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...

Sunday, December 09, 2007

and yet... the challenge

I'm sitting at the window of the room where I'm staying this week in Austria. It's snowing and I'm resisting the urge to head outside and ski for two reasons: #1 THE SABBATH'S NOT A DAY FOR SKIING! (kidding) #2 The lines are too long on the weekends. I'll go Thursday afternoon and most of Friday, as I finish my lectures at about 11AM that day. It's about 50 meters from my room to the gondola, so travel time won't be a problem.

Today though, I spent the morning at the local worship service because I'm friends with the pastor's son and I thought he'd be at the service. When the service ended, the pastor invited Donna and me to have coffee with the congregation, and then showed us a remarkable art panel displayed in their sanctuary that came from Reformation times. There were four panels. The outside panels were paintings of Peter (with the keys to the church) and Paul (with the sword, which is the world of God) in their hands. The inner two panels were two marvelous paintings; the first was of the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness (a story from Numbers whereby the rebellious Jews needed to look at a brass serpent elevated on a pole in order for a plague to be broken). The second was of Jesus being lifted up, in fulfillment of the the words linking these two stories, offered by Jesus in John 3.

We learned this morning that during the counter-reformation, all of Austria was mandated to either become Catholic or leave the country (an edict from the Hapsburgs). Thus did this panel fall into the hands of Catholic church for a centuries. Interestingly, on the back side of the panel, there's a quote from Romans 3:27-28, articulating that man is saved by faith alone. Interestingly, the word "alone" had been etched out while in the hands of the Catholic church!

You can't get church history classes this real anywhere in the USA! Yet for all this, there were only about 50 people in the church this morning, with perhaps an average age of 65. "What is to happen to the church in 30 years?" I asked a friend over coffee after the service. "Martin Luther said, 'The church is in need of continual reformation. If we don't change the way we communicate truth, we won't make it.'"

Yes, it's a very good word, and perhaps a way to expand and qualify my previous post. Modernity. Post-Modernity. What are they? Though they are world-views, the very term 'world view' is so loaded as to make comprehension a challenge when engaging this important topic. So, perhaps it's helpful to think of them as languages. This morning, I listened to a sermon in German and since I don't know German, the odds are high that I wouldn't ever become a regular attender. It has nothing to do with whether the pastor is Orthodox or Heretical. The issue is simply that I don't speak his language, so we can't get very far together.

However, after the service, he approached me and gave me one of the finest church history lessons I've ever had, all because he was willing to both learn and speak my language. The same kind of adjustments must be made, not only for linguistic chasms, but for cultural chasms and world view chasms. Jesus showed the way in Philippians 2, where we learn that he was willing to learn the language of humanity by taking on human form... God with us... and thus making God accessible.

Why are moderns and post-moderns afraid to do that with each other? Instead of viewing these two ways of looking at the world as different languages, we vilify them, each to the other. As a result the church is splitting down generational lines, but it's really a world view split. Until we stop attaching moral value to these two world views and see them instead as languages, the split will remain. But once we begin to see that it's just a different language - perhaps we'll be willing, for the good of Christ's body, to become bi-lingual.

For example, last night, Pink was in concert at the base of the ski hill here. I think I'll use her lyrics to open my sermon tonight because there's a good chance that someone who was standing in the parking lot last night with a Schladminger in hand (that's the local beer) will be in the service tonight. This is what it means to be incarnational. The church in Europe and North America had better learn how to do this across generational lines, if our testimony is to be that the dividing wall is indeed broken down.

Does this help clarify what I mean when I say that modern or post-modern misses the point?


At 9/12/07 17:35, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard, thanks for further clarifying your thoughts from the earlier post. I find this modern/post-modern conversation simultaneously intriguing and confusing.

I would like to hear your thoughts (and other people's) on the language of the 'emgergent church'. I'll admit that I'm green in my understanding of the emergent church however I think they are speaking not just a more socially relevant language but maybe a different message altogether. I like what the emergent church has to say about relationship and community but I'm having a hard time swallowing some of its other tenants that seem to marginalize the objective truth of scripture and replace it with situational or experiencial interpretation.

It seems to me that the emergent church is setting itself up to fall into a trap of easy believism by over-emphasizing personal experience while avoiding altoghether some necessary confrontations with foundational christian doctrine and theology. Jesus parable of the sower comes to mind (Mark 4:1-20).

It's just my feeling that a movement devoid of, in fact adverse to, structure runs the risk of easily spinning far away from it's initial purpose.

I'm interested in hearing from you Richard, and others who frequent this blog, on this topic. And might I stress again that I'm new to the emergent convesation and trying to wrestle thru it. I'm not saying X is all right and Y all is wrong, but I'm trying to work out my own faith with fear and trembling.

Best Regards,

At 10/12/07 07:23, Blogger Birgit said...

Hi Richard!
Good to have you here in Schladming! Unfortunately we couldn't go to the service last night as I'm down with the flu. I hope we'll be able to meet sometime this week though.
All the best,
Birgit :-)

At 10/12/07 13:06, Anonymous Lisa said...

I appreciate your analogy of modern and postmodern worldviews being like a language. I've struggled, so far in vain, to communicate with the more mature generations of my family and have come to the same understanding. We're like aliens to one another.

I don't think I fall squarely into either worldview (though if I'm pressed I'd say I lean postmodern)so I can often understand what my grandparents are thinking and why. What I find so challenging when dealing with true-blue moderns is their inability (or seeming inability) to even consider that 1) their stance on a given situation might be wrong, 2) anyone whose ideas (or even appearance) are different than theirs could still be right, or 3) that sometimes it's far more complex than wrong and right, which doesn't make it right necessarily but also doesn't mean it's all just wrong. Does that make any sense at all?!

I know they sometimes feels as though my mind is full of gunk and I know I often feel as though there's so much that they are missing. I think it grieves us all and that makes me wish for a language that could bridge the gap. That language could be love, but only for the honest, the aware, the humble, and the willing.

Thanks for the continuing conversation.

At 10/12/07 21:55, Blogger Raymond said...

You were greatly missed on Sunday. Safe travels.


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