Emerging Churches

A note of mine written in February 2011 for my own benefit:

Missional – an acknowledgement of the end of Christendom – not yet multicultural – from evangelical / charismatic subculture – speaking out for justice – serving the poor – fair trade.
A journey of faith – trusting God to provide insight and strength for a pilgrimage – strong commitment to the Bible – but reading through fresh eyes.

Open-minded, service oriented, young Christians.
A need to understand the culture in which we live.
The symbolic, the mystical and the experiential were removed to make room for logical and linear ways of thinking and living

Modernity gave the church hierarchical and rationalised leadership, resulting in dehumanisation and disempowerment. New forms of church have restored an atmosphere of mystery and awe, enhanced by the use of incense, candles and prayer rituals.
Those who see reality holistically and spiritually present a major challenge – self realisation – de-emphasis on self discipline and the place of legitimate suffering.
Religious authority now lies to a considerable extent with the individual believer.
In the UK there is now an absence of a Christian sub-culture – some 60% of 18-35 year olds identify with the club culture.
Can the church stand aloof from the people it is trying to reach?
Those who are stuck in a ghetto cannot see the broader picture.

What is the emerging church? – a taste of change – unable to go back – the need for deconstruction – but rebuilding will take time – a lack of urgency (but you can’t emerge without first submerging).
The need to trust God more than my theology about God – more in common with Catholics than Protestants (Brian McLaren).
It is not easy to remove the old influences.

The three core practices:

  • Identifying with the life of Jesus
    Modern readings of Jesus are prone to dismiss his life and focus on his death and resurrection, and are preoccupied with a believer’s interior experience of Christ. But Jesus challenged the political authorities by creating an alternative community.
  • Transforming secular space
    Modernity began with the creation of secular space in the 14th Century – the emerging church pursues the kingdom in all spheres of reality – overcoming all sacred / secular division.
  • Living as community
    Living highly communal lives – functioning more like extended families.

As a result they welcome strangers – serve with generosity – participate as producers – create as created beings – lead as a body – take part in spiritual activities.
There is a risk that deconstruction can lead to destruction – but the emerging church is seen as a safe place in which to ask the difficult questions.

Identifying with Jesus – we have come to see that it is all about Jesus, and not just a methodology. It is not about mission, not about the church, but it is about Jesus and his glory, his life. To know Jesus is not an event, a ritual, a creed or a religion. It is a journey of trust and adventure.
Why has the church for so long missed the point that the gospel message was so much more than personal salvation and the way to get to heaven when we die?
It began with a change of emphasis from the epistles to the gospels as a way to understand Jesus more profoundly. The Anabaptist traditions have consistently maintained a clear kingdom perspective.
Jesus provides a model through the way of life he formed among his followers – but we need to be aware of the cultural differences.
The emphasis on going to others rather than the invitation to come! The need for a redeeming influence – flowing out to bring reconciliation and blessing where it is needed. A retrieval of the ancient understanding of the gospel – that now was the time of God’s work, evidenced by the person of Jesus. The good news was not that Jesus was to die on the cross to forgive sins, but that God had returned and all were invited to participate in this new way of life – the redemption of the world – the God provided means of reconciliation – an all-encompassing way of life – listening to others and inviting them to walk with us relationally – lifestyle evangelism!
Jesus was not a church planter – he created communities – the leader of a counter-temple movement. The idea of a kingdom focus – an invitation to participate with God – instead of a church focus is a huge paradigm shift!

Transforming Secular Space – all of life should be made sacred – a rejection of dualism. The reality of multiple ways – many things going on at the same time – more than one message coming across – the chance to hear and watch the story unfold – instead of trying to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together and defending the Bible at all costs – recognising that God communicates through parables.
An invitation to share the excitement, commitment and risk of a journey of a lifetime, rather than a book providing answers and a safe place.
During modernity the church was steadily pushed to the margins, accepting that its only proper role was as a ‘chaplain’ to society – and seems to be unable to embrace holistic spirituality.
Many leaders of alternative worship seem to be kids of influential Christians who want to stop being cultural outsiders – seeking authenticity – and remain true to both their faith and their culture. Anna found that not wanting to take others to church was a big motivator for getting a community functioning.

