Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is the Emerging Church?

The Emerging Church is a fairly hot topic in many evangelical circles these days. This topic brings more childish banter out of the religious far right than any almost any other I can think of. I must also be fair to say that, those on the religious far left have used this expression of church as a sort of covering for an "anything goes theology."

Both are equally unhealthy. The Emerging Church is tough to define. Even the more prominent leaders of this emerging movement have a tough time defining it. I am by no means an authority on the subject. But it is a movement that I have been paying close attention to for the last 4-5 years. I have also been participating in a few expressions of church that most would define as “emerging” in the last year. Using both personal experiences and research I will attempt to briefly define the "Emerging Church" at the end of this post.

Let me tell you about a few of my experiences first...

I lead a monastic community in Edward’s Hall made up of 10 freshman and sophomore’s that have committed to a monastic rule that we developed together. This rule includes: daily time in silence/solitude, reading the sermon on the mount 3 times a week, fasting weekly, daily time in conversational prayer, weekly meeting with monk brothers, a soul friendship (church of 2 or 3), and bi-weekly coaching.

I am also part of a simple church that started in August. We meet together in each others home. Eat a meal together with the Lord’s supper. Each person has an opportunity to share their hearts with one another and say anything else they would like to share with the community. We then have a time of listening together and then we usually spend some time encouraging and building one another up. It has been amazing to become part of a community that not only shares several hours once a week with each other, but is deeply invested in one another’s lives on a daily basis.

Given my experience in these forms of “emerging church” and many readings of other’s experiences I would like to give my best shot at a definition. Here it goes...

“The Emerging Church movement is a conversation centered around reforming Christ’s Bride by blending ancient traditions with Post-modern cultural expressions in order to become a community that represents the Gospel of Jesus, and the life of a particular local.”

What do you think of this definition? Or maybe a better question would be, what do you think of the idea of this kind of church?

14 comments:

Laura Sanders said...

I like how this has come about more and more. Seems to me how it should be. I desire this and wish it was more like this for more people.

Jeff Robinson said...

Bravo! An excellent beginning from one who is sincerely walking in the way. It reminds me of Jacob's wrestle with God - you know you can't win but you wil be both blessed and dislocated in the encounter/engagement.

I encourage you to continu...e refining your definition. The "thing" you are attempting to define is something that does not yet exist in it's fully revealed form. It is yet still partly theoretical and where it exists in reality, it is yet in it's infancy - that is not yet in it's mature "form." Indeed, perhaps the very heart of the definition and identity of the emergent church - it's ultimate success, if you will - will be that it never fits neatly into anyone's comprehensive, systematic definition simply because it us organic and not institutional or institutionalizable, else it will cease to be what it is.

When you take a lump that is unique and you press I into a mold, you create something that looks like something else so that it may cease to be what it is in order to become what something else is, and thus it's own identity is lost. The emergent church may be this way. The more we try to define it may result in the limitation of it's full formation and development as those in emerging cells take the easier path of trying to imitate others rather than the more difficult and risky path of allowing the Spirit to be the DNA that determines the direction and eventual identity and appearance or image if each particular cell group.

Jeff Robinson said...

...
We must broaden our vision and our ability to see and to recognize that the Soirit of God can inhabit and empower all sorts of individuals and groups that look nothing whatsoever like anything the traditional, institutional church of any tradition might recognize externally, yet internally it lives and moves and has it's being in the very heart of God.

This is radical and a similar kind of threat to the powers that be as Jesus was. We may see a time where the "church" exists in two distinct forms - that of civil religion that exists as a parody (external firm, appearance only) of the church but still under the sanction of the power of the kingdoms of the world, and a more underground manifestation of the Bride that simply IS the church and goes about being the Kingdom and doing Kingdom work in intimate relationship with God, under the radar, so to speak, while Rome burns.

Emergent has become a lightning rod of sorts drawing both critics and groupees. The critics feel threatened and are critical, sometimes justifiably, by some of what claims to represent emergent theology, while many seek something - anything - that is still Christ-centered but different from the same old same old.

Becoming genuinely emergent comes with a heavy, heavy price. I must take personal responsibility for my own spiritual decisions, development, education. I must develop a sense of hearing and listening, seeing and observing, and conversing and dialog with the Spirit and others whose words and actions may very well be the Spirit of God speaking, showing, moving as teacher and guide right in front of me with human skin on. I must learn by God's very Word to test these experiences and discern which are true and valid and which are not. I can no longer be content to allow the doctrine and theology of others to reign unexamined and unchallenged over me.

