Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Emerging Church

The Emerging Church - A Discussion Thread

By JeffRichardson

The Joshua novel was much of what we’re talking about: affirming and sanctifying and defending the orthodox, while at once challenging it to return to its roots – to its real purpose and power and meaning.

Underlying your questions, though, Jerry, is the assumption that the interrelation of the already-existing functional small groups within the larger body yields real value (I don’t posit that it has no effect, vis a vis the “butterfly effect”, but question whether this effect has intrinsic value over the interrelation of other groups) . That is, what if I and a dozen of my close brothers and sisters met only as a group – not as a subgroup within a larger body? What would really be lost? Probably not individual spiritual formation – since that generally occurs within the confines of our closest relationships. But certainly my exposure to a diverse population of believers might be attenuated. However, who’s to say that this might not encourage “burrowing deeper” within the relationships of the believers I do have contact with? Or exploding my relational circle beyond the confines of the encampment of believers? Isn’t it possible to postulate that I might actually increase my exposure to diverse population by severing my obligations to a largely homogenous church body – thereby requiring me to come into relationship with ‘whoever the Lord puts in my way’?

Further, what about Solzenitzen? ten Boom? Lamott? Dillard? Dostoyevsky? – even, arguably, Bonhoeffer? Didn’t these characters rise out of lonely communities or even isolation?

And are we limiting “what God is doing” to only communities of orthodox faith? Might he not be moving among the Hindi? Or the Taoists? Or the Buddhists? Or even, dare I say it, the Democrats?

Also, use the word impossible only with the greatest care…God likes to wink.

CJR

-----Original Message-----
From: Friend 1
Sent: Monday, December 13, 2004 5:27 PM
To: Me
Cc: Et Al
Subject: RE: [Abductive Columns] Symptoms

I just find the whole emerging church discussion difficult. There is so much variety in what God is doing, working with people in so many ways, in so many different points of their journey.

Every group exists in relationship to every other group - Butterfly Effect..... Even the smallest most intimate groups receive support in a myriad of ways from God's movement among large bodies and organizations of believers- and vice-versa. We have what we have, a grand mosaic; and each part of that mosiac, orthodoxy in all its forms, the emerging church, mega-churches, small discipleship movements, African Catholicism, Christian parachurch groups, Christian authors and film makers, mystics, monks, all in their various forms - they all add to the Mosaic. God in his mystery moves through them all to work his gracious will, and we are ever inept at discerning his work. Catholic Orthodoxy gave us a Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen.......Wangerin and Beuchner both write from orthodoxy....Evangelical and Catholic mega-churches are revitalizing our inner cities......

Isn't it Willard who says- see where God is at work and join in?

I really wonder if there is a choice here. It may be impossible for what Jeff describes in the last paragraph to actually take place. To make such a decision would be to change the believer, the larger "Body" and the small group that thinks it can dismember itself without suffering any change in the way it relates to its members and the world.

Here is where God has placed me. What does it mean for me to follow Jesus this day, in this place? What would he do if he were living my life in all its particulars?

Anybody ever read "Joshua" - wriiten by a Catholic priest named Girzone or something like that...a quick read that has everything to do with this discussion.

-----Original Message-----
From: Me
Sent: Monday, December 13, 2004 4:21 PM
To: Friend1
Cc: Et Al
Subject: RE: [Abductive Columns] Symptoms

The article writer seems to be laying before us a dilemma: remain with the modern church in its hierarchy and organizational structure and tradition -or- throw it off in favor of local congregations made up entirely of believers meeting and sharing life together - no structure, no property, no hierarchy - just believers sharing relationship in Christ. Jerry asks if we have to consider this an either/or decision.

It seems that the primary reason to try to "have our cake and eat it, too" with regard to the "institutional church" and the "emergent church" is the availability of resources and the protection of orthodoxy. These were the primary motivators of the Catholic church in the early centuries. The question Jerry is asking is whether the resources and orthodoxy we "gain" by remaining a large, single community, outweigh the costs of maintaining such an organization - and dealing with the attendant complications and temptations (such as power grabs, political battles, property and financial entanglements, and the like). (A further question might also be whether we have any right or business being in the "orthodoxy protection" business beyond our personal relationships with other believers where we can actually hold one another accountable.)

