Archives For Emergent Church

Conformity….

April 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve seen the light go out in people’s eyes when they decide it’s safer to embrace a doctrine or a policy that their gut tells them is wrong than it is to challenge those who say it’s right.

I’ve watched open minds close and tender hearts harden.

I’ve seen people pretend to believe things they don’t actually believe and do things they don’t actually want to do, all in the name of conformity to God’s will, all in the name of sacrifice and submission.

Fundamentalism erases people. It erases their joy, their compassion, their instincts, their curiosity, their passion, their selves. And then it celebrates this ghosting, this nulling and numbing, as a glorious “dying to the self,” just like Jesus demanded.

SOURCE: Hearts of Flesh.

These are some powerful words from Rachel Held Evans who is a young and popular Christian author and lecturer. She seldom parses words when it comes to her spirituality.  She also seems to be very aligned with the latest statistics of the Millennial generation when it comes to shedding much of the dogma of the current “church”.

I truly believe that the conformity that many churches demand is a primary factor for why even those raised in it are leaving in droves. They see things that directly contradict what they believe to be simple knowledge. They see their church speaking so viciously about those who are different from them.  What they see is not “conformity to God’s will” but to some minded hardened hearts.  They see a fixated emphasis on below the belt issues when Jesus said almost nothing about that topic.

Young people, or at least many young people, are still in the mode of questioning things. They are still forming their own personal opinions on what will be important in their coming life. They will not allow someone to tell them what is moral when it is obviously not to them.

During my lifetime fundamentalism, even though it started with trying to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world, has for the most part morphed into something completely different. It is now primarily about what you are supposed to hate rather than what Jesus told you to love. It has become the dark side of Christianity in many respects.

2014-03-25_16-33-02It is encouraging to see that the force is no longer with the fundamentalists but instead beginning to meld into what is now called the Great Emergence as described by Harvey Cox in his book entitled The Future Of Faith.  As explained in the book the emergent church is more about moving on to the next stage of Christianity rather than tearing down the current one. It is about shedding all those man-made rules and replacing them with the messages of its founder. If you are becoming discouraged with the direction that many in the church are taking maybe it is time you took up the book and read it with an open mind. It just might just change your idea some of the basic things you are told you must believe in order to see God.

This is one of the most fundemental things I have learned from the now ending five year study…

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But there is also something else happening.  A growing number of Americans (nearly a third, according to one Gallop poll) describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  Books with titles like “Christianity After Religion,” “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” and “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” are gathering a growing audience.  And the Emerging Church movement, seeking to live, as Harvey Cox puts it, “in a new Age of Faith rather than the old Age of Belief,” is inspiring many young people (and not a few of us old folks!) with fresh winds of the Spirit.  It feels like once again, as in the old Buffy Ste. Marie song, “God is alive, magic is afoot.” And more and more people want to be a part of it.

SOURCE:  An Emergent Witness for Friends? – QuakerQuaker.

It is nice to see that my two favorite flavors of following Jesus blend together with the quote above. Quakers are more about making sure people see the light within them than they are about increased membership. The Emergent movement has a similar view. It is all about “being” a follower of Jesus than it is about spouting certain beliefs or creeds.  I must say that I am more inclined daily to include myself in the “spiritual but not religious” category. It is more about lifestyle than it is about believing the “right” things.

For the most part mainline churches today are about what you are supposed to believe instead of how you are supposed to live. Each has their own creeds that you must sign into in order to belong with them. If you cross that creed/belief line you are in jeopardy of losing your membership. Many people particularly the young just don’t align with that approach to spirituality. Instead of what to believe they want to know how they can help. Instead of getting a free ticket to heaven they want to know how to pay their debt to society.

Older generations, such as my own, have been very comfortable being told what to do. In that regard I want to bring in yet another post from a Quaker friend:

Then there are those who want an authority to tell them what to do, think, feel. That authority could be a priest, it could be a dogma, it could be a ritual, it could be a tradition. Whatever it is, it provides a kind of security that a whole lot of people find sorely lacking in their lives. If they can find it in religion, they grab it and don’t let go. Security is the second of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I have no argument with those who find it in this way. My heart goes out to them. I’m genuinely glad for them….