Finally, for now anyway, being emergent will almost certainly require as mucunlearning as new learning. This will apply particularly to the ways in which we view and read and understand the Bible. We will cease reading it as a book if history and constitution, and rather, begin seeing the larger themes of repetition, rebellion, rescue, redemption, restoration, liberation, grace , mercy, etc. And we will learn not to use it to prooftext our own opinions. We will begin to let go of the determination to first and always read it literally and begin understand it as the great metaphorical work that it is.

One who decides to explore emergent-cy had best be prepared for slings and arrows and cold shoulders and loss of friends and respect within the traditional church community. It's interesting and painful as I try to stay within such a community as an agent of change - leaven - if you will. Sooner or later I will be pushed out or so far to the margins that I will be, in effect, gone. But that's OK for now because some listen and may some day get it.

Jeff Robinson said...

Have you read "A New Kind of Christianity" by Brian McLaren?

Katie Fletcher Bailey said...

I agree with the definition, though I am probably much less familiar with the subject. I wonder how different it would look from place to place if it also represents the post-modern cultural expressions. Not a bad thing at all according to me, just wondering if you have thoughts of where the balance lies.

Jordan Bunch said...

Thanks for your thoughts and reflections Jeff. I agree with what you said in the beginning. This is why my definition is intentionally broad. Two broad statements and one narrow.

Broad: "conversation centered around reforming Christ's Bride..." and "represents... the life of a particular local."

Narrow: "represents the Gospel of Jesus" I can't broaden that part. One of the critiques against Emerging forms of church is its broadness in this regard. This is ground I am not willing to fudge on.

Very helpful words though. You are right. I am certainly in the baby stages of experiencing the alienation and persecution from the traditional forms of church. And don't get me wrong. I love Christ's Bride in whatever shape it takes itself. But in most cases it needs reform. This is where women and men need to stand up and call for change. And I am definitely at a "no turning back" stage. Good to know there are others like you in other places vying for reform.

Jordan Bunch said...

Thanks for your question Katie. Its an important one. I think the faith community needs to decide what are the 3 or 4 things (some will make a much larger list) that are absolutely essential to the faith. ie - Jesus is Lord, the Holy Spirit lives in each believer, Scripture is a primary way the Lord speaks to His people, etc.

Everything else can either go or stay... I think it is helpful to draw on ancient traditions in order to connect with the "timeless Body of Christ." In the same hand, we need to look enough like the culture that outsiders can feel welcome... without watering down the Gospel. I am not interested in "seeker services" that cater to the "lost" by watering down the message my King lives for. And that makes me angry to say the least.

This will certainly look far different in Abilene than in Africa. And might even look completely different in North Abilene than West Abilene. As long as we hold to those 3-4 things that are essential, then its all good.

Does that help any? Should I clarify more?

Jeff Robinson said...

Emergent-cy is also something I think that will be more easily embraced by those younger than myself. I also notice than many who are critical don't really understand it. It us hard to define, even among those of us who are trying to embrac...e it. It doesn't fit into the traditional paradigm so that even in order to be able to understand it enough to criticize it with some objectivity, one must to dome degree embrace it and collapse some existing riles if their current paradigm. This is frightening for some - heretical and a betrayal of some or all of what they believe and stand for.

Jordan Bunch said...

It is most certainly more quickly accepted in younger circles (or if not accepted, at least identified as legitimate expressions of church). This problem is in large part why I decided to develop a definition. Of course entire libraries are being written about the subject, because it is such a broad movement. But a brief definition like this could go a long way in moving others toward openness, to exploring reform in their churches. This is why I've written it, recognizing of course, that it will most likely need to change over time. Yet hopefully I've made it broad enough that it should stand well for a while.

Jordan Bunch said...

Thanks Laura. What about this seems like it should be?

Katie Fletcher Bailey said...

Thanks, Jordan. Yes, that clarifies it (as much as this topic can be clarified from what I've gathered) and I very much agree with your thoughts on this subject. Especially the part about the absolutely essential parts to our faith and welcoming outsiders without watering down the Gospel. Well said!

Jordan Bunch said...

Thanks. It seems to me that the Lord is at work reforming His Bride. So it seems good to me to join Him there.

katyhelena said...

I love the idea of simple, REAL church.

Laura Sanders said...

The way to do church/life in general. Small groups of people getting together in each others homes, eating together, and sharing, etc. Also living life together and not just seeing people once a week. It's living in true community, which is something that has really been lost, if you know what I mean.