I first became acquainted with the “Walk to Emmaus” movement during the interview process with my current church. I had only heard of the term before, but was unaware of what the program was all about. I asked them to explain to me during the process. It seemed as if most of the members of the committee had participated in a walk at some time and some were involved with the sister movement, Kairos prison ministry.
Since I did not know much about the movements, I decided not to take an adamant stand one way or another at that time. I sensed that the congregation seemed split on the issue and that the feelings ran deep. After I accepted the call to the church, people on both sides came by me office to visit. I learned little by little what the movement was about.
Many who had participated in the weekend event encouraged me to attend. I had no great desire to attend, but at the persistent requests of a couple of members, I agreed to attend. Since all of what I had heard was hearsay, I decided it would be best to investigate so I could speak with certainty
After serving the church for a little more than a year, I attended a Walk to Emmaus at a nearby Methodist campground. I met on a Thursday afternoon at my church with a small group of people who had already attended a similar weekend. It was a time of affirmation and prayer before sending me off for my experience. Two men drove me to the camp that afternoon and settled me into the dorm. They left me there saying they would return Sunday afternoon to bring me home.
The Emmaus weekend is 72-hour period from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon. During this time there is total separation from the cares of the world. The men who took me promised that all my needs would be met during the entire period and that I would not have to concern myself with any physical or spiritual needs. I had no worries about food or other cares of the body.
During the first evening before going to bed, we were instructed to remove our watches for the entire period. Because most of us are used to having something around our wrists, they gave us swatches to wear around them so we would not feel strange. They also encouraged us to turn off any beepers and cell phones. We were to have no contact with the outside world so that we could focus on the Presence of God and what He wanted to say to us during the time without distractions from the outside.
I had no worries about family members. Church members who had attended a walk to Emmaus treated my family as members of their own family. One couple took them out to eat while I was gone and just spent time with them so they would not worry. In case of an emergency, however, they could contact me if necessary.
The weekend is composed of fifteen talks, some given by clergy, others by laymen. These talks were not sermons or really even Bible studies as I think of them. They were not really in depth, but most were interesting often reflecting the personal pilgrimage of the one speaking. They were good talks about life in areas where we need to improve or grow. I will list these topics later. During these periods there was complete support and acceptance of all participants in the talk sessions.
Upon returning to our tables after breaks or to our rooms for the evening, we would find what were called “agapes” left on the table or bed. These were a kind of trinket that had been made by a group of other people who had attended a weekend. They had sayings of scripture verses or other words of encouragement. They served as mementos of the experience.
One of the most moving events comes on Sunday afternoon before returning home. Before you attend a weekend, your “sponsor” contacts many people who have a relationship with you to write you a brief note of love and encouragement. I received notes and faxes from people whom I had not heard from in years. One was the minister who married my wife and me. It moved me tremendously to receive such an outpouring of love.
On Saturday night there is also a special chapel service where many of your friends and relatives come to the place where you are meeting. There is a lot of singing during the candlelight time. Then they all march past as you face them from the front of the chapel. That way you can see all those who have come to support you.
Love expressed through friends attending the services and sending cards and letters of appreciation can be a great boost to your self-esteem. It is always nice to be loved and appreciated. These aspects of the weekend can have a tremendous psychological boost as well regardless of the religious content of the weekend.
A Red Flag The Fifteen talks: Friday Saturday Sunday Priority Grow through Study Changing Our World Prevenient Grace Means of Grace Sanctifying Grace Priesthood of all Believers Christian Action Body of Christ Justifying Grace Obstacles to Grace Perseverance Life of Piety Discipleship Fourth Day
Several of the talks dealt with the theme of grace. They spoke of prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. One of the talks, entitled “Means of Grace,” caused a red flag to go up in my mind.
During the discussion time I asked the leader of the table talks what “means” means. The other men at the table thought I was just being funny. I assured them that I was not just making a play on words. I wanted to be sure that we were using and defining the terms properly. To me, “means” in this context means a channel. Webster defines it in this context as “Instrument, Agent or Medium: Something or someone necessary or useful in effecting an end.” In this context it is easy to see that “means of grace” are instruments that are necessary to channel grace from God into our lives. In effect, these become intermediaries of substance between the believer and God.
