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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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Chevelle June 17, 2013 at 9:59 am

I know of these churches. I really don’t see how one think that they can live by the Bible and live according to secular standards. As the saved, we are free from that, yet, these churches seem to want to put themselves right back into it. You know, I didn’t know the desire to fit in could be so strong that you would give up your salvation, try to change, twist, wring out the only truth there is in the world and trade for lies and feel good. Its as if, this society only wants gratification, not salvation. Man, but every time I see something like this, it strengthens my faith so much more. Because the Bible already warns and tells us of it and we can use the Bible to discern the truth and these so called “emerging churches”. The people who join or want to live in these churches will only trade the truth for a lie. I must pray that many will be saved from this and go on to find salvation in Jesus Christ, not in the twisting of the scriptures. I hope that everyone seeks a church that will help them grow to understand and accept the hard truths of the Bible, not confuse them about the VERY CLEAR meaning of some scriptures and falsely lead them down the wrong path. Thank you for this article Jack.


Jack Wellman June 17, 2013 at 10:58 am

Thank you so much Chevelle. I believe that we are trying to market the church and not depend upon God the Holy Spirit. God draws people to Christ (John 6:44) so do we really need to have seeker-friendly churches and doctrine to “help” God? Would God need any help at all? Ridiculous, yes. Job was chastised for seeing a God as insufficient and boy did God let Him have it! Let God be God and trust in Him. People are saved and it is not OUR responsibility. It is THEIR response to HIS ability although it is our responsibility to share the gospel. Thanks for the encouragement.


Chevelle June 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
-Romans 12:1-2
This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible and I truly believe that it applies here. And I like the last quote there, it really clears up what you are supposed to be doing. Hopefully these churches realize that and aren’t trying to please people by not delivering the whole truth of the gospel. I don’t know if all of them are like that, but everytime I think of “seeker friendly” churches it makes me cringe…


Jack June 17, 2013 at 10:52 am

Hi, Pastor Jack! I have a question, who were the Nephilim? THanks, Jack 😀


Jack Wellman June 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

Let’s read what you are referring to Jack:

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 3Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Gen. 6:1-4).

There is debate over exactly who the Nephilim in Genesis 6 are. Some people believe that the Nephilim are the offspring of sexual relations between fallen angels and human women. Jude 6 is often referenced as additional support when addressing the angelic realm who “…did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode…” (Jude 1:6). Others believe the Nephilim were giants (Nephilim means giants), men of great physical stature. Of course, this is also believed by some people who suspect that the offspring of the fallen angels and the women were those giants. They say this would explain their large size, but this is conjecture. Still others hold that the Nephilim are the descendents of Seth.

The range of options is varied. Consider this:

Many have suggested that the sons of God were the godly line of Seth and the daughters of men were the Cainites. But this does not do justice to the terminology or the context. Others view the ‘sons of God’ as angels (as in Job 1:6), who cohabited with women on earth. This, however, conflicts with Matt. 22:30.”

The term [Nephilim, Giants] in Hebrew implies not so much the idea of great stature as of reckless ferocity, impious and daring characters, who spread devastation and carnage far and wide.

The improper mating of heavenly beings and earthly women is an attack on the boundaries that are meant to separate the heavenly and earthly realms. It thus threatens the integrity of creation as God intended it.

As you can see, commentaries are divided on who exactly the Nephilim really are. Therefore, we can make no definite statement on who the Nephilim really were.

Personally, I believe what the Hebrew implies.


Robert June 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Great article Jack,
While I am careful not to judge the motives behind the Emergent movement, I will say that I am convinced from what I’ve read (their own authors) that they are extremely liberal, oftentimes unbiblical, in their theology. Many Emergent authors deny, even attack, fundamental (biblical) doctrines long held by the orthodox church. Thank you for this article, Jack.
Yours in Christ,


Jack Wellman June 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Thank you my brother. Well said. I now wish I had included your words of wisdom more specifically as you stated them. Thank you. Praying for you, our neighbors to our south, knowing this must have been and still is hard. I thank God for you Robert.


