What in the World is Going on in Church?! How to figure out what’s”emerging,” what you can do, and a story that might sound familiar

 

Phyllis Nissila

A CHURCH ODYSSEY
Can you relate to our story?

Several years ago my sister and I began what we now call our “church odyssey.” The Protestant church we had been attending for about twenty-five years in its several area locations had (ever- so-slowly) been changing over about a decade by a prayer here, a rite there, a focal point here, and a gradual exchange of the Word of God for the words of others, there.

In addition, we began hearing that elsewhere, people were encouraged to check out prayer labyrinths, various brands of extra-biblical “meditation,” and medieval-era type mystical practices. Still elsewhere, messages high-lighting the words “purpose” and “potential” were on the increase while the Word of God was becoming more and more a footnote.

Back in our own church, although we did hear some of the “milk of the Word of God,” the “meat” was gradually replaced by an appetizer tray of feel-good tidbits. Tantalizing, yes; satisfying, no. The focus was more and more on behavior and less and less on a systematic exposition of the scriptures. Verses seemed “cherry-picked” to fit somebody’s program or plan.

At one point, the changes came to critical mass for us and we began to wonder what was going on. Like the proverbial frog in a pan of water unaware of the gradual increase of temperature until it is too late, we were sensing the heat. But before hopping out we decided to politely and appropriately approach the leadership. However, no manner of talking or detailing our concerns—with supporting data—in emails or letters seemed to help. Some suggested another church might be better for us.

We decided to try to find a new church aligned with the Word of God and core Christian doctrine.

ANYBODY? ANYBODY?
Our journey over the next few years was both enlightening and frightening. We investigated some fifteen churches in our area and a church in another location that friends of ours raved over. Here are but a few of these experiences and goings-on and will give you an indication why (after investigating further) we moved on. Do you recognize any of these?

After a few months in one of the first churches we investigated, a place that had great music, good worship and solid messages, the leadership began reporting “sightings” of gold dust, feathers, angelic “orbs,” and oil running down the aisles.

Another church (the one some of our friends travel to) features kundalini-like experiences “in the spirit,” “soaking prayer,” and a new healing technique that claims a speedy recovery from past trauma through a new genre of “memory healing”—but you might have to sign a disclaimer first.

Some other churches prioritized not offending “seekers,” thus little was offered along the lines of a man dying on a cross for our sins, for example, or the possibility of an eternal hell, for another.

And regarding one last notable church of this genre, we got only as far as the entrance. The pungent scent of incense, array of candles flickering in the dimmed lights, and little statues nested here and there prompted us to turn around quickly and head straight for the exit. Former Roman Catholics, it was just too much like the old days.

IN MOURNING
But about that time we had begun to realize that we might not be successful. After three years and so many churches and after doing extensive research in the Bible, Online and in bookstores we came to the realization others have come to as well in the last ten years or so: the church has been a changin.’ On steroids. Changes that most of us would never have imagined even twenty years ago. A brand new, 21st century, seeker-friendly, apostolically-reformed, spiritually-renewed, globally-ambitious, business model of church growth-savvy, purpose- and potential-driven church has emerged. And post-modernism, one of the foundations of much of the new phenomena, has seemingly supplanted “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” in the pulpits. It’s a new brand of church with many facets.

In addition, we have discovered that people like my sister and me, a couple of graying Boomers, are apparently waaaaaaay behind the times with our “dusty KJVs,” Greek and Hebrew lexicons, “hymns written by dead people (or old people),” and our beliefs in “scriptures only, faith only, grace only, and Jesus Christ only.”