The Means of Grace they mentioned in their talk are: baptism, prayer, confirmation, ordained ministry, marriage and friendship, forgiveness, healing and Holy Communion.
In this talk I disagreed with them on the two terms which Baptists recognize as ordinances: Baptism and Holy Communion, as we know it, the Lord’s Supper. First, I rejected their modes of baptism. They hold that three forms called baptism are equally valid. Sprinkling, they teach, symbolizes cleansing from sin. Pouring symbolizes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Immersion symbolizes the death to an old way of life. I pointed out that the first two methods they mentioned were not biblical and that the Bible compares baptism to the death burial and resurrection of Christ (Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:4). I pointed out that I was not a sacramentalist and that these two ordinances did not convey grace of God to us; they are symbols of what Christ has done for us and are to be followed in obedience “to his command.”
Definition of terms: Ordinance is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “an authoritative decree or direction—an order” which we have received from Christ. He commands us in the Great Commission to “baptiz[e] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Regarding “Communion” 1 Cor. 11:25b, 26 reads: “do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Both of these acts are pictorial representations of spiritual truths. I pointed out to them that we are saved by grace, through faith—not by receiving grace through ritualistic sacraments.
Let me quote what their publication says about “means of grace.” This publication is given at the end of the weekend to help the participant process what he or she has been through.
The next talk, “Means of Grace,” presented the many channels of God’s grace and helped you to understand how and why the Christian community celebrates those sacred moments. In this talk, you took a close look at baptism, Communion, confirmation, marriage, forgiveness, healing, scripture, and prayer, learning how believers receive God’s grace through all of these channels. “Means of Grace” was followed immediately by a Communion service in which you had the opportunity to experience the healing power of God’s grace in your own moments of dying—dying to the pain of sin and receiving the gift of God’s grace in Communion. (Day Four p. 23)
By presenting these actions as means of grace, they become sacramental. “Sacramentalism is the doctrine that the sacraments in and of themselves convey grace and can even accomplish the individual’s salvation” (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, vol. 3, p. 1114).
Previously in the same volume Erickson writes under the heading “The Medium of Salvation”:
“The question of how salvation is obtained or transmitted is also highly important. Some views regard the transmission of salvation as virtually a physical process. This is true of certain sacramental systems which believe salvation or grace to be obtained by means of a physical object. For example, in traditional Roman Catholicism, grace is believed to be actually transmitted and received by taking the bread of communion into one’s body. While the value of the sacrament depends to some extent upon the inward attitude or condition of the communicant, grace is received primarily through the external physical act” (Ibid. p. 889-90).
Since the basic meaning of “communion” means to hold in common, how can we participate in a sacrament when we have nothing in common with it?
When I pointed these things out, I was told that we were not to discuss our individual church’s doctrine. I reminded them that what they were teaching was their doctrine and that I could not accept it. I strove to remind them that I was simply pointing out what the Scriptures said, not what my particular denominational view was.
At this point I might receive criticism from those who have participated in a walk to Emmaus for such views; after all, Emmaus is an emotional high where people can experience God in a new and deeper way, but I must remind us that emotion and experience are not the criteria by which we must measure doctrine. We are to evaluate our emotional experiences in light of Scripture and not vice versa.
It struck me on Sunday morning that those who have mostly criticized the lack of spontaneity of using a printed order of service never seemed to complain about the lack of spontaneity of the Emmaus weekend. Each participant carried a small booklet with the service printed in it which we read in response to the spiritual director. Not only were the communion services read verbatim out of a book, it was the same each time, and we had to sing before and after each meal. We could not eat without singing the theme song, “De Colores,” which I will discuss later.
Additionally there was the repetitiveness of the prayer to the Holy Spirit that was repeated in unison before each of the fifteen talks. That also reminded me of the distinction between Baptists and sacramentalists. Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6: 7 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” There is no need to pray to the Holy Spirit before each talk and say: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love…” Then in the middle of this prayer they take Psalm 104:30 out of context. Their prayer says “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.” I suppose that they are referring to the faithful. Psalm 104:30 says: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” referring to the teeming creatures of the ocean.
