“The Wounding Church” by Howard Nowlan

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“We limp in faith from the bed of our death, through the blood of the cross, to the the joy of Christ’s resurrection”.   Robert Capon Farrar.
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_I watched a two-hour long documentary last night on the growth and teaching of the emergent church. The analysis was telling, not only in its accuracy with regards to where the likes of this phenomenon has departed from orthodox theology and practice, but equally, if unintentionally, as to why so many have made such an exit from mainstream Christianity. Amidst the sharp critique of some (not all) of those defining the painful declarations of de-constructive spirituality, was a clear adherence to the kind of theology which internally wounds the church as much as any external intrusion of alien (non-christian) approaches to God.It’s usually pretty easy to unmask teachings which present a God or faith which is contrary to the character and relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to His handiwork, but what is equally, if not far more dangerous, is those welcomed within the very fold and ministry of the faith who are effectively tearing down the very core of God’s redemptive work in Christ (justification by Grace alone through Faith alone) by a seeking to re-establish the place of the Law over and above the Gospel.Sometimes this happens simply out of ignorance. I recently attended a service where a young student minister was preaching in such a fashion, that I don’t  think he was even really aware of what he was doing. It made my blood boil to hear it, but I know that there are others in that church who will work hard to take and keep people beyond such folly, so that is something (and quite rare right now), but watching the documentary made me realize afresh why it is that so many have been so scarred and bruised amidst Christianity- not by Christ, but by the church- that they have had to go elsewhere to try and find something better! The reason why such movements begin and grow is because of the great numbers of people who have gone to ‘orthodox’ churches and been thrashed again, and again, and again by nothing but a ‘gospel’ of law which has been emptied of the riches of Christ and God’s unmerited mercy and love towards us.When the Gospel is ‘clipped’ of this primary, essential message of the redemptive work of God in Christ, then all religious belief and practice becomes nothing more than our seeking to be valid before a god of our own making, and most certainly not the living God who justifies the wicked.We can indeed become grieved when men profess a faith which denies Christ as seen in His own words or those of His Apostles and Prophets, and rightly so, but should we not be all the more deeply anguished when, in those very churches which deem themselves to be genuinely ‘christian’, the life-giving bread of the Gospel, the person, of Jesus Christ, is not broken and shared, but in truth withheld from the very souls which are there to feed upon Him – to meet with God with a broken and contrite heart and to eat of His grace in their time of need? Is that not the greatest evil of all – to leave men and women outside of that mercy and fellowship when that is why we are here… to hold out that word of life?

We simply cannot deal in many of our churches today with the manner of ‘Lordship’ evidenced in Christ Himself in the upper room at the last supper – removing His clothing and girding Himself in a towel (dressing Himself as a slave, as the Living Bible so succinctly puts it) to wash the feet of those who were His friends – those who, in spite of all the failings and denials, He loved totally, and would give His life to save just a few short hours later. 

This gospel means we totally and entirely saved “not by our successes but in and through our failures… Our so-called ‘successes’ cannot be saved – they are nothing but suits of obsolete armor, ineffective moral and spiritual contraptions we have climbed into to avoid facing the thing which can save us – our totally naked vulnerability before Jesus, for it is the person He lives and dies for, not the suit we contrive to wear” (Farrar – Parables of Judgement).

Is this the God with whom we have to do in our Sunday services, our bible studies, our daily lives, because if we are not focused upon this God, seen in the incarnation and life of His only begotten Son, then we really have nothing to say  – THAT is the reality.

The pain of the emergent church is great, but that is primarily because it shouts so loudly regarding the failure of mainline Christianity to ‘speak’ the truth in love, evidenced in God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ. Because of that failing, many of us who, miraculously still attend a church, know only too well of such wounding, and can only hope and pray that even as such bruised reeds and smoldering flaxes, we can seek to point to true grace in these days of such great need.

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Thank you, Howard.
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Howard’s blogsite is Rebel by Nature, Righteous by Force
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7 Responses

  1. Thank you, Howard, for a thoughtful piece written in the true spirit of Christian love and out of love for the Truth of Christ.

  2. Thanks Howard (I know you don’t know me) for this insightful look at the emergent idea. I do agree that with this and other “theologies” that many emerge as a result of mishandling of people and, of course, Scripture. But when people are bludgeoned by Law or beat with legalistic living, they will search for something else. You state it well. Let the church be the church it is supposed to be and this type of stuff wouldn’t gain a major foothold.

  3. I am convinced that a portion of the emergent church just works way too hard to be different from Calvinism and are in love with “love”. It’s good to offer a third gospel centric option where the final say is the finished work of the cross and the imputed righteousness of Christ.

  4. Many thanks for sharing this, Steve, and for your comments, Pastor Mark & Cycle Guy. Cent. of the Gospel – absolutely. It is clearly, in so many respects, a rejection of the manner of absolute doctrinairism you find in various theological circles. We have to return to the message of Christ and His saving work.

    Here’s my latest:http://wwwjustifiedsinner.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-discomfort-zone.html

  5. Thank you, Howard, for sharing your thoughts on the church and Christian faith with us.

    I appreciate the hope and encouragement in Christ that comes from your pen.

    I’ll be getting over to take in your latest. Thanks again, for sharing with us, friend.

  6. The key is to think of the gospel of Jesus Christ as a pattern for living, rather than steps on a checklist. We can continue to develop our faith in Christ every day by reading His words in the scriptures and praying to our Heavenly Father. When we sin, we can repent every time with a humble heart because Jesus Christ’s Atonement is never-ending. We can remember the promises and blessings of baptism by taking the sacrament every Sunday at church. We can continue to rely on the comfort and guidance of the Holy Ghost as he leads us back to God.

  7. Wow, thanks Howard for the piece and Steve for sharing. I agree with all that I read. I cannot help but conclude: The reformation is not over.

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