So we went through, as we now think of it, a period of mourning, a kind of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, “Five Stages of Grief” process:
1. Denial (No, WAY! This stuff CAN’T be happening HERE!).
2. Anger “(HOW did this HAPPEN! WHO is RESPONSIBLE?! Were we ALSEEP?!)
3. Bargaining (Well, they DO preach SOME of the good stuff. Maybe if we just wait awhile they’ll get to the rest of it or get back to it… maybe NEXT Sunday…)
4. Depression (What’s the use, anymore? This stuff is so insidious and manipulative how can one or two people possibly do anything about it? We can just have our Bible studies at home or with a couple of others, if we can find anybody, and just forget the whole experience…). And, finally,
5. Acceptance (It does seem that the emerging church changes are firmly entrenched. Some of these churches are huge and make a lot of money and the leadership is good-looking, charming and articulate. HOWEVER, perhaps there is something we CAN do for ourselves and for others caught up in the same realizations and frustrations…)

SOME HOPE
Because my sister and I decided to listen, ask questions, search for answers, and learn more about this phenomenon, WE FOUND THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE! We have discovered that more and more Christians every day are exiting the “church du jour,” finding each other (and perhaps you, too), and connecting with others hungry for the unadulterated Word of God. We might now be fellowshipping Online, in small home groups, or in coffee shops, but we no longer need thirst on the vine.

(We have also learned that many experiential aspects of the “new church” aren’t really “new,” but rather familiar old diversions inspired by that ancient artificer who continually prowls about seeking whom he might devour…)

Those of us “on the outside” now, are not only connecting, we need each other. The times mandate this; our hearts cry out for this. And though we may be few, we still have Jesus’ promise: wherever even just two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is in our midst. (Matthew 18:20)

So be encouraged, brethren—whether “Jew, Greek; bond, slave; male (or) female”—and stay the course. And to help you in a more practical way here are some pointers based on our odyssey on how to identify what’s going on in your church and what you could do now, should you decide to go further.

A PLAN
1. In your church, if you have heard the following buzz words or have noted the following trends or and institutions that support them, or if your church now participates in anything that seems non- or extra-biblical to you, do an Internet, bookstore, or library search. When you find the items of interest, you will also learn the names of dozens of leaders in various aspects of this movement. Or you can scroll down now to the list of Internet resources listed under “Sites” that link to websites and blogs that specialize in researching trends and people in the church to alert, inform, and warn us.
Ancient Mystics
Breath Prayers
Contemplative Spirituality
Emergent Church
Emerging Church
Desert Fathers
Dominionism
Ecumenism
Global Spirituality
Healing Rooms
Kingdom Now
Kundalini effect in the church
Leadership Network
Lectio Divina
Mantra Meditation
Narrative Theology
New Age practices in the church
New Apostolic Reformation
New Missiology
Post-modernism in the church
Purpose Driven
Quantum Spirituality
Soaking prayer
Spiritual Formation Movement
Sozo
Theophostics
Toronto Blessing
Total Quality Management in the church
Universalism

2. Ask what your church leadership is currently reading or following, whom they admire, and what they recommend you read. Pay attention to what is quoted during services as well, other than the Bible, and make sure you get the name of the texts and the authors. This is what first alerted us to what was going on in one of the churches here. The pastor used a quote from a book by a noted “contemplative spirituality” author. The quote seemed innocent enough all by itself. But because it was included in a message given by a pastor—the authority figure—some in the congregation might have assumed the quote came from an author who had been successfully vetted as per his qualifications to teach on the standard tenets of the faith. They might have gone on to purchase and read the book and to be further influenced. When we heard the reference, we only sensed the author was a little off kilter. Later investigation proved just how much.

3. Make sure the Bible references quoted are in context.

4. Search the Internet for credible critiques of books and programs espoused by your church leadership. Better yet, research the authors yourself, and read the books—Bible and concordance at hand. (We recommend Bibles, concordances, and commentaries with publication dates prior to 1980 as revisions have been made in some newer versions.)

5. And it can’t be said enough: know the Word of God. Immerse yourself in the scriptures. Be good “Bereans,” who were commended for their careful study of the Word of God. How can we know if what is being promoted at the pulpit is incorrect if we aren’t familiar with the core text of our beliefs? Especially, how can we know that some idea or philosophy is “just a shade off” truth? It’s easy to spot the big themes, but not so easy to follow the subtleties, the nuances, the almost-but-not-quite information which is how many are duped, led astray, and manipulated. Many are left with only a suspicion, a hunch, a doubt about what they’ve heard. But, be of good cheer, this is generally where it starts because the Holy Spirit is still leading, guiding, and inspiring. It would be nice if we all had chapters and verses memorized, but most of us just don’t.