SOURCE:  Growth and the Society of Friends | Letters from the Street.

As in the previous post here, doing the “other gospel” of being rather than believing is just too hard for many. The something-for-nothing emphasis doesn’t require the day-to-day energy of the “being” version.

I find it amazing that so many young people today have already discovered what it took me year to find. They realize that to earn their place in humanity requires effort on their part. They see the “being” of the Emergent church as a driving part of their lives. Get-out-of-jail free cards are just not enough for them.

1.  As we often proclaim, Friends are, for the most part, non-creedal and non-hierarchical.  When we are at our best we’ve avoided creeds, and when we are at our worst we’ve just been bad at them.  One of the apparent features of the emerging church movement seems to be a general disinterest in formal creedal statements of belief that everyone is expected to conform to in order to be “in.”  Friends’ attempts to wait for the Spirit to lead rather than turning to a human leader is one of our historic precedents.  Our testimony on equality, so radical at the time of the early Friends, speaks to the cultural reality of the new Jesus People and the spiritual reality to which they aspire….

2.  Friends have long held an abiding faith in the continuing revelation of God.  We may disagree on what that revelation is, and our different branches may have different views on how that is revealed to us, but it is safe to say few Quakers believe that God went away when the canon was closed.  Popular evangelists like Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne draw large crowds of young Seekers precisely because they speak of meeting the Holy Spirit through experience, not concept.   For many of the speakers of this new Movement, and I can only assume for their aspiring listeners, the stories they want to hear are not about what God can do for us, but what God is doing in the world – and how can we be a part of it.  Isn’t that the continuing revelation of God?

3.  To these new Followers of Jesus, faith means an abiding trust in the non-violent and redemptive love of God for everyone regardless of race, religion, social status, sexual orientation, political beliefs, criminal occupation, or anything else we humans use to separate ourselves.  This new Awakening expends little energy on theological debate and like many Friends does not equate Christian life with questions of reward/heaven versus punishment/hell.  Sin and salvation are not so much ignored as trumped by Grace.  And in a world filled with poverty, violence, addiction, exploitation, hopelessness, fear, and suffering of all kinds, the emerging church is longing for a prophetic witness for peace and reconciliation.

Friends, let us learn from this movement of the Spirit in our day. Let us join with them and pray with them and grow with them, not that they may “become Quakers” (whatever that means), but that together and across traditions, we may see what Love can do in our world today.

SOURCE: An Emergent Witness for Friends? – QuakerQuaker.

I apologize for the length of the quote above but I didn’t want to edit anything out as I usually do.  I am currently a convinced non-engaging Quaker. That is I believe much of what they practice but don’t formally belong to a meeting.

As the words above say Emergents, like their Quaker brothers, have a rather strong aversion to creedal stands. Creeds, which are man-made statements of beliefs that are often used to qualify a person for membership into a particular religious sect. They are often also used to exclude instead of include. I know that the Nicene Creed was used to push me out of the church I once belonged to.  My case was somewhat typical I suppose.

I love the phrase  “For many of the speakers of this new Movement, and I can only assume for their aspiring listeners, the stories they want to hear are not about what God can do for us, but what God is doing in the world – and how can we be a part of it” That almost sums it up for me. It is all about “being” not “believing”.

When two organization that I hold dearly in my walk with Christ come together in whatever form I am ready to celebrate. Quakers don’t need to become emergents nor the other way around. Emergents are about living our faiths, not about further fracturing into yet smaller groups.

It Moves Beyond….

August 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Great Emergence

I like to think of the Great Emergence as reported in the book by Phyllis Tickle as  “Post-Religion”.

  •  It moves beyond what we call currently call religion into the next phase of focusing on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
  • It moves beyond building cathedrals to building relationships and love between all of God’s people not just those in our particular version of Christian community.
  • It moves beyond needing to pay someone to lead our worship services and tell us what to believe to our personal study of God’s word untarnished by religious baggage.
  • It moves beyond strictly enforced beliefs to requiring each of us to find God in his/her own person life.
  • It moves beyond hunkering down in our churches being afraid of the “big bad world” to getting out into our communities and showing God’s love in our lives.
  • It moves beyond our engrained bigotry to opening our minds to each other and that includes all of God’s children.
  • It moves beyond spending most of our giving on our Sunday creature comforts to spending it on helping our brothers in need.
  • It moves beyond being stubbornly  focused on one particular form of worship to being open to praising God in a variety of different way but particularly by our actions and not our words or even beliefs.