Patricia Schneider June 17, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Thanks bunches for this article, Pastor Jack! Was uninformed about these “Emergent Churches.” Thankful to God that hubby Gary & I DON’T belong to such a Church, but to one which believes and teaches God’s Word!
Always, your sister in Christ, Jesus….Patty


Jack Wellman June 18, 2013 at 2:42 pm

The only thing you will catch me emerging from is my prayer closet! LOL


Troy June 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Wow. Such corruption and deception going on. I pray our brothers and sisters don’t fall into this. A shame


Jack Wellman June 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Amen Troy….why do we need “another gospel” when we have a perfect one already! That of repentance, confession of sin, growing in grace and knowledge, of obedience to Christ, of Christ’s work on the cross at Calvary, of the need for forgiveness for God’s wrath to be removed and placed on Christ…..thanks Troy. Yes, it is a shame. It’s like they think the emergent church needs to help God the Holy Spirit in drawing people to Christ and saving them!


kris June 19, 2013 at 12:32 am

This was a very well expressed exposition of the Emergent movement . I truly am thankful for the way you explained what to many is rather difficult to nail down.

I have several books that do a pretty good job of also comparing the Modern, Post Modern and Post Christian distinctives for those who are interested in learning a bit more ….The Death of Truth by Dennis McCallum is very readable and clear.

Also a sight to learn more about the infusion of the Emergent Church, the Contemplative Movement and various elements of the occult and eastern religious practices in more depth by those who have ‘been there , done that , and now are exposing it as they have become IN Christ is

Lighthouse Trails Ministry …


Topics this months enews…more exposes on the increasing trends in many churches today.

Hope you find this informative.


Jenn May 27, 2014 at 8:21 am

Thanks, I didn’t realize this had a name. I’ve seen this in many churches, and it seems post-modern thinking has infiltrated most churches. In Sunday School and VBS materials, it is common to find humanistic ideas clothed in scripture. Many are deceived because they don’t know scripture, or they don’t know presuppositions that are rooted in humanism.


Jack Wellman May 27, 2014 at 8:40 am

Thank you Jenn, sadly we have many so-called pastors that will not come out and preach the need for repentance and trusting in Christ and also that Jesus is the one and only way to receive eternal life and we must all stand firm in the Word of God. It is going to get worse I am afraid but thank you Jenn for noticing the shift toward worldly secularism and humanism. You are so right.


Janice January 20, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Thank you so much for your article. When I started seeking God, and went to church, I DID NOT want more of the world, I wanted something else. That is what breaks my heart to see the church using “seeker friendly” as an excuse for not preaching the pure Word of God and using entertainment and social messages to people who don’t know any better, We have seen this creeping into our church and are amazed that folks who have sat under solid biblical teaching can sit in the pews and accept what is now being given. If you don’t know the Bible, the subtlety of the mixed messages is missed. We have been praying that God will raise up more people to bring these errors to everyone’s attention before it is too late.
Thank you again, and may God bless you.


Jack Wellman January 20, 2015 at 8:23 pm

Thank you Janice for your very kind words. I appreciate that very much. I think praying for God to bring up others who will believe in the Word of God as infallible and preach it is a very good prayer request. Thank you. I heard one pastor say that doctrine divides…and I agree. Maybe it divides the wheat from the tares in many cases.


Julie February 3, 2015 at 1:06 pm

I am so grieved by the influence in our area via Bill Johnson and the heretical ‘church’ at Bethel in Redding! so many saints are being drawn in to his false teaching and causing division in our valley! I am so grieved to the point of tears over it all!


Jack Wellman February 3, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Julie, I am sure Jesus is too and sadly, this type of teaching and influence via heretical church’s are spreading because many do not want to hear about repentance, confession of sin, living a holy life, the necessity for preaching about the blood of the Lamb and the cross, and in trust in Christ. I cannot find many churches that preach about repentance and faith, two sides of the same coin, and mentioned over 30 times together in the New Testament. Instead it is see what we can do for you and your family to make life happier even though the Bible never teaches thus and on the contrary, the road is narrow, difficult, and few go in this path.