6. Remember to BREATHE! This new “church,” known by some of the many names above, is vast and deeply entrenched. Many beliefs and practices, specifically the New Age insertions, that used to be OUTSIDE the church, are now INSIDE. Coming into your first awareness of all of this might be a little overwhelming. It was for us. Even though my sister and I had some general knowledge about cults and the occult, it was still breath-taking to find out what has been going on in the church! We needed to take breaks from time to time.

7. Lastly, if you feel so led and in keeping with the Scriptural admonition to present the truth in love, you might e-mail, call, or, over coffee, discuss your findings with your church leadership. We found that a series of questions directly related to the topic of concern, along with copies of the research, to be best and least apt to cause defensiveness. We have not had much success with this approach in our area, but that does not mean that someone in leadership in your church might not also be questioning and wondering about the same issues and might be positively influenced by your presentation. And grateful.

A CAVEAT–BUT MORE ENCOURAGEMENT
But also be aware that it is more likely that you will be patronized, criticized for being a “complainer,” invited to leave and find some place more suitable, or written off in other ways. There are reasons some churches will remain involved. The “21st century church,” which includes many mega churches, can be very lucrative, for one thing. In addition, many of the new trends align with the “spirit of the age,” i.e., that the efforts of man, collective, can achieve what solo churches and institutions have not been able to achieve for millennia. There is also an emphasis on experience as stand-alone, credible validation of truth and younger generations, having been steeped in post-modernism via educational and other venues, are highly susceptible to this kind of thinking.

And it is just possible that your leadership is unaware of the full nature and origins of some of the popular new programs catching on like wildfire in the churches. Expressing your genuine concern and taking the time to respectfully share information with them might be of great value.

If you are put off, though, and/or decide this is just not a church you can continue to attend, allow yourself time to mourn; grieve over the possible loss of church friends, the safety and comfort of a familiar fellowship, and the disheartening prospect of finding someplace else at this stage of life or of need. Let the God of comfort attend you.

But, be encouraged, also. We’re “out here,” too. As the kids say, you’ve still got “peeps!” Lots of us! And there are still many solid, biblically-based teachings and devotionals to read, watch, and listen to. Access them.

And, most encouraging, Jesus promised He’d never leave nor forsake us…

From our hearts to yours, then, and with our great gratitude to the individuals represented in the sites below and others who have so enriched, enlightened, and encouraged us on our journey.

Praise be to God!

SITES
Here are some Internet sites that, as noted above, include innumerable postings to assist you in your research. But, of course, discern and cross-reference as needed. In them you will read personal testimonies of those who, like us, have come out of the “church emerging,” those with a scholarly bent who have vetted her, and those who track the newest fads to emerge in her. And this is only a small listing of sites available for research.

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/researchtopics.htm
http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/
http://www.olivetreeviews.org/
http://herescope.blogspot.com/
http://www.crossroad.to/
http://www.ankerberg.com/

 

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15 Responses to What in the World is Going on in Church?! How to figure out what’s”emerging,” what you can do, and a story that might sound familiar

  1. pnissila says:

    I would also encourage readers to read this post–
    https://pnissila.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/be-still-and-know-that-i-am-god-a-closer-read-of-the-contemplatives-poster-verse/
    –as a post script to this piece. It sometimes shows up as a “related article” at the bottom, here.

    Since writing about the trouble with the “contemplative’s poster verse,” two years ago, now, I keep hearing of off-shoots of off-shoots of the kind of New Age-like practices noted in the commentary.

    We can’t be reminded enough to “study and show ourselves approved,” to “soak ourselves” NOT in “church pop culture,” if you will (which is an oxymoron, if you think about it) but in careful and prayerful expositions of God’s Word.