Quite frankly I am holding on to the dream that the emergent church will help me and millions of others like me to one day return to a formalized God praising establishment.  I have high hopes that someday we will return to the teachings of Jesus and away from the partisan beliefs invented by man.

This “new” Christianity is sick of culture wars, political agendas, hypocrisy and legalistic doctrines. They prefer inclusion over restriction, dialogue over debate, practice over preaching, and love over judgment. Authentic communities are preferred over institutionalized organizations, and grassroots groups gain wisdom and knowledge from relational interaction, social media, the web, and an array of other sources—there is no monopoly controlling leadership or sources of information…

And while many traditional Evangelicals decry this movement as being shallow, theologically weak and even heretical, many see it as a step in the right direction—a revolution similar to that of the early church: authentically living out Christ’s model of service, sacrifice and holistic love….

When it comes to following Christ, it’s easy to get distracted by things that don’t matter, and Satan is always trying to divide and destroy. This is how something as simple as following Christ’s example becomes a complicated mess filled with thousands of theologies, practices and conflicting beliefs.

Source: When Revolutions Become Religions – Stephen Mattson – Red Letter Christians.

The above words come from a blog that I am a regular visitor. It very much aligns with my views of religion and it also aligns with the title of this blog.  The story above is a discussion of the “emergent church” that is happening in much of the world today.

I find it totally disheartening that our most powerful Christian denominations in the U.S. today are so intertwined with the extreme radical right edge of our our political processes. The political agendas that are prevalent in that group run very counter to the teachings of Jesus, at least to me. Much of the evangelical community today seems to be more interested in rules and restrictions to keep their followers in line than they are about actually living as Christ taught us.

Something is drastically wrong when we find it necessary to divide into 39,000+ different versions of Jesus. This fact is not going unnoticed by the current younger generations. It is unlikely that they, like their mothers and fathers will return to established churches that cling to outdated agendas.

Many evangelicals have nothing but disdain for the emergents in their midst and yes there are many in their midsts, whether they recognize it or not. Many of the current religious leaders somehow believe that this new movement to get back to the roots of Christianity is a passing fancy. I see it as anything but that.  The movement is about living Jesus’ teaching instead of just listening and agreeing to what their leaders say about Jesus.  They are just too attuned to things that just don’t matter to many of us in the 21st century.

I am totally convinced that the emergent movement will eventually take back the church to its early roots. But to do that means tearing down some of the man-made rules and traditions that currently stifle that idea.  Yes, the times they are a-changin.

Living The Message….

April 30, 2013 — 2 Comments

Emergent congregations are especially well equipped to live creatively in the newly post-Western Christianity. They are careful not to confuse the life and message of Jesus with the “Western” elements in which it has been packaged. They try to assign equal weight to both the message and the context so that a new version of the old story can take shape. They strongly underline “living the message” rather than simply proclaiming it. They experiment with settings, like cafes, in which two-way exchange rather than one-way preaching is possible

The Future of Faith (Cox, Harvey)

The words above are one of the reasons I have such hope for the emergent movement currently taking place in Jesus’ church throughout the world. After studying the history of the church it has become obvious to me just how much of Jesus’ message has been twisted into man’s messages.  We need to strip away the worldly cultural part of the message so that its true heart can once again be glorified.

I am part Native-American and have read what the Christian missionaries did to that population. To me it was abominable how they tried to force their culture on the native population in this country at the same time strip their native culture away from them. It just wasn’t good enough to these early american missionaries to try to meld the two cultures together. They shamefully deemed their culture superior and determined to eradicate the other.

The message of Jesus Christ is what it is all about; the context from which the message is communicated is secondary in nature. Why didn’t these early missionaries understand that? But even how the message is delivered is not as important as living it in your life. If you don’t do that then you are rightly proclaimed to be a hypocrite.

