicians.
 
The promise of the restoration of the tabernacle of David refers to the governmental restoration of David’s international rule as part of the restoration of national Israel in the Millennial Kingdom.
  
 
 
 
 
 

 

The context of Amos 9:11–12 is the governmental rule of Jesus over all the nations from Jerusalem.
 
In Acts 15:13–18, James referred to Amos 9:11 declaring that Gentiles should be accepted into the predominantly Jewish Body of Christ, without needing to convert to Judaism. The apostles understood that in the End Times, God would re-establish the Messianic kingdom over all the nations. God has just visited the Gentiles with salvation at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10). This was in agreement with Old Testament prophecy. James quoted Amos to prove that many Gentiles will be saved in context to the restoration of the Davidic dynastic reign. This restoration will of course include David’s heart for worship and prayer. Though Amos 9:11 is not prophesying primarily about 24/7 intercessory worship, it will be a foundational reality in the release of Jesus’ worldwide rule over the nations. The prophetic word given to Mike Bickle in May 1983 was that “God would release 24 hour-a-day prayer in the spirit of the Tabernacle of David.” In other words, it would involve prophetic singers and musicians. Worship and intercession is not in itself the actual restoration of David’s tabernacle![2]

 

The last three paragraphs above go about clarifying/correcting the Acts and Amos passages cited in the original article.  For sake of comparison with the Acts verses and completeness, here are the Amos 9:11-12 verses which were paraphrased a bit by James in Acts:

 

11 “On that day I will raise up

The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down,

And repair its damages;

I will raise up it ruins,

And rebuild is as in the days of old;

12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom,

And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,”

Says the LORD who does this thing. [Amos 9:11-12 NKJV]

 

While Bickle corrects these verses [although verse 11 is also considered Messianic – as in Jesus’ first coming], he takes a bit of license with the last few sentences of the last paragraph.  How does he know that ‘24/7 intercessory worship’ as exemplified in King David’s reign during the time he had the Ark in Jerusalem will be a ‘reality’ in Jesus’ millennial reign?  Given that this whole Tabernacle of David prophecy comes from a ‘prophetic word’ from Bob Jones, how can anyone be sure based on Jones’ own assertion that New Testament prophecies will be about 2/3rds right at best?  And, when Bickle states that Amos 9:11 does not ‘primarily’ speak about ‘24/7 intercessory worship’ he is again taking license as this verse says nothing about full time worship – or any kind of worship. 

 

It’s interesting to note that this same faulty exegesis regarding Acts 15:16-17 is found quite a bit on the internet.  Just do a web search for “tabernacle of david” and see how many sites come up with this same error.

 

Now, moving on to the unveiling of the Ark: Bickle asserts that David’s Tabernacle did not have a veil concealing the Ark of the Covenant from view. 

 

“In David’s tabernacle there was no veil to keep the people from seeing the glory of God.”[3]         

 

He goes on to explain how the Davidic worshipers were in effect a ‘human veil’ over the Ark.  He cites a number of scripture references [1 Chronicles 6:31-33; 15:16-22; 23:4-6; 25:7] yet none specifically state that there was no covering in front of or over the Ark.  Two of these passages actually conflict Bickle’s assertion especially the 6:31-32 verses:

 

31 These are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the LORD after the ark came to rest there. 32 They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem. They performed their duties according to the regulations laid down for them. [1 Chronicles 6:31-32 NKJV emphasis mine]

 

This position of an unveiled Ark is not supported in scripture.  This would be contrary to the example provided by Moses whose Tabernacle had an inner room termed the ‘Most Holy Place’ housing the Ark with a thick curtain/veil separating this room from the rest of the structure [Exodus 25 – 27].  Besides 1 Chronicles 6:31-32; 23:4, here are the only two Biblical passages directly referencing David’s make-shift Tabernacle dwelling itself:

 