Living as Community – for community to last, our love for one another must be surpassed only by our love for Jesus. If the relationships are grounded on anything other than Jesus the community will fail – and the sooner the better!
Unless there is an identity of being adopted children in the family of God there will be problems. Corporate responsibility can be difficult for people who have been used to independence, individual rights and privileges – a challenge to individual sovereignty.
It is shared events that bind people closer together – the need for participation, creativity and spirituality – committed to one another rather than being task focussed. Not a ‘safe haven’ for people who have ‘arrived’, but a meeting point for those on a journey of faith.
People generally are hungry for relationships but at the same time, ill prepared for the costs involved. People are prone to walk away when the going gets tough (so unlike ‘consumer church’ where people shop around to get their spiritual needs met).
Remember that Ghandi rejected Christianity because of what he saw as a lack of love and community.
A high commitment to relationships means that the groups will remain small – maybe up to 25-40.
The risk of becoming self-centred and exclusive – birds of a feather flock together – or does diversity bring greater creativity and personal growth? What place the Eucharist?

Welcoming strangers – hospitality – so much can happen over a meal – a desire to share life – allow people to belong rather than expect them to believe. Treat people as friends rather than targets – changed lives rather than changed beliefs. Modernity teaches its inhabitants to exclude and to conform – instead of welcoming others.
Many are comfortable having a lot of unanswered questions.
Maybe little room for apologetics (rationalistic assumptions?) – allow God to speak to us!
One cannot understand the truths of the Christian faith as an outside observer!
Let others know our stories – listen to them – and be willing to be changed by them!

Serving with generosity – rejection of the economic rules prevalent in culture – living lives of justice and accountability – the compassion of a servant – taking care of the sick and needy creates all the evangelistic opportunities we need. Aware that consumerism destroys community by discouraging active participation. A suggestion that people should serve the world through their vocations rather than through church administered programs. A sin-focused presentation of the message leads to a lack of credibility!
Most social service (in the UK especially) is devoid of spirituality.
How can we really serve people unless you love them and are emotionally involved with them?
Some of the most effective ministry is as a consequence of painful experiences that give a depth of understanding and empathy that would not have been possible otherwise.
Gospel could mean ‘new deal’ – concerned with the here and now and therefore very social in its nature. Maybe spreading seed everywhere and leaving the results to God – but what if in post-Christendom the soil is dead?
Knowing and being known by the poor is essential – an interest in all who are being overlooked.
What place the strength and effectiveness of faith-based initiatives – that seem to be having increasing government support?
Emerging churches are committed to Jesus and to making him known. They believe that by their very lives they embody the good news.

What place leadership?

Miscellaneous comments
Church as a life lived with Jesus?
Evangelical certainty and liberal interpretation both rooted in ‘modern’ understanding?
Christendom churches focus on worship with community and mission as optional bolt ons!
Stages of growth – what place Karl Barth?
A suggestion that we search to belong in four spheres – public – unity in a crowd – social – beginning to make basic relationships – personal – disclosure and openness – intimate – completely naked (that many cannot or will not move into). Maybe 60-70% of people would find the drive to small groups unhelpful and intrusive – and would resolutely remain on the fringes.
You can’t put new wine into old wineskins – or new thoughts into traditional containers!
The seen need to focus on Jesus – the need to honour him, remember him and represent him! A focus on the incarnation and the earthly life of Jesus – people who love to immerse themselves in the gospels and then work out how to live that way today.
Emerging church is often seen as a watered down approach or not theologically sound.
Brian McLaren refers to loving attitudes rather than logical arguments.

