Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Pro-Active or Re-Active?

I'm still digesting the meaning of the word 'emergent' as it refers to churches. It seems to be a word that, in typcial post-modern fashion, is squishy enough to encompass lots of definitions. I find it easier to articulate what it looks like than to offer definition, and what it looks like usually includes creative expressions of worship, a clear use of existing cultural structures (film, literature, art) as a means of expressing the good news of Christ, and a commitment to serving and being a blessing in the place where the church is located (I believe the word that describes this is missional, which by the way, is vital to our practice of what it means to be church in the 21st century).

This is all good, and right; welcome and needed changes in the American church. But, in spite of all this, I'm not one who uses the word 'emergent' very often, nor am I one who is ready to pronounce that the 'emergent' church(s) are the future. My hesitancy is rooted in the observation that the movement seems as much to be 'away' from traditional forms as it seems to be a movement towards new expressions of church life. One might argue that moving towards something new is necessarily also a movement away from something old, but I would challenge that assumption. Maybe instead of moving away from, I can move upwards by 'building upon' that which has come before. The problem with moving 'away from' is that I move away from the saints of older generations (thus making II Timothy 2:2 rather difficult). And I move away, not only from the sins of our faithers, but from much that has been good and right in historical Christianity. This is the difficulty with being re-active: we throw too much away.

Can I say something about this? (Of course I can. It's my blog). We've been down this road before. It's been 'weighed and found wanting' to take a Bible verse out of context. Two examples come to mind.

1. In the reformation, we moved away from both the excesses and doctrinal errors of medieval Catholicism, AND we moved away from the rich history of the Benedictines and Franciscans (to name but two important orders), classic ways of reading the Bible, and the disciplines of silence and meditation. We lost a lot by being re-active rather than pro-active, and only now are we recovering some of these elements in the 'reformation' churches.

2. In the days of the Jesus people (I was there - in California - in the 60's and 70's), our movement away from traditional forms not only brought the refreshing winds of authenticity and informality in our approach to God (our church choir in the 60's was called, "The Eternal Trip", and it was cool to come to evening service barefoot), but we also learned to mock hymns and liturgies. When I ran a ministry in the mountains years later, our summer Bible school included nights of singing where I'd sit at the piano and bang out 'praise music.' A girl who grew up with Jesus people parents said one night, "I'm tired of these insipid choruses. Is there a hymnal around here?" Suddenly, we're singing "And Can it Be" and many others, and these young people are stunned at the power of the words. "Where have these songs been all our lives?" they asked. Here's where: They were delegated to the dust bin of irrelevance by a generation that re-acted and threw too much away.

I'm not thinking of any particular church in this critique. But I need to raise the question and voice the concern. Is there a way to build on all that is right with the church, while reforming all that needs changing? Is there a way to 'add' a 2nd story to that which is solid in the foundation, so that we can take some of the ancient saints (both dead and living) along with us, continuing to learn from them? I hope so. I'm tired of seeing movements say, 'this time we're going to get it right' only to, years later go back and pick all that had been too easily discarded.


At 31/7/05 13:50, Anonymous lee said...

It seems like what the Church needs - and the emergent Church especially - is a newfound love of humility.

What I find so interesting in these conversations between 'post-modernist emergents', many of which you can find online, is a sense that what they are doing in de- and re-constructing the church is important work. In a sense of course, it is. I believe in a great many of the ideals the emergent church strives for and think that - to paraphrase Jefferson - "a little revolution now and then is a good thing".

The reason I think the 'emergentrification' of the western Church is not a big deal is precisely because, looking forward, the western Church itself does not seem like such a big deal.

As the center of Christianity moves southward, it seems to me that the work we are now trying do do within western Christendom has already been done. The churches of South America have already been through our spiritual heritage with a different set of cultural eyes and culled out those traditions that they have found right to incorporate. Similarly in Africa, China, and Southeast Asia. The "church of the modern world" is being created a few thousand miles from here, and the Christianity we represent should recognize that and look for God's hand in this development. Missionality takes on a whole new meaning when you realize that in many ways the west is becoming the land of non-believers who hunger for the gospel.

At 31/7/05 20:26, Anonymous Tiffany said...

Thanks, Richard, for articulating so well one of my reservations with the Emergent church. Even though apparently my theological bent (from the test in one of your June posts) is emergent/postmodern, admittedly I don't know much about these theologies. Growing up in a non-denominational church I never really learned the difference between all the types of churches or theologies. I guess I’m just not schooled enough in labels. Seeing my test “scores” made me curious about the Emergent church so I did a bit of research and found some things I agreed with and some things I didn’t. Mostly, I’m not ready to discard entirely the church I grew up in. It seems awfully extreme to think that the church of our forefathers has nothing to offer.

I wonder if the leaders of the Emergent movement would disagree with our assessment that they claim anything "old-school" is irrelevant. Do they actually come out and say this or is it just implied? Perhaps that is just our perception of the Emergent church? Then again, there is no reality only perception!

At 31/7/05 22:33, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I think the emergement movement uses terms such as 'ancient-modern' to
articulate that this is really a building on a foundation, rather than
a departure. And my experience is that this varies from community to
community. There are marvelous expressions in emergent churches that
are capturing a recovery of some liturgy, and then there are others
that are all about simply doing something new. So I guess my
generalizations don't really work well, but the warning still stands -
we need to be careful to avoid historical amnesia, because we'll need
that history sometime in the future!

At 2/8/05 16:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in-between churches right now and have attended BC a few times. I am currently checking out other local churches, but do keep up with the happenings and sermons. I appreciate your musings on this - I have a mixed background (non-denom to reformed to ?), and your posting makes sense both in light of scripture and of experience. To cast off the past as archaic or narrow, or to distain the present as not biblical are two ditches on the side of the road. There is a balance or a tension to maintain, and unfortunately we often err to one side or the other. I hope to continue to visit and maybe even call BC home, but until such time I'll continue to read and listen and think. Thanks for the musings and keep it up - may God bless you and BC.

At 2/8/05 23:08, Anonymous dave said...

It's unfortunate that the term authenticity is starting to loose it's authenticity.... but I'd have to say that this is the key to any church movement. Movement for the sake of movement unless it is authentically seeking Christ in all things seems pointless and futile. Part of the beauty of Christ is that authenticity is very personal and has many different manifestations in different cultures and communities around the world and it would be very western of us to worry about what's already been done or discovered elsewhere. It's not surprising to me that as our culture fragments, the church, and even individual churches, will fragment to meet our customized needs... for better or worse.


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