    The richness and depth and power of the Bible (often maligned but, ironically, more and more feared, else why the effort to get rid of it and no other religious text?) is without parallel for strengthening faith and revealing truth.

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  3. hollysgarcia says:

    Hi Priscilla. I figured I had better start a new post. In the last five years I learned more than I ever wanted to know about Calvinism, but I am very sure it was for a reason, and so I press on with His help. I have seen many be set free praise God, and many don’t at all understand the problem and believe it is ‘non-essential’. I am happy to help with anything you would like. I have also learned quite a bit about Roman Catholicism over the years, breaks my heart. I have some dear long time friends and family involved, so thankful I was able to lead my brother-in-law into the truth and he is now a believer, praise God for His tender mercies. My sister-in-law, and many of my husband’s cousins and relatives, not yet. My husband’s best friend, was kind of a jack-Catholic agnostic,, but is now saved, as of last August. I have many Catholics I’m still bringing before the throne of grace, weeping for these good people who don’t understand no one is good in His sight and they need Him and need to let go of these false teachings and believe on Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. I will love to see what you have written, thank you.

    I had one child who was 10, when I met my husband, they said I would never have any more but I did not believe them. When my husband and I decided to get married (he had 2 children), I went to the doctor who again told me I would never get pregnant. It seemed more real at that point. After we married in December, we had our first at the end of August. That doctor (yet another) said one in a 10,000 chance we’d ever get pregnant again. I was sitting with with my husband and our 3 month old in church when the pastor said ‘the fruit of the womb is the Lord’s reward” and seemed he locked his eyes on me. I elbowed my husband in shock and said “I think I’m pregnant”. He laughed at me. We were supposed to go out to lunch after, instead I made him take me to the supermarket for a pregnancy kit. I bought the double kit because I was so sure. Both read positive 🙂 After we had our second daughter 12 months after the first, we had our third daughter 11 mos. later. And 13 mos. later our son, and then started to be able to space them out, whew….

    The Lord did indeed bless us. Two out of my three oldest daughters are married, my third is finishing up college this next year. My son left a couple days ago for a mission to the Dominican republic and I am still raising our kids while my husband is resting with the Lord. :).. The Lord is good and He gave me a wonderful man to help me raise this huge family that in this day and age is very much frowned upon by most..

    I haven’t read this book, a Bible Study teacher said it’s very informative, this one is downloadble free online, the link is below for you, feel free to delete if you want to ‘prove all things’ first. I learned the majority of what Calvinists teach the hard way (facebook conversations over the last 8 years, many). I have been truly shocked at the maligning of God’s character, although they of course see it as glorifying God. What I learned about Calvin, again, shock, disbelief, that any, even those carnal would identify with this man to define their doctrine. No way! He’s not a murderer of one but of many, many people. Luther a rabid anti-semitic. Augustine, lewd, ‘saved’ by a little child’s voice chiding him about his lust. So much, no way to share it all, but this is the leading movement I believe, or at least one of them in the supposed evangelical churches. I’ve chewed your ear off too long 🙂 Please feel free to look at my recommended links too, there are some very good Bible teachers and teachings there. In Christ’s love and thanks to you for speaking the truth in love.

    http://www.calvarychapeltheology.com/the_dark_side_of_calvinism.html

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    • pnissila says:

      Thanks. I will read this. I found a booklet, “Why I Disagree with All Five Points of Calvinism” by Curtis Hutson. Have you read this? If so, what do you think?