In simple faith we are to recognize that Jesus is always with us. Hebrews 13:5 says: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” There is no need to repeat a prayer routinely and ask the Spirit to come. He indwells all believers. We need simply to acknowledge Christ’s presence with us through the Holy Spirit.
Where did “Emmaus” come from? What does it mean? That was not sufficiently explained during the weekend. What does that name mean? It comes from Luke 24:13-27, which you will recognize. This is the story of the two disciples walking to the town of Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem. The resurrected Christ approached them, but “they were kept from recognizing him” (verse 16). He explained to them what had happened and then while breaking bread with them: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (verses 30-31).
The cover of the Emmaus devotional booklet refers to these disciples by saying: “Their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread.” I received the impression that Communion was to be some sort of unique experience.
One of the Methodist leaders, Stephen D. Bryant, of Nashville had this to say about the Emmaus experience:
Emmaus is a three-day short-course in Christianity that calls forth and renews Christian disciples. Emmaus provides participants an opportunity to reflect on their own faith in God, re-experience the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and rededicate their lives as members of the body of Christ called to ministry to the world. The program is named “Walk to Emmaus” because the experience itself is similar to the story in Luke 24:13-35, where the risen Christ appeared to the two disciples walking together along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. By walking with Jesus, reflecting on the Scripture, breaking bread together, and sharing their resurrection stories with one another, the disciples experienced Christ’s presence anew and their “hearts burned” within them. (Taken from a paper circulated by the Interfaith Witnessing Department of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
The disciples to whom Christ appeared were not among the twelve apostles. One was named Cleopas. Verse 33 says they went to Jerusalem and found the Eleven gathered together. They were not with Christ before the Crucifixion to know about the Last Supper. The “breaking of bread” mentioned here was not a communion service, but a simple meal. Is there supposed to be something unique in the Communion during an Emmaus weekend?
A brief look at interpretations of Communion is important. One understanding of Communion is transubstantiation. Webster’s defines “transubstantiation” as “the miraculous change by which according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dogma the eucharistic elements at their consecration become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearance of bread and wine.” In The Moody Handbook of Theology, Paul Enns defines “Transubstantiation. The Roman Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper which teaches that the elements are changed metaphysically into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ while retaining the physical properties of bread and wine” (p. 649). A close look at these definitions reveals that when the Catholic or Orthodox priest pronounces the blessing over the elements and thus consecrates them, they become Christ in essence on earth again. In some traditions the “host” is placed on a monstrance. According to Webster’s dictionary a monstrance is “ a vessel in which the consecrated Host is exposed for the veneration of the faithful.”
In essence this means that they believe that the actual elements of the Communion transubstantiate or transform themselves into not only the literal body and blood of Christ, but also His soul and divinity. The Catholic Church refers to this as “the Real Presence of Christ.” They believe that He is called down from heaven and transforms the elements. Then the “faithful” venerate the Host or unleavened bread. This is a subtle form of idolatry.
Millard Erickson shows the regard that the Catholics hold for the elements of the Eucharist.
In the traditional administration of the sacrament, the cup was withheld from the laity, being taken only by the clergy. The major reason was the danger that the blood might be spilt. For the blood of Jesus to be trampled underfoot would be a desecration. (Introducing Christian Doctrine p. 353).
Another view of Communion is that of consubstantiation. Webster’s defines “Consubstantiation” as “the actual substantial presence and combination of the body of Christ with the Eucharistic bread and wine according to a teaching associated with Martin Luther.” This means that although the elements do not transubstantiate into the body, blood, souls and divinity of Christ, He is still there somehow present in a special way that He is not at other times. Enns defines it as “the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper, which teaches that the body and blood of Christ are present in the elements but the elements do not change.” (Enns Ibid. p. 631). The Catholic Encyclopedia defines this view as heresy because it denies the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
What does all this have to do with Emmaus? Why not another name for the movement? Why the emphasis on taking Communion during the weekend? As the cover of the devotional book says: “Their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread.” It seems that the Emmaus movement is built around the idea that Christ is somehow experienced in the breaking of bread in Communion in a way that He is not at other times. Thus Communion becomes a “means” or a channel of grace that functions as an intermediary for us. In “Foundations of the Faith,” Roy Edgemon writes: “Grace is conferred directly from Christ to believer. There’s no intermediary of any kind, whether priest or substance” (Foundations of the Faith, LifeWay: Nashville. p. 97) Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8, “by grace are ye saved through faith.” Salvation comes by the grace of God through the channel of faith, not through any other “means.”
