Question: "What is the Walk to Emmaus / Emmaus Walk, and is it biblical?"
Answer: The Walk to Emmaus (also known as the Emmaus Walk) is a Protestant version of the Roman Catholic Cursillo movement. Cursillo began in the 1940s in Spain and was brought to America the next decade. In the United Methodist Church, Cursillo was called The Upper Room Cursillo until 1981, when its named was changed to Emmaus. The three-day retreat includes singing, learning, praying, and small-group discussion focused on fifteen themes shared by Emmaus leaders. Walk to Emmaus still operates under United Methodist auspices, but the focus on ecumenism remains strong, with Emmaus communities receiving support from Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches as well.
The word Emmaus in Walk to Emmaus is from the account in Luke 24 in which Jesus walks with two disciples on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem on the day of His resurrection. The disciples later describe their experience with the risen Christ as “our hearts burning within us while he talked with us” (verse 32). Walk to Emmaus retreats seek to provide a similar experience for its participants.
According to the official Walk to Emmaus website (emmaus.upperroom.org), Emmaus experiences are intended to be a time of “spiritual renewal and formation.” Participants are invited by a sponsor and apply to participate. During the weekend, participants meet with small groups and are encouraged to explore how they can live the call to discipleship within their own homes, churches, and communities. Participants are invited to continue meeting with small groups and others of the Emmaus community after the weekend concludes for continued accountability, instruction, support, and encouragement. Past participants are also invited to serve at future Walk to Emmaus weekends.
The stated mission of Walk to Emmaus is “Empowering Leaders to be the hands and feet of Christ.” The goal of Emmaus is helping Christians live as disciples of Christ and become active members of His body, participating in His mission. The three-day experience of Emmaus is designed to “inspire, challenge, and equip the local church members for Christian action in their homes, churches, communities and places of work.”
While the information made public regarding the Walk to Emmaus is biblically focused, there is some concern regarding the secrecy surrounding the event. Participants are told not to tell others what takes place to emphasize the “special” or “sacred” nature of the time. The website does say that there will be “prayers and acts of anonymous service offered by the Emmaus community.” Perhaps the specifics of these acts are seen as more meaningful if they are a surprise. Because biblical Christianity does not emphasize secret knowledge or events, the secrecy surrounding the Walk to Emmaus has led many Christians to choose not to participate.
Others have expressed concern over the emotional emphasis of Walk to Emmaus. Over the course of the weekend, the combination of late nights, early mornings, and extended spiritual teaching could lead to people being pressed for decisions while tired or under stress. The fear is that decisions or changes that occur during Walk to Emmaus events may not be true or lasting. Further, the overall emphasis on experience is seen as inappropriate by many.
Another concern among some is the partaking of communion in a non-church context. While the Bible does not require communion to be taken within a local church, many church traditions do and therefore do not endorse this practice at Walk to Emmaus events.
In the Protestant adaptations of Cursillo, including Walk to Emmaus, there is probably much good that takes place. Christians gathering to pray, fellowship, and challenge each other to a deeper spiritual walk is biblical (2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13). Much depends on the organizers of the individual events and the leaders and teachers actually present. Believers invited to attend a Walk to Emmaus event should use discernment and carefully investigate the group and its leaders before applying.