      And wonderful about your family. Whereas I was very content with two daughters (quite grown, now), and the odds were against me as well, I would have found many more a big struggle! 🙂

      I always consider a new topic something more I need to know and learn from. Additionally, more levels of insight into guidance I am seeking as well.
      Blessings,
      Phyllis

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      • hollysgarcia says:

        I have not read it that I recall, but Curtis Hutson is reliable as far as I know. Expreacherman.com has quite a bit of info on reformed/Calvinism and lordship doctrine (legalism -front and backloading works to the gospel). I know both Jack Weaver (ex pastor also Florida Bible) and John, as well as Tom Cucuzza who is a pastor at northlandchurch.com, very sound and Biblical. You might also find anything by Dr. Hank Lindstrom or Ralph (Yankee Arnold) who is Calvary Tampa (not calvary chapels), and I believe their site is bibleline.org.

        Hope some of that helps, just to get an idea of the issues. A lot of people get drawn in as the initial explanations with proof texts seem to make sense, but perseverance of the saints does not equal the Biblical teaching of eternal security or total depravity does not equal the Biblical truth of no one being good, it has to do with a lack of free will. Unconditional election isn’t about foreknowledge, it’s about God choosing whom He wishes for hell with no chance of salvation. Christ dying for the world (to the 5 point Calvinist) means Christ dying for the elect only. That gives just a very brief synopsis of a few of the points, but I’m sure what you have is sufficient 🙂

        Will speak with you soon Lord willing 🙂

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  4. hollysgarcia says:

    This is similar to how it started for me except the pastor was quoting Calvin, Augustine, Luther, but mixed it with other authors, but I was familiar with them. After awhile oddly although identifying as a Calvinist, he started to mention people like Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Paul Yonggi Cho and Philip Yancey. Some of the past elders were nationally known, one for writing a book on systematic theology. He is still at the church, evidently he approves of the pastor’s ‘vision-casting’ that he says first started with James. At the end of last year, the church had an advertisement out for the “Daniel Plan”. The funny thing? Their statement of faith sadly looks pretty good.

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    • pnissila says:

      Yes, it is much harder when the statement of faith looks pretty good. Much easier when they start replacing biblical language with self-help type verbiage. Instead of Jesus, and Him crucified, the latest in new-church-speak around these parts is “inspire.”

      My background is steeped in Catholicism (12 years RC school, home devotions of various types and kinds, etc.). It’s amazing how many of the so-called “new” practices (of ancient RC monks, nuns, and priests) come right from that system. The other big influence seems to be the business model of organization which, thanks to the Leadership Network of the nineties implementing Peter Drucker’s secular leadership strategies, has taken over many churches that equate “big” with “blessing,” “gain with godliness.”

      Thank you for your contributions to this post.
      P.

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  5. hollysgarcia says:

    I think that Hal Lindsey’s predictions shouldn’t be equated with prophecy. The Bible is pretty clear that when someone speaks prophecy it is they who say, ‘thus saith the Lord’ and if they do and are wrong, they are a false prophet. Some men like Russell did that, but I don’t remember seeing Hal say that the Lord told me this (although I haven’t probably seen him since the eighties).

    Good list, and we relate, please be careful with the discernment links, some are 5 point Calvinists and in my humble opinion is one of the fastest growing movements out there. People like Chan and Piper have no issues in veering off into the contemplative until they get caught, and well then there are things like you must be regenerated before you believe, Christ did not die for the whole world, etc. I don’t know how much you know about Calvinism, and you may very well agree with it, but it is one of the biggest things I warn about, Calvinism and Lordship.

    In Christ’s love to you and your sister.

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    • pnissila says:

      Thanks for the further info re: Calvinism. I am not as versed in that as, say, the Roman Catholicism of my youth (12 years RC school, and on and on). I do encourage people to discern and check things out, too. We all need each other!

      I have had other “watchers” also note similar things about Hal Lindsey and I agree, we need to operate in discernment re: his messages as well.
      Blessings,
      P.