History of the Emmaus Movement: It is an adaptation of the Spanish Cursillo de Cristianidad movement. A short course in Christianity was developed by Spanish Monks to bring about spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church. It began in Spain in 1949 and came to the US via Spanish airmen stationed in Waco in 1957. The first Methodist version took place in 1977 under the direction of a Catholic spiritual leader. After a successful beginning, the Upper Room, a “section of the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church” (Fourth Day, p. 7), began to encourage “conferences, communities and churches to consider this new ecumenical model as an opportunity to renew, enrich and inspire individuals to become more intentional in their discipleship. The Upper Room Model was greatly aided by ecumenical Cursillos across the country in a common task of renewing the church. Not only was the model an effective tool in energizing the disciples for ministry in local congregations, it was also a tremendous experience in sharing our common faith in the Christian community” (Ibid. p. 8).
What do we mean by “ecumenical”? Webster’s defines it as worldwide, or general in extent, influence or application. Of, or relating to, or representing the whole body of churches, promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity and cooperation.” We interpret that to mean working together as various denominations, setting aside our doctrinal differences to work together on various projects, etc. That means the Church of Christ has to overlook our idiosyncrasies about music and we have to overlook the Pentecostal’s views on spiritual gifts.
What does the Catholic Church mean by “ecumenical”?
Ecumenism: Summary In short, according to the teaching and record of the Scriptures, the Church is one everywhere with a oneness which is desired by Christ on its own account as befitting the obedient children of one God, one Lord, and one Spirit, and likewise as the necessary outcome of faithful adherence on the part of its members to the concordant teaching of those whom He appointed to be its rulers, and whom the Holy Spirit preserves in all truth. Still, inasmuch as each is left free to accept or reject this one teaching, this wholesome doctrine, there were, side by side with the general body of the true believers, some apparently small groups who held alien doctrines, for which they had been rejected from the communion of the one Church and these were regarded as having placed themselves outside the pale of salvation. There is not a trace, however, of any third class, separated from the communion of their brethren, but still regarded as members of the true Church. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15132a.htm. Section 1 summary).
In other words, the Catholic Church wants all of us dissidents to forsake our false doctrine and return to faith in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. If we are not a part of them, we are not Christians, not members of the “true Church.”
The Cursillo movement is an attempt to revitalize the Catholic Church. It has as its end the reuniting of Protestants under its umbrella.
1960 was the year of the Blake-Pike proposals. “Presbyterian leader Eugene Carson Blake called on the Methodists and other denominations to join the Episcopalians and United Presbyterians in planning a union of churches that was to be ‘truly Catholic and truly Reformed.’ The Methodist Church subsequently became involved in the Consultation of Church Union formed to accomplish this goal.” (Encyclopedia Britannica vol. 12 p. 61)
Although the word “catholic” means universal and not necessarily Roman Catholic, it should serve as a warning to those who have fought over the years to maintain a biblical and doctrinal distinction between Baptists and other religions and denominations.
Why the insisting of singing “De Colores”? After all what does it mean? I first learned it as a Spanish teacher years ago. I learned it in a workshop for teachers of English as a Second Language supposedly to make us aware of the Spanish culture. It seemed to be a children’s song that they just learned, as one person said, like “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” In English it does sound a little silly. It starts “De Colores De Colores the fields love to dress in all during the springtime.” That is the interpretation, not the translation. It seems a small thing, but the words must be altered in English to fit the music. The translation is “In colors the fields dress in colors in the springtime.” The next verse is about the birds that come and the next about the rainbow. All of these are multicolored objects. The rest of the song deals with the aurora or dawn, the reflections of the sun and the brilliance of a diamond. The chorus says: “Therefore the great loves, of many colors are pleasing to me.” The idea expressed in these verses is one of unity. All the colors, but one field, one bird, one diamond of God’s creation.