The megachurch movement has attempted to have a "bloodless" Reformation (as our Restorationist forefathers attempted in their own way some two hundred years ago). That is, to throw off the shackles of demoninational hierarchy, institutional bureaucracy, bloated traditions, and lack of authentic community and relationship while maintaining all the resources, talents, and reach of a powerful organization.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to each believer deciding if she actually needs anything from the Body beyond what can be provided by that "small group" of fellow believers who hold her accountable, love her, serve her, are served by her and walk through life with her. The entire "large church" model rests on the assumption that there is a resounding "yes" to this question. If this is true, what are the questions?

Also note corrections in RED below.

CJR

-----Original Message-----
From: Me
Sent: Monday, December 13, 2004 4:04 PM
To: Friend1
Cc: Et Al
Subject: RE: [Abductive Columns] Symptoms

I think the article is clearly thinking in terms of institutions with regard to its criticism. Note the Campolo article I subsequently forwarded regarding the Emergent Church - the criticism there is even more targeted at megachurches and the like.

The upshot, to me, though, is less about institutions (which is actually just a pejorative launched at any sufficiently evolved organization) and more about relations. The point being that the modern church in many of its nascent forms has lost relationship in structure; becoming low-touch but high-effect - form without function and symbol over substance - trading transformation for tradition.

The modern church, is, in that sense, absolutely no different than the immediately pre-Reformation church: a stagnant, bloated organism weighed down by its own self-interest and having lost its youthful purpose and power. The necessary change of the pre-Reformation church was made manifest, perhaps, in structural terms, but I think you could argue that this was not necessarily so.

In fact, while mainline Protestantism has been on a declivitous slope for over a century now, the megachurch movement (even noted by Campolo as a growing - not shrinking - phenomenon) is expanding not by structural acquisition (at least not in the entirety) but by inner renovation. The growth in many of these areas has occurred because churches who are in touch with the current culture are deliberately de-emphasizing the centrality of power and decision-making and are becoming "distributed networks" of independent bodies. This nodal architecture maximizes individuality, relevance, responsiveness, relationship and "high-touch" while not forfeiting the access to talent, resources, reach and support afforded by a large body.

But I'm just guessing...

CJR

-----Original Message-----
From: Friend1

A commitment to community (even church) and hope is in itself a prophetic and engaging act that shouts out to both a narcissistic culture and church. Read Bowling Alone by Putnam

I also agree with Willard- until you have been disillusioned with the church you cannot yet understand how to love it or serve it.

Beware of labeling prayers and centuries of adoration as "token events"-- what manner of spiritual communal discipline does not have this danger? Are we better without any?

There is certainly true criticism in this article, but it is nothing new or enlightening, a struggle that Martin Luther admitted was ever old when he battled against it. Nor did Jesus deny that his similar outcries varied much from the prophets that preceded him by centuries.

It is difficult to even speak of "the church." Many churches are actively and prophetically engaging culture with radical encounters both in suburbs and major met centers. And many are blind and cannot see their isolation. Which is it? "The western church in all its forms is slowly hemorrhaging"??? And who gets to determine that? Has he ever read 1 Kings 19.10, 18?

To stick with church seems to be ever dangerous- after all, it is the church that usually kills the prophets. "Safe church?" You can get crucified among some religious people. Does it have to be an either/or? If what he syas is tru, then to confront church is to confront western culture.

What do you guys think?

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Symptoms
Fred Peatross
Dec 12, 2004

One thing comes across loud and clear in the emergent conversation-the western church in all its forms is slowly hemorrhaging. Symptomatic of this is the consistent and steady reduction of those who regularly attend church.

In the early 1990s I preached in Ohio. After a three year ministry there I returned to my home congregation where I served as a deacon and an elder. I've taught bible classes, preached, and was supported as a missionary to the Ukraine. I was one of the mainstays in my home congregation. But during the past four years I've been a conversant and writer in the emergent conversation. This has radically reshaped my church paradigm-so much so that I'm now an erratic participant with little passion to re-engage in the prevailing ministries of the current church model. And when I reflect on the effects these changes have had, it upsets my psyche to think I might have disappointed some or that I may have taken on the image of someone with little determination to finish what I have started.

My disengagement is the consequence of a paradigm shift. Yet in many ways it is the result of an awareness of the ever-widening gulf between the church and its host culture. The church, to a large degree, remains firmly modern in its approach to the broader culture which is in a transitional and emergent state.

Jesus said go into the world and plant the elements of spirituality into culture's space; move outside your comfort zones of safe church and live alongside the people-not through prayers or token events (as good as the things are)-but with radical encounters that have the potential to change the church as well as those in our communities.

  • Posted on: Tue, Dec 14 2004 5:26 PM

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