  • Some want to enhance the atmosphere – with new forms of worship. Some want to experiment with new forms of church. Others question traditional doctrine – the trinity – substitutionary atonement – the eternal destination of hell and others.
  • Away from Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) – seen by some as denial of truth
  • We cannot ignore mystery and paradox – iron sharpens iron – everyone needs to be empowered to think for themselves?
  • Traditional orthodox evangelicalism focuses on changing an individual’s eternal destination as the sole priority (a dress rehearsal for heaven?), while the emerging church tends to focus on the present and how people can experience a relationship with God now – establishing a restored world that harkens back to Genesis and the way that things were always meant to be – God’s will being done now (so that those suffering in the here and now can experience some form of justice, mercy and love through God’s outstretched hand)! Some see this as a return to the social gospel of the 19th and early 20th centuries – attempting to change the present but completely losing sight of Jesus!
  • Rick McKinley – 2000 years of orthodoxy help us to determine what heresy is! Our common canon and creeds allow us to determine what the gospel is and when we have departed from it … when we move outside the boundaries of orthodoxy we cease to be part of ‘the’ church – the need to be part of the historical church! The need to retain roots! Rick has built his faith on the foundation of orthodoxy and the gospel of the reformers – and thinks there is still room to build on that foundation!
  • John McArthur – the Bible is absolutely clear and fixed and is not ambiguous – it is an absolute! An attack on the clarity of scripture – giving people what they want – no objectives – a new form of anti-Christendom – self confessed ignorance – for people who have nothing definitive to say they do a lot of talking – aggressive at tearing down the church, theology and doctrines that are sacred and have been a part of church life for centuries – dismantling what everybody had always believed.
    The cross is not a form of cosmic child abuse, a vengeful Father punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably people both inside and outside the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that however is such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement that God is love. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards human kind, but born by his son, that makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and refuse to repay evil with evil (Steve Chalke). A Christian couldn’t say that – it’s the language of an atheist. People shouldn’t go to a church that doesn’t have a doctrinal statement! The need to be accountable to a Godly mature leadership! The importance of shepherding conferences for independent churches! Historic theology should have some control. A church anchored in the Word of God makes changes very slowly because they revere tradition and continuity!
  • Some of us are marching to the beat of a different drummer! A new motivation!
  • Change can be very unsettling – some people need to be led!
  • Christendom is a serious distortion of the Christian faith!
  • Those who find meaning and purpose in leadership are likely to be the very people who disempower others, and retain those who want to be led!
  • If the church is the community of the redeemed, what are they doing about the unredeemed?

An Emerging Pneumatology (the study of spiritual things – especially the interactions between humans and God) by Patrick Oden

Patrick uses “Emerging Churches” as a starting point. Gibbs and Bolger highlighted nine practices that are common to innovative churches – with three core practices:

  • Identifying with the life of Jesus (a journey of trust and adventure – a way of life)
  • Transforming secular space (no sacred/secular divide)
  • Living in community (mutual accountability)

Patrick has added a tenth practice – holiness!

For the emerging church the emphasis is continually Jesus – everything else is relative to this centre (based on the model of a few scholars that those in the emerging church seek to emulate) – a practical application of ethics more than philosophical musings! Patrick suggests that this seems to be a Christological emphasis (on the mission of Jesus), and not pneumatogical. Moltmann says that the Spirit makes Jesus ‘the kingdom of God in person’ – the mission that Jesus claimed in Luke 4.18-19 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the mission which the Spirit binds on all those who follow Jesus – it is through the Spirit that they enter into Christ’s saving and life-giving fellowship.

Identifying with the life of Jesus – the promise of eternal life becomes an almost incidental by-product
Transforming secular space – can traditional churches break out of the mindset of creating ghettos for their members to retreat from the world?
Living as community

At this point Patrick inserted The Fellowship of the Spirit – the Spirit creates the network of social relationships
Welcoming the stranger – friendship evangelism is often seen as manipulative
Serving with generosity
Participating as producers in the life of the community
–without mutuality of giving there will be emptiness and exhaustion –freedom is present where Christ is experienced in the Spirit – the Spirit empowers participation that is profoundly creative.
Creating as created beings – faith awakens trust in the still unrealised possibilities – both in self and in others.

In the presence of the Spirit faith and creativity are synonymous – while organisation seems to insist on order in both action and doctrine – with leadership that becomes increasingly rigid (in order to combat error and bring uniformity) – leading in turn to new splinter groups!
Leading as a body – the need to reconsider the responsibilities of leaders. When Christology is the driving force, hierarchy is understandable (deceived about matters of doctrine and order?), where theology is used to justify a particular pattern of organisation. The suggestion that Pneumatology has been under developed until the last 40 years (especially in the West
Merging ancient and contemporary spirituality – much of the ancient spirituality was lost in modernism. What place Iona, mysticism and contemplative prayer? Without the contemplative awareness of the Holy Spirit’s activity ‘in us’, the history of Christ ‘for us’ will not come alive.

Some further thoughts on ‘emerging church’:

