What is the Emergent Church? What Do They Believe?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What is the emergent church and why do they call it this?  What danger is there in being in an emergent church?  What are signs that your church is becoming an emergent church?

What Does Emergent Mean?

The definition of the word emergent might help us to understand what exactly the emergent church is.  The dictionary defines emergent as:  newly appearing, arising, and occurring, especially for the first time.  It could be called arising unexpectedly or suddenly.  Like a plant that is emerging, so also the emergent church has roots below the surface that no one sees.  They have been growing for some time but most people were not aware of them.  Like an emerging plant, it comes up slowly but surely.  Even a tiny plant that emerges in your driveway can damage concrete and cause upheaval in the yard.  So too is the risk of an emergent church in an existing one or one that springs up by itself and independently.

What is the Emergent Church?

The emergent church is a recent event that now threatens to spread into the entire world and has even been infiltrating Bible-believing churches.  This movement started in the late 20th and early 21st century and its popularity is skyrocketing.  The emergent church is crossing many forbidden theological boundaries that have previously not been breached.   The emergent members desire to live their faith as a “post modern” society and at times are hard to distinguish from the pluralistic, secular (worldly) society in which it exists.  Most of its members are unsatisfied with what they term “organized religion” and the “institutional” church and are trying to reinvent the church from within.  The danger of this is that biblical models for church discipline, church government, the sacraments, and church offices are being ignored with the wider implications being the allowance for ongoing, unrepentant sin to exist within the Body of Christ, the church.  This has serious implications because Paul and the other apostles taught that church discipline for openly sinning and unrepentant members hurts the Body of Christ and weakens the witness of the church.

The emergent church is pro-active in its desire to change and influence society.  This may include using political power to bring in the “Kingdom,” create or work from a platform of social activism, and trying to overcome the public and private system that is presently held in society. The “world biblical view” in missions and presenting the gospel is to emphasize the love of God as one of the primary attributes of God.  It is not quite the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, but it often is the gospel stripped of its need for the necessity of a Savior because they frequently fail to mention sin, repentance, confession, church discipline, and fruits showing regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

Emergent Church Theology

It is hard to define the emergent church’s theology because it varies from church to church.  What concerns me is the neglect or absence of the sacraments.  That is, the Lord’s Supper is often missing in these churches even though Jesus gave us an example in Luke 22:17-19 where it says, “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves;  for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  Jesus is not hoping that the church will observe and partake of the Lord’s Supper but He gives this as an imperative command (“do this”).

Paul likewise repeated the importance of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Paul made an important statement in the last verse saying that when we “eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” In other words, we are commanded to do this in remembrance of Christ because when we do this, we are actually proclaiming His death up until the time that “He comes.”

The emergent church is pro-active in its desire to change and influence society.

The emergent church is pro-active in its desire to change and influence society.

One of the dangers of the emergent church’s theology is its teachings that we can not nail down exclusive truth regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality and other doctrines in the Bible.  Even the inerrancy of the Word of God, the Bible, is not upheld at many (though not all) emergent churches.  Certainly not all emergent churches are like this but many are concerned with reaching people with postmodern methods in their worship services.  In John MacArthur’s book, “The Truth War” he writes that “Churches today are filled with people like that. They drift from church to church. They are often more concerned about whether they like the music than they are about whether they are hearing the truth. They are usually absorbed in religion for self-centered reasons. They want a better life. They are ‘recovering’ sinners looking for fellowship. They are therefore susceptible to anyone who promises to meet their ‘felt needs.’ They are the first-line victims of false religion” (p. 182).

A seeker-sensitive mentality of making church comfortable is contrary to the teaching of the Bible.  The Word is said to be a sword and it cuts to the bone and marrow of the human soul, exposing the sinfulness of mankind and as has been said, it comforts the afflicted but afflicts the comfortable.  Anytime repentance, confession of sin, the sacraments, and other essential doctrines are left out of a church’s teachings, the sword has either been dulled or taken out of the hands of the teachers/pastors.


Do we really need to reinvent the church?  Jesus said the gates of hell (or death) will not prevail against His church.  If we are to believe that Jesus said this, then we should not be preoccupied to make church more conformable with the culture.  The “feel good” church is contrary to believers seeing themselves as still being sinners, even though justified (2 Corinthians 5:21) and having the need for daily repentance and that we are not okay but we are still in the process of being sanctified and dying daily to self.  Again I repeat that not all emergent churches are in error.  Many are sincere but sincerity  is never a guarantee against error.  A person or church can be sincere but still be sincerely wrong.  Ignorance is no excuse.  Just ask any law enforcement personnel.  Truth matters.  At least it does to God for Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6a) because “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Looking for a good church? Take a look at this article for guidelines:

How to Choose a Church

Resources – New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. MacArthur, John.  The Truth War.  Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers.  2007. Print.

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