The second part of the song talks about the calling of the rooster, then the hen, then the chicks. The rooster is calling the hen back to the barnyard; the hen then calls to the chicks back to the barnyard. Remember this is a song popularized by the Catholic Church from their “cursillo” movement. The barnyard is the Roman Catholic Church and the babe-chicks are we poor Protestants who have wandered away and must be brought back into the safety of the barnyard.
What About the Emmaus Movement? “Cursillo” means a little course or a short course. There is no short course or short cut to Christian maturity. Discipleship is a lifelong process.
Why are people so attracted to it? I suppose the foremost reason is because of the unconditional love and support that are given. Emmaus is a para-church organization. It was never intended to take the place of church. That has just happened for some because of negative reactions they have received upon returning from an Emmaus weekend.
Participants are encouraged to become involved in Reunion groups, which are small groups of Emmaus veterans who meet to encourage one another. They reflect on what they experienced at Emmaus and hold each other accountable to the content of what they are learning. The principles behind this kind of group are similar to those of other small group models.
Another meeting type is the Emmaus gathering. It usually occurs on a Saturday evening and all the people who have been on a walk are invited to attend. It is a worship service that involves lots of singing, a message and, of course, Communion.
One purpose behind this movement is to make Christians better church members. For many, however, it has the opposite effect. Because of the unconditional love and support of those who have participated, the Reunion groups and the Gatherings are more warm and receptive than some members’ own churches. As a result, many allow Emmaus to become their “church.” The official stance of the movement is not to allow Emmaus to become a substitute church.
I asked a Southern Baptist pastor who attended my walk as one of the spiritual directors how he felt about it. I told him I felt as if I were pastoring two congregations, the “walkers” and the “non-walkers.” He said it was similar to those who attend a Glorieta conference or a Promise Keepers conference. They come back fired up and want everyone to have a similar experience like they have had. He said you have your Glorieta people and your non-Glorieta people. While agreeing with his point I noted that the reason I felt many people reacted negatively to the Emmaus movement was because of its close ties to the Methodist church and ultimately back to the Catholic Church.
Several of the people who have participated in the Emmaus movement have dropped out of the Southern Baptist denomination. If they attend anywhere, they attend the Methodist church in my town or the non-denominational church. The senior adult members of my church who have gone on a walk have remained faithful to the Baptist church in spite of their occasional complaints about the denomination. This may be more due to the psychological makeup rather than the effects of Emmaus. Many of the so-called “Generation Xer’s” and younger have no loyalty to anything. Perhaps Emmaus just gives them an excuse to drop out.
God uses para-church organizations when the church is weak in a particular area. For example, when a college campus need to be reached by a church and none are doing the job, God raised up Campus Crusade for Christ. If a church is not doing what needs to be done, God must use another organization. What is lacking in our churches or denomination that cause people to sense a need that must be fulfilled outside the church?
My theory is that many people do not feel the unconditional love and grace expressed through the church members and must seek it elsewhere. They do not feel the freedom to worship as they feel led by God.
What should we do as Baptists? Many of the activities of an Emmaus weekend have therapeutic value. A church could put together a retreat at its local associational camp based on a similar structure. A series of expositional Bible studies could be given and many of the same results achieved as an Emmaus weekend, but using biblical standards rather than church tradition.
All Christians need renewal from time to time. Several material could be used such as a MasterLife Weekend, an Experiencing God Weekend or a Disciple Now Weekend. We need to discover what people are finding in Emmaus and learn from it. The church community needs to become as tightly knit and unconditionally accepting as an Emmaus weekend.
These kinds of movements should be seen as a warning sign that something is wrong within the body. Often when a person develops strong cravings, it indicates that something vital is missing from the diet. When the church does not meet peoples’ genuine needs, eventually they will turn elsewhere to fulfill them or just drop out. I hope we can learn from the Emmaus movement and strive to reach people by meeting their real needs.
You can check out more of my writings in the collections below.
Embracing Faith Vol. 1
Embracing Faith Vol. 2