  • How many people dismiss the life of Jesus and focus on his death and resurrection? It is the life and teaching of Jesus that has influenced emerging churches – functioning more like extended families.
  • “The Lost Message of Jesus” by Steve Chalke
  • A recognition that we can’t understand the truths of the Christian faith as an outside observer – consider fish in a tank! Experience precedes explanation (catch 22). Can we be content with unanswered questions?
  • What makes someone orthodox or a heretic? Like the Pharisees, we read everything through our own set of assumptions!
  • Emerging Church – a loose knit association of churches who place value and virtue in uncertainty – an attack on the clarity of scripture – a celebration of mystery, ignorance and liberalism – a false spiritual pride called humility! An unwillingness to accept the clear teaching of scripture – giving people what they want while the Bible confronts it with fixed unchanging truth. They are really aggressive at tearing down the church, theology and doctrines that are sacred and have been part of church life for centuries.
    The need to be accountable to a godly mature leadership!
    In Calvin’s day if you preached without being ordained they put you in prison.
    The importance of shepherding conferences for independent churches.
    Bible studies used to be about ‘what does it mean to me?’. Now we don’t know what it means – what do you think it might mean? This has nothing to do with true church, nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, nothing to do with God – it is a fad – pop religion – a few Christians may have been seduced.
    A church anchored in the Word of God makes changes very slowly because they revere tradition and continuity!
  • Beware of confusing emerging church with alt worship!
  • “Most church leaders are insecure and paranoid”. “I’ve never had a sabbatical – I don’t think I could stand being away from the church that long – I wouldn’t know what to do with myself” – someone who finds meaning and purpose in his leadership (the reason why some enter the ministry) – someone who wants to do everything himself – a sure way of disempowering people – and retaining those who want to be led like sheep!
  • The rise of ‘Christendom’ meant that Christianity moved from the margins to the centre of the Roman Empire – the church modelled itself on the empire – settled – institutional and dependent upon top-down authority! The Reformation didn’t fundamentally challenge the underlying assumptions of Christendom.
  • The prophet is way ahead of the flock of sheep … few really understand him. He is interested not so much in people and what they think of him, but in God’s voice for the situation. Added to that, he often has a complicated and disorganised personality exactly because he is so uniquely gifted. Can you imagine spending a relaxed half hour drinking coffee with Jeremiah?
    A prophet’s perspective is radically different from that of the pastor. He hears from God and quite mercilessly questions everything, including the pastor, from God’s perspective. That however is his healthy and God-given duty. For that reason, there is also a historical tension between the pastor and the prophet: one is a defender of the status quo, who wants to maintain the community; the other questions everything and is seen (rightly) by many as a threat, because he disrupts things and wants ‘movement now’. The shepherd, in many pictures, not only has a stick in his hand to tend the sheep and keep away the wolves; he may also be quick in using that stick, to keep away prophets. And yet both views are valid, because both are serving God and the same flock – one with loving attention, the other with a prophetic view. Both are necessary! (Wolfgang Simson)
  • Evangelists enjoy catching fish, but they don’t enjoy cleaning them (Eddie Gibbs)
  • Beyond ideology driven evangelism – the modern age was the age of Finney, Moody and Billy Graham, where evangelism was largely about calling people back to a faith from which they had lapsed – an emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge led to the elevation of the role of preaching and teaching above that of spiritual formation. The postmodern desire for authenticity and meaning requires a form of learning that is less dependent on teaching from ‘experts’.
  • Emerging into a post-colonial, post-western faith, that no longer wants to be in denial of the dark side of its history, with a transforming vision?

Frank Viola suggests that every movement that has set out to reform or renew the church was born with profound shortcomings and weaknesses that were never addressed until it was too late.
The emerging church has a new emphasis on the Jesus of the gospels – ready to embrace mystery and paradox – an emphasis on spiritual encounter instead of academic knowledge of God and the Bible.
Some of the weaknesses:

  • Pastors cause unhealthy dependence, and the workload often destroys them. They talk about facilitating, mentoring and equipping – but many just sit and wait to be fed
  • There is an emphasis on meeting human needs rather than the needs of God
  • God has a purpose – the motivation behind creation – but what is that all governing purpose that stands at the centre of the beating heart of God?
  • An emphasis on imitating the outward conduct of Jesus instead of exploring his relationship with Father – ignoring the fact that Jesus’ earthly conduct was simply the fruit of a life lived in communion with an indwelling Father. Without Jesus we can do nothing.
    As the Father has sent me, so I send you (John 20.21). As I live by the Father, so he that eats me shall live by me (John 6.57) – these words embody an entire world for Christians that has been virtually unexplored.
  • There is an emphasis on things such as evangelism, social justice, acts of mercy, praise and worship, Bible study, doctrinal and theological accuracy, the gifts of the Spirit, signs and wonders, spiritual warfare, intercessory prayer, prophecy, end time theology etc – but where are those who are talking about Jesus and presenting Jesus to the people just as Paul did?
  • Where are those people who can bring others into a living encounter with the Lord such that it will captivate their hearts for the rest of their lives?

Could the hidden church be the real one and the emerging church another counterfeit?

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