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      • hollysgarcia says:

        My husband had the same, all his schooling, Roman Catholicism which I praise God he came out of, and is now with the Lord. Yes on Lindsey as a caution, I don’t listen to him, just making a comment on the difference between predictions and prophecies 🙂

        Calvinism, a lot comes from the Roman Catholic roots, calls itself reformed. Reformed from what? Roman Catholicism is not Christianity but another religion, and although there may be some that will be saved by hearing the Word, or the preaching of the gospel, it won’t be through their system of salvation. Be cautious, the majority of the discernment ministries are Calvinist, and eventually I’m sure you’ll end up finding out more about the problematic areas, and I’m sure He’ll keep you as you are a good Berean. In Christ, Holly

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      • pnissila says:

        I have started more of an in depth study of Calvinism, inspired by your comments. I’ve just never given it so much thought before, having equated it basically with the idea of predestination and left it at that. It must be time :). No “outside influence” coming into the church is ever “new,” so I believe it is good to be aware of roots.

        RE: Good and somewhat amusing point about Calvinism as being a “reformation” of RCism: “Reformed from what?” lol

        Having said that, coming out of that all-pervasive religious system was exceedingly difficult and took me several years even after I became a Christian. Therefore, I completely understand the struggle Catholics and former Catholics may experience. I have written a short series on several of my challenges in that regard in my post category: “Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism…”

        So glad to have made the connection with you. And you have TEN CHILDREN!! I come from a family of eleven (Mom also had a still birth and four miscarriages)! Whoa. I admire you.

        More blessings,
        P.

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  8. pnissila says:

    Hey, Kris, good to hear from you! Yes, I know that Hal is somewhat controversial. I did hesitate before adding his site to the list; however, he has posted some good articles.

    I am very edified to read from a “younger generation” Christian with a keen eye for the truth and such a heart for clarity.
    Regards,
    P.

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  9. I almost feel it a shameful thing to leave such a short comment to such an incredibly lengthy post! 🙂 But, after reading through this essay on Church Awareness I’d simply have to say, “I agree with you; for the most part.” 🙂

    I think that some of the links you provided at the end of the post represent figures and ministries, that in their own way, perpetuate strange doctrines and interpretations of the Word.

    For example: Hal Lindsey.

    Is he not a false prophet?

    I grew up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses before Christ Saved me from the grasp of the Watchtower, and am keenly aware of the dangers and pitfalls that “predictions” (i.e. prophecies) can lead to. Hal Lindsey is a run-of-the-mill heretic in the truest sense of the word. Years ago I was captivated by his “predictions” in his books, but have since seen him for what he is. No different than any other so-called Christian date-setters who do their best to escape the title of Prophet while wearing it’s mantle.

    A true prophet is accurate 100% of the time. No explanation afterwards is needed if a “prediction” fails to pass. False Prophet. We are to prepare ourselves for Christ’s return, and while we wait further The Kingdom. It is neither our place nor our privilege to know when the end will come.

    Being aware of “signs” and the fulfillment of prophecies already given is quite different than laying claim to having the “answers”. I am not suggesting that we stick our heads in the sand and ignore the obvious. But I believe as wary as you are of the so-called Emergent Church, it surprises me that Hal Lindsey even receives a mention as a place to provide resourceful church information.

    Hal Lindsey’s “predictions” remind me of those made by Russell when first forming what we now know today as The Jehovah’s Witnesses. He predicted that in 1874 Christ would return, but when this event failed to transpire the date was changed to 1914 and an explanation given. Not surprisingly this was masked as ignorance on his part for not understanding certain biblical truths. Later the Society would come to refer to this as “Light”.

    For the JW, Truth simply get’s Truer. If that makes any sense.

    In 1914 when Christ yet again failed to appear, and all the worlds religions failed to simply cease to exist (as was promised), the Society began to lose traction. In order to withdraw from further embarrassment they used the outcome of WWI to “prove” they were correct, and that this battle through world was the true heralding sign that Christ HAD indeed returned.. but invisibly.

    So for what’s it worth, I do agree with most of what you have written in this post. The warning signs of a false messiah, turn-key Christianity and best-seller faith are VERY rampant in the Church. Though I attend a Church (and I am new there) that utilizes modern technology as a tool of ministry, I do not believe these things are intended to be the focus. As a Berean at heart I believe I will keep a keen an eye out though. 🙂

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