Marie May 7, 2015 at 4:09 am

I was reading about the apostate church in the book of revelations and am convinced it was describing the emergent church movement. It is really scary to me just how subtly deceptive that movement is, to the point that “even the elect will be deceived.” And yet, too many bible-believing Christians these days have no clue about the emergent church. Also, having watched a few documentaries about religious cults, in reading your article, I am reminded about Jim Jones and his church, The People’s Temple. The world was not exactly ready for him in the 70s but it sure is now. I am convinced what Jim Jones tried to do is what the Antichrist will successfully accomplish.


Jack Wellman May 7, 2015 at 8:34 am

Thank you Marie. It is very subtle just like Satan in the Garden of Eden. Very deceptive. These “emergent churches” are more interested in filling the parking lot and pews than filling heaven with saints.


Kris May 8, 2015 at 2:26 am

Some most recent “biblical” movies are full of the various mystic and gnostic aspects working their way into people’s minds wherein there is a lack of knowledge of the scriptures.
People have become more into passive learning and entertainment as opposed to being Bereans


Dave Emme September 9, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Do not want to appear that I am a Mr. know it all. I think quite a few use the same exact definition whether inside the emergent church or outside of it. Always find two resources is what defines doctrine and practices-the new age movement and philosophy.

For emergent or emergence-philosophy.

What an emergent property is a element that cannot be defined or as many have opined-irreducible which means it cannot be broken down any further or cannot be reduced.

These properties will coalesce with other properties making a new complex entity or thing.

If you look at how foundationalism and certainty are defined-fits nice and snug with emergence. Another philosophical term to be aware of is complexity. You can look all this up on Wikipedia and Stanford’s philosophy website to see a more in depth understanding.

Have not looked at this yet but they crown fundamentalism as a reductionist understanding. What has got me going on them is when I learned they consider fundamentalism as a modernist conception.

Words you want to define philosophically:emergence/emergent, foundational or foundationalism, Certainty, complexity, and thos is all I can think of for right now b7t feel am leaving something out


CDouglas March 20, 2018 at 12:40 pm

Would the IHOP church, international house of prayer, be included in the emergent church category? in the end we will all be judged separately, apart from any church affiliation or denomination, so i believe it is important for us not to self righteously judge any one movement or individual (not that i am implying you are). God will seer our hearts and then, only then, will we know for certain that we have behaved as good and faithful servants in his kingdom after leaving this planet. Yes there is an assurance in salvation, but let us not forget and awe at the mystery that still abounds regarding the nature of our of Creator.


Jack Wellman March 20, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Hello my friend and thank you for your comment. I do believe the IHOP is an emergent church. They focus on miracles and signs and not on preaching the gospel and rescuing the perishing, and the Bible commands us to expose those who are teaching error.

Romans 16:17-18 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

Ephesians 5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (my emphasis)

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

We judge no one but we do make judgments about whether something is true or not and we all do that everyday. We judge whether a car is a good bargain or not by testing it and judging whether its worth the money or not, so we are not judging the people but exposing their error.


David Westley Emme August 25, 2018 at 11:02 am

You might want to rethink that ideal of not judging anyone or a church. Those people are less than honest and want to lead many away from Christ and the bible.

If you ever get a chance, ask them this: Who in the fundamentalist movement decided we needed to be foundational. Who exactly did the reduction in order to arrive at fundamental truths withinm Christianity? (When I wriote Fundamental I am not talking of fundamentalism as we understand it but fundamental truth that becomes foundational truth). Can the fundamentals of the faith be reduced any more than what they already have been, allegedly.

If you meet those who consider themselves emergent or emerging, ask them to explain what I hjust stated here. Your not going to get very many answers. They will reccomend a book for you to buy and read(not that I am against buying books and reading them even if I know I will disagree.) Why ask them this? The accusation is that fundamentalism is a product of modernity and that is hown they describe it is-taking foundationalism and using that philosphy in order to oppose religious liberalism.

If someone is going to judge others as they do of using this philosophy or philosophical method but never actually gives you names or orginizations that practiced foundationaism in order to come up with fundamentalism-be weary.

