What Is Aberrant And Unorthodox About The Emergent Church?

In a recent post, a questionnaire on The Shack, a challenge went out to Nazarene leaders, pastors, District Superintendents, General Superintendents.  If anyone could defend the merits of recommending this book as a good spiritual resource for Christians, I wanted to hear from them.  Results so far: only one pastor responded.  He did not give his defense, however, so I did not post his comment.  He qualified any defense he may have, by asking me to fully document and show where someone or others had said that The Shack “is better than the Bible.”  That’s it, that’s all I got so far. The post is still open for anyone to give a good biblically sound defense of a novel which many Christians believe to be full of heresy and blasphemy.

Today I would like to reference you to the Emerging Church statement by the General Superintendents and focus on a few specific quotes.  In the statement, which was signed by Dr. Jesse Middendorf, there was a part that said:

“Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) and some of our universities are engaged in the conversation in order to help correct some of the aberrations that are associated with some of the “emergent” churches.”


“We are hopeful that we can be patient with what is a phase in a conversation that is already beginning to wind down in some areas even while it is just now being engaged in by others. Hopefully, we can move beyond the mischaracterizations and embrace what is legitimate while we readily and without hesitation reject the aberrations.”

“We do not endorse those “emergent churches” or leaders who are not orthodox in their theology.”

My main question is this: what are the aberrations that Dr. Midddendorf is referring to? In the last post, I emphasized that there needs to be much more clarity than came out of this document.  It certainly was not the kind of statement that we thought was going to come out after the General Assembly, when the General Secretary promised us that one was forthcoming.  We are looking for specifics.  We are looking for details.  We are asking for names to be named, and practices to be mentioned, so that we can truly keep the good stuff, and shun the bad stuff.  The Bible says,

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21

And the Bible specifically calls us as Christians to name names: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

Would it not be most helpful if our leaders, then, would come out with a strong statement that rebukes those very practices, teachings, and false teachers that they themselves have said in this document are aberrant. A great bit of confusion would be cleared up instantly, and we would know what direction our leaders truly want to take us.  There would be a lot less guessing about some things, and Christians could make up their minds as to whether they accept or reject any ideas that are put forth.  Clearly people would be upset with a clear and unambiguous statement, no matter which way it went.  But at least we would finally know which direction the ship is heading, and we could finally decide if we want to stay on that ship without complaining, or stay on that ship and fight for change, or abandon the ship.  (Some already have).

Here are some questions that ask to give a response if these are aberrant teachings or not, or if these are orthodox leaders.  These are drawn from what many Nazarenes have been wondering about, and clarity on these once and for all will go a long way to straightening out the confusion that is going on now.  To really answer these questions in the best way, it would be ideal if we could get the General Superintendents’ working definitions of aberrant, and orthodox, that way we have something to compare with.  But I would love to get an answer to these questions from them, even without a definition of the words.

1. Prayer labyrinths. Their origins are clearly from pagan religious practices.  Aberrant, or good Christian practice?
Brian McLaren. Orthodox, or unorthodox?  (called the doctrine of hell “false advertising for God”)
Rob Bell. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (Taught that Peter lost faith in himself, not Jesus, when he sank in the water).
Leonard Sweet. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (Influenced by New Age thought, “Christ-consciousness”)
Henri Nouwen. Orthodox, or unorthodox?  (He was a universalist, and said there are many paths to God, in contradiction to Nazarene statements of belief)
2. Prayer beads for our youth. Aberrant, or good Christian practice?
3. Youth books recommending pilgrimages to interspiritual, multi-religion worship centers (Taize). Orthodox, or unorthodox?
3. Prayer stations. Aberrant, or good Christian practice?
4. Open Theism (God does not know the future). Orthodox, or unorthodox?
Process Theology (God learns from his mistakes?). Orthodox, or unorthodox?
6. The novel “The Shack” (The Trinity was crucified on the cross; all roads lead to Christ, etc.)   Orthodox, or unorthodox?
7. Tony Jones. Orthodox, or unorthodox?   (Homosexuality is totally compatible with Christianity)
“Practicing the silence”. Aberrant, or good Christian practice? Orthodox, or unorthodox?
9. Richard Foster. Orthodox, or unorthodox? (Recommends a prayer of protection before doing contemplative prayer).
10. “Christian Yoga”.  Orthodox, or unorthodox? Aberrant, or good Christian practice?

The list could be longer, and perhaps at another time, but no doubt this is all going on in our denomination.  These practices are being taught and used; these leaders are being invited to college campuses; these books by heretical mystics are recommended and used by pastors, AND used by Nazarene universities as primary sources for spiritual formation degree programs!  Contemplative spirituality, which is known by the more popular name of spiritual formation, is taught at practically every Nazarene university, and Nazarene Theological seminary as well.  The only truly unresolved matter is getting to the specifics, the details, of who and what is orthodox, and aberrant, as Dr. Middendorf has stated.

