Maybe Gamaliel Was Right

There’s a growing number of folks posting online their conviction that the emerging church is just a fad.

I was going to post a few links as examples, but you can read more than anyone needs to by simpling Googling “emerging emergent church fad”.

Some go so far as to call it a movement (most of the folks involved simply call it a conversation) and lump it in with WWJD, Purpose-Driven, Promise-Keeping, 40 Days Of, and anything else you’ve ever heard of that has enjoyed a bit of success.

My problem with being so sure about that is the same one Gamaliel had.

About the church itself.

You remember Gamaliel, don’t you? Paul’s teacher? The fellow who, in Acts 5:29-41, stood up in (and to) the Sanhedrin when they wanted to put Peter and the other apostles to death.

But the examples he gave were well-known failures, not successes: defeated revolutionaries Theudas and Judas of Galilee. Gamaliel’s advice?

“Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Even the Sanhedrin was wise enough to yield to that advice and let them be – even though they threatened pain of death if any of the apostles ever spoke in the name of Jesus again.

It seems to me that the people conversing in emerging terms aren’t saying that the old ways of presenting the Story don’t work anymore. They’re just saying they don’t work for everyone. They’re not trying to change the Story; just the way it’s told.

In fact, they sound to me a lot like Gamaliel’s student Paul, who said:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” — I Corinthians 9:19-23

5 thoughts on “Maybe Gamaliel Was Right

  1. Keith, I love Gamaliel’s admonition, and I just wonder how applicable it would have been for us for thousands of years? From another angle, how many times could we have taken this attitude instead of one of judgement? More than I can count. Do you agree?It seems most of our mouths tend to get lock-jaw when we have opportunity to address the Sanhedrin of our day. Or is it we don’t get the chance to address them? I have a new found respect for Gamaliel, brother. I think he was kinda John Wayneish! Or maybe even more like a fella from Nazareth.

  2. I like the linkage between the emerging church culture and the story of Gamaliel. I am not sure why people go out of there way to “debunk” the emerging church / postmodernism culture. Your post hit the mark. The goal is not to embrace every idea that comes forth from the postmodern conversation, the idea is not only to make you think but to continue the talk. I am optimistically cautious but I like what I see and find myself embracing the notion WIJD (what is Jesus doing) vice WWJD. Good post Keith

  3. Keith, I am with you. I have struggled with looking at the “emerging church” as a fad. Only because so many are responsive, at the same time some people are still very moved by the very modern practice of religion. I do believe however, that as time passes and even as the “churched kids” grow up we will see our churches move more in an “emerging” direction. I hope that little ramble makes sense.

  4. I conducted your suggested Google search. I found quite a bit of this conversation very interesting on both sides. What intrigued me, though, was a comment (and forgive me but I read so many blog entries that I have since forgotten who) that mentioned that this “emerging church” thing has been happening always. I think this is right.The cultural situations are certainly different than during the first century, but the ideas are the same. Although, when I use the word “idea” I feel a bit uncomfortable because we’re not supposed to be about ideas, but a Person.This might be the source of some criticism about the “emerging church.” Gamaliel probably heard much of the same kind of stuff about Peter & John’s group and others who followed Jesus.I wonder what Gamaliel’s thinkin’ now?

  5. I’ve now read your post three times today and have been reflecting on it. My thoughts have just been said much better than I could write them, though, by “C. S. Bunyan,” who I very much agree with. To me, “the church” is an ever evolving “entity,” if you will, different in each and every place Christians live and/or people and nations are taught.I don’t see anything new and different in this “movement” or “conversation” or whatever you want to call it than how things have ALWAYS been for true believers trying to share their “good news” with those around them. I know that in my own life, I’ve always shared with each and every person I’ve come in contact with in a “different” way (as Paul said he did) because each and every individual is different and must be approached in the way best suited for them.That’s not to say that the “good news” is changing or that Jesus has changed. It is we who are to change as we travel along this Christian path and strive to be “real” and transparent in our reality in reaching out to others. I am the one who is “emergent” in my thinking and growing as a Christian. The “church” will change as I change, as you so aptly pointed out the other day in your post (that you are the only one who can change).As those of us who become more “enlightened” share our “transparent reality” with our fellow Christians and others, the church will become more transparent and real to the world. We’d do no better than to follow Gamaliel’s – and Paul’s – examples in going about doing good and speaking to every individual we know in their own individual way. People are only converted one by one. Not in entire “groups.” So, we truly must be “all things to all men.” And, only those things “from God” will be truly lasting.

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