 1 David built houses for himself in the City of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched a tent for it. [1 Chronicles 15:1 / 2 Samuel 6:17 NKJV]

 

1 So they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. [1 Chronicles 16:1 NKJV]

 

 [As an aside: it’s interesting to note that the Hebrew transliterated word for both ‘tent’ and ‘tabernacle’ in these Chronicles passages are both ‘‘ohel;’ whereas, the word for ‘tabernacle’ in Exodus 26:1, the Mosaic Tabernacle,  is ‘mishkan’ in the Hebrew thereby illustrating the difference between the two.  Additionally, the transliterated word for ‘tabernacle’ in the Amos verse is ‘cukkah.’ All three are different!]

 

In addition, even an unveiling of the Ark during transportation was apparently forbidden as per instructions Moses gave in Numbers 4:4-6:

 

4 “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: 5 When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. 6 Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles.  [NKJV]

 

Therefore, we cannot assume the Ark in the Davidic Tabernacle was somehow left open, unveiled for all to see.  Since only the Levitical High Priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place/Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement, how could we assume the Ark was left in open view?  In addition, in light of the fact that with Jesus’ atoning death on the cross the curtain of the temple was torn thereby signifying that we may now enter the Holy of Holies/Most Holy Place directly [Mark 15:38; Hebrews 9:8-10:12; 10:19-20], why would we assume that the Ark was ever previously in plain sight? 

 

Furthermore – and most importantly – why would we want to resurrect an Old Testament pre-Messianic era practice?   With Jesus’ finished work on the cross, we are now the temple with the Holy Spirit living inside of us.

 

Now, I’m not opposed to corporate prayer.  I’m not opposed to 24/7 prayer.  But, the ToD is promoting just another ritual.  We have enough of those already.

 

Going back to the “Affirmations and Denials” page, the “WE AFFIRM” section uses a bit of scripture to support the ToD stance.  However, the references do not support the assertion that the Holy Spirit is ‘orchestrating a global worship and prayer movement that will operate in great authority.’  Nor do they support anything about a ‘spirit’ of operating in the ToD.

 

There’s also some confusion – at least to this reader – with the wording in this section.  Starting from the very top in the “WE AFFIRM” section it is clear Bickle is speaking of a prayer movement which will be in the ‘spirit’ of the Tabernacle of David.  And, the restoration of the ToD is not the same as the end-time prayer movement according to the “WE DENY” section.  Does this mean Bickle’s ToD is not an end-time prayer movement but a prayer movement not specifically related to end-times instead; or, does it mean that it’s not the same as the restoration of the Tabernacle of David which refers to the nation Israel’s reestablishment in the Millennial Kingdom?  Looking at the last paragraph of the Charisma article, Bickle refers to the ToD as end-time worship.

 

Is there significance in identifying it as NOT an end-times prayer movement as opposed to simply a prayer movement?

 

The bottom line is there is no Biblical support for Bickle’s Tabernacle of David.  The initial scriptural basis used for it in Acts 15 has been clarified and denied as being improper exegesis.  But, what about the current piece in Charisma which is at odds with the “Affirmations and Denials” of the ToD on the IHOP site?  Could the initial attempt to line up this practice to the Word of God have been instead a matter of eisegesis – looking for Biblical texts to support a ‘prophetic word’ of Bob Jones? 

 

Further, the assertion that the Ark was unveiled for all to worship in front of is Biblically unsupportable as well.  In fact, it’s easy to refute Biblically.  So, where’s the justification for the ToD?

 

 

 

[1] Mike Bickle, “The Tabernacle of David,” Charisma Magazine July 2008 <http://charismamag.com/index.php/charisma-channels/prayer/18744

 

2 Mike Bickle, The Tabernacle of David,” Affirmations and Denials, International House of Prayer , http://www.ihop.org/Articles/1000050149/International_House_of/About_Us/Our_Beliefs/Affirmations_and_Denials.aspx 

3 Charisma Magazine

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