It would go a long way to resolving all the mystery and guesswork, and more importantly, identify the aberrations and the unorthodox, which would benefit all Nazarenes.  We pray that this will happen soon.

Manny Silva


7 responses to “What Is Aberrant And Unorthodox About The Emergent Church?

  1. I received an e-mail and attached letter from Dr. Porter in response to the letter I sent to him along with my ordination papers. I have been waiting since Monday to get some answers from him. All we want is answers. I don’t understand the delay.

  2. I, too, look forward to specific responses being made to your questions, Manny. My guess is that the Generals would want to recruit some professors from NTS, NBC, or one of our universities who are more well-versed in the various topics to respond.

    However, the short answer to “What is orthodoxy?” could be given by just about anyone. The definition of what is orthodox Christianity was decided a long, long time ago and has been summarized in the Nicene Creed. And as for what we Nazarenes believe, the short version is contained in the Manual. Granted, we recognize that this is our particular perspective and that other Christians may not share it… and that takes us back to the definition of what Christian orthodoxy is.

    Anyway… I hope that the statement from the Generals was just the beginning of a productive, clear, and grace-filled conversation that will help all of us.

  3. Rich,
    Here’s my short definition of orthodoxy, and it is not just the basic statements of faith:

    “Obedience to ALL that Jesus and the apostles clearly teach us to do, or NOT to do,in he scriptures.”

    I wonder… why should the Generals bring in a bunch of people to speak for them? You mean to tell me, that I and many other “simple, uneducated” Nazarenes (and some very educated ones), understand that prayer labyrinths, open theism, and “practicing the silence” are unbiblical, and learned men like the Generals have to bring in the “educated ones to figure that out?”

    Perhaps we need new leadership if that’s the case.

    Rich, the “conversation” has gone on long enough- or perhaps the lack of conversation. We need answers now, even as the bleeding in the denomination continues.

  4. Manny,

    “Orthodoxy” is by definition about beliefs. “Orthodoxy” = “right belief.” Obedience to Christ’s commands is usually described with the word “orthopraxy” (“right practice”). Orthodoxy & orthopraxy are closely related, of course, since what we believe impacts what we do, and vice versa. And your questions touch on both beliefs and practices, so both come into play.

    Whether the Generals get help from our professors or not is purely a matter of conjecture on my part (or anyone’s part). The Generals are EXTREMELY busy, and I assume that they would value the input of fellow Nazarenes who are giving their lives in service to the church in the field of education when trying to give helpful, thorough answers to your questions. These are men and women who, in obedience to their calling, are tasked with research, study, etc, without the vast leadership, travel, and administrative tasks that come with the calling to serve as a General Superintendent.

    If you don’t want thorough answers and are just looking for yes/no answers… well, I guess I don’t think those kinds of answers would make any of us happy. If you (or I) disagree with their answer on a particular question, we’re going to want to know their reasons, how they arrived at the answer they did, etc.

  5. Rich,
    If the Generals’ answer to me was, “we’re too busy”, as you say it may be, then that would be the most ridiculous, irresponsible copout from leadership! I don’t think they would ever say that to us, and I hope that is not what they are thinking.

    Oh, a yes/no answer would go a long way to getting to the bottom of all this for many of us. The answers will need to come, sooner or later, or the bleeding, as I said, will continue on and on, and more Nazarenes will leave a slowly apostasizing church.

    Oh, and what’s wrong with: “we’re going to want to know their reasons, how they arrived at the answer they did, etc.?”

  6. The GS’s have already answered your question:

    “Yet even those authors and pastors who are not orthodox in their views of Scripture and its authority have an awareness of the need to make the church more engaged in society so as to bring about a radical change and improvement.

    We do not endorse those “emergent churches” or leaders who are not orthodox in their theology. The involvement of many of our young pastors and students in the conversation is an attempt to embrace the positive dimensions while clearly articulating an orthodox interpretation of Scripture and theology.”

    Interpretation: Some of each practice and person you list above is good and some of each is troubling. Even the heretical authors get a pass because some of what they say falls under the concept of “positive dimensions.” I have heard this idea articulated by a Nazarene pastor who states that all authors have good and bad in their books. He reads them and uses the good while discarding the bad.

    They don’t “endorse” the teachings and practices but they will use the “positive dimensions” of them since it will lead to “the church being more engaged in society so as to bring about a radical change and improvement.”

    Those I know who have bought into this are really excited about what they see as a potential revitalization of the church. They believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit and we are just a bunch of wet blankets trying to quench the fire. I’m not conviced it isn’t “strange fire” that they are playing with.

    The only fish that swim with the current are dead fish

  7. 1 John 2:3-6
    3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

    2 Corinthians 2:14-17
    14But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

    Hebrews 4:7b
    “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

    Isaiah 40:8
    8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”

    Mark 8:38
    38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

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