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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Emerging Church (2) - What can we learn from them?

Spitting out the seeds
To some, black is black and white is white. To them a movement with serious faults cannot yield any profitable  lessons. I beg to differ and prefer Scripture's advice to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21), holding onto the good and avoiding every kind of evil. (The real world is analogue, not digital). Few human movements are 100% in error, none 100% pure. Not everything about the Emerging Church Movement (ECM) is in error.

Here are two of their valuable insights:

The ECM takes modern culture very seriously
Like every great missionary from the apostle Paul to Hudson Taylor, the ECM want to understand the world they are living in, the people they are working among. This is first-principle evangelistic thinking and it is to be applauded. CS Lewis once said that this first part of missionary endeavour was much harder than many of us think it is - we just assume we know how the world thinks, but we don't, we have to work hard at it.

Chief among their findings is the belief that we now live in a world shaped by the system of beliefs called postmodernism.

The ECM challenges us to distinguish between Gospel and Tradition
What parts of our church life and ministry are Bible-shaped and what parts are mere tradition? Could it be that we have absorbed the culture of a previous age (modernism) and that much of what we think is "biblical practise" is nothing more than human tradition (one way, one cultural way of 'doing church').

Anyone who has worshipped in a different culture than their own will realise that the way we do things in our culture is not the "only way" to do things (unless they are so proud as to think that we Westerners have got everything right). We may think it is pure Bible-shaped, but often it is as much influenced by our culture as by the Bible.

Indeed, the genius of the Gospel is to be  low on specifics and high on general principles. Nowhere are we taught to meet at 11.00am on Sunday morning, how often to celebrate communion, etc: these things are all culturally determined. And this genius permits the Gospel to enter any culture and find there a home.

For example, the ECM challenges the following five aspects of  mid-stream evangelical churchanity:
  1. Do we over-emphasise the role of the mind, at the expense of the heart, because we were born in a knowledge-based culture? The mind is absolutely crucial in Christian living, but it is not the only human faculty!
  2. Do we consequently underestimate the role of the emotions, and even the work of the Holy Spirit as a result? (Both are at the more subjective/heart end of human experience).
  3. Do we allow people to have and express doubts, or do we stamp on doubts because we fear error and heresy so much (because we are so cerebrally/doctrinally/intellectually geared, or simply because we think we have 'arrived' and any questioning of our position is 'heresy')?
  4. Do we neglect the 'journey' aspect to conversion, thinking that all conversion must be digital - zero or one - in or out? Can we allow people to believe slowly? (At what point did the Twelve 'believe'?)
  5. What parts of our church and ministry life are out of touch with today's world because those practises were shaped by the world view of 100 years ago, though of course we find that hard to accept? 
If we are frightened to ask these kinds of questions perhaps the charge of The ECM is true - that much of western evangelicalism is unreflectively doctrinaire on secondary matters, and so unable to reach the world we are called into.
Other blogs:
Emerging Church (1) What is Emerging Church?
Emerging Church (3) What's wrong with Emerging Church?

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