Last point-emergence is about evolution. Start looking into emergent evolution and emergence philosophically. They will not tell you that this is where they get their vioews from but once you adequately understand what emergence and emergent evolution is, than read their materials to describe their movement. Who would have ever thought people would use a type of evolution to stand against fundamentalism? Especially when Fundamentalism was started to oppose evolution in main line denominations.


Ellen April 7, 2018 at 2:51 pm

I have heard of the emerging church, but I never knew just what it was, why it was considered dangerous…thank you so much for this article.


Ethel McClyde May 2, 2019 at 3:03 pm

Thanks for making this information about the emergent church clear and concise for me. I’ve read other articles written probably for pastors and not lay people. It’s just like a false teacher, it creeps in unaware. It’s creeping in small churches who want to be mega churches.


Jack Wellman May 2, 2019 at 4:58 pm

Thank you for your kind words. I am so glad you are being vigilant against the sinister ministers of Satan.


Anthony April 14, 2020 at 12:23 pm

I just want to say I have been a Christian for forty years and found by attending many Evangelical churches being erelavent to my relationship with God. As culture is constantly changing God wants us to be relevant in the world. The Emerging church has prevented me from losing my faith.


Jack Wellman April 14, 2020 at 12:43 pm

Hello Anthony. Thank you for your comment, but can a man or even a church keep us from losing our faith or is our faith in God and not in a church? Culture changes, but God never does nor does His Word, so many churches are entertaining people rather than preaching what Jesus preached; repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). Any other gospel than repentance and faith is no gospel at all, even if you feel it’s irrelevant. That’s on you. We cannot change the church….and the church cannot change people. This is only a sovereign act of God (Eph 2:1-5). Many evangelical churches are getting it right, but not so with the emergent movement.


Jaxon August 31, 2020 at 5:48 am

I regard anyone who uses the NIV and other other “modern English” translation to be a part of the downfall of True Christianity. These Anti-Christ “bibles” were the beginning of The End. Ironic that your essay against the “emergent church quotes ONLY from NIV!

You are a viper! Get thee behind me Satan!


Jack Wellman August 31, 2020 at 10:23 am

Hello Jason. We no longer use the NIV today and are transitioning away from it, but your last quote is very troublesome. You are dropping Satan’s name associated with this site or author, so shame on you. You will no longer be able to comment with hate speech like that. Please repent of this bitterness.


Sam Pinto April 23, 2021 at 5:59 pm

Thank you Jack for a very well written article on the emergent church. I have witness this “sell out” of the truth at a good number of churches in our area, where the Gospel and the need of salvation is no longer taught or preached, and they have exchanged sound Bible-teaching for a 30 minute “concert” of shallow so-called Christian music that appeals to the flesh, followed by a short “feel-good” sermon on a cultural current event with very little biblical teaching. The audience is entertained, but never edified on even the basics of faith.
I have taught in our small congregation about this dangerous movement, and find your article to be very useful. I will definitely recommend it to the believers in our church, especially the youth and the newly saved.

Your brother in Christ,

Sam Pinto.
1 Tim 1:17


Jack Wellman April 23, 2021 at 6:01 pm

Hello Mr. Pinto. Thank you for your encouragement sir. I am so glad there are church leaders like you who are still contending for the faith once and for all delivered (Jude 1:3).


eme April 26, 2021 at 1:33 pm

a cup of wine and bread are in every home.
cathedrals were not present during the time of jesus.
the “organized churches” that shelter molesters
appear to me to be THE apostate, THE antichrist, and THE whore of babylon that dresses in the clothing of the lamb.


Jack Wellman April 26, 2021 at 1:55 pm

Hello Eme. Any church or organization that shields or protect molesters is evil, but not all churches are like that, thankfully, and it appears that most do not allow such evil in their church. As for “organized churches,” this is what Jesus said, He will build His church and not even death will stop it! God is a God of order and not chaos. We need organization for evangelism outreach, the Sacraments (Lords Supper & Baptism), etc. Cathedrals were not around but there were large gatherings even then (Acts 2).


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