“Doing church” is something that I have often been critical of in this blog because I believe it is often the same as putting the context above the message. I still quite clearly remember when I suggested that the Lutheran church where I was a very active member do a second different format service on Sundays. I remember the immediate and adamant opposition to the very idea coming from the clergyman and many of the long time members.  That was maybe the beginning of my separation from that group.

I admire many emergent churches for trying different setting for “doing church”. Cafes, two-way exchanges in place one-way preaching and thousand year old liturgy, just might be a better way to present Jesus to a new generation. Why are so many resistant to that idea. When the method of delivery becomes more important than the message of Jesus it is time to step back and take a thoughtful look at how you are doing church.

What matters to those who look to history for important lessons is that something was lost in the fourth century that permanently changed the nature of Christianity. If we do not recover that spirit of loyalty to the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount as opposed to saluting the Nicene Creed, the decline of the church will continue. If we persist in arguing across our theological divides in a perishing world, then the church deserves its fate. If we cannot reverse the move away from praxis and toward doctrine that was sealed by Constantine, the church will become, and deserves to become, the relic of another age.
It was post-Constantine theologians who gave us the doctrine of original sin (an inherited disease for which the institution that makes the diagnosis also claims to have the only cure) and the blood atonement, the belief that Jesus came to earth solely for the purpose of dying for our sins, a doctrine not fully developed in the church until the tenth century.
Are we born bad and must be saved, as conservatives assert, or are we born good, as liberals maintain, but have forgotten where we came from, where we are going, and to whom we belong? Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary for the salvation of the world, or is this the ultimate form of Child abuse?

The words above are from a book entitled The Underground Church by Robin Meyers. I must admit that this book along with the book by Harvey Cox entitled The Age of Faith have fundamentally changed my perception of what the church should be. The words above were an “aha” moment for me. When I discovered that much of what I thought was from Jesus but in reality came many years later from man it changed my perception of what being a follower of Jesus really meant.

When I took the time to study early church history it opened my eyes to some truths that were hidden from me and from so many others today.  When I realized that for the majority of its history Christianity has been in a constant conflict about its theology it made me realize that some of what I am told to just take as truth may actually just be the version that won out in a previous church conflict.

As the quote above states a major shift happened in the Church when Constantine changed it from being groups throughout the empire who followed the words of Jesus to a State mandated religion it changed the church in a very basic way. The power that came along with this dictate was corrosive to the church leaders and thinkers.   In order to rescue the church from the mistakes made during these periods we must get back to the pre-Constantine  church.  Simply parroting the doctrine of past theologians will no longer hack it with many who are looking for a more spiritual foundation for their faith.

The emergent movement that is taking place today within the church says that it is ok to believe that some of the things from past leaders could have been wrong hearted. It is ok to say we don’t fully understand the heart of God. In other words it is ok to say that we and all those who preceded us are human beings with human foibles and weaknesses and just may have gotten some of it wrong. That inevitably include the past leaders and theologians. Yes, even the popes.  I’m sure even Martin Luther would agree with that last part….

Let me start this post by bringing back some words from a recent post about emergents.

The emergent movement is not a new denomination threatening to take over but instead a new way to thinking. Here is how Wikipedia describes that concept:

Emergents can be described as Protestant, post-Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post conservative, anabaptist, adventist, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic…. Some attend local independent churches or house churches while others worship in traditional Christian denominations. Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature…

One of the most interesting parts of the emergent movement it that it is not another flavor of Christianity but instead is for the most part an attempt to change from within.  Emergents are currently inside many of today’s Christian denominations. They are trying to gently nudge their brothers and sisters away from their current trends of exclusion back into one of inclusion.

I can personally attest that this approach of changing from within is not going to be easy!  I joined a small Lutheran Congregation about ten years ago. I was a regular participant in weekly Bible study. I always tried to get the point across that there are many ways to view most bible verses. I asked some pretty difficult questions. When a new minister was brought into our congregation who was obviously a very conservative exclusionist things changed. When I questioned some of his biblical interpretations he became quite uncomfortable. Another person in those studies asked questions as frequently as I did and that often brought others to join in. Within a year or so both of us were told that since we did not agree with some Lutheran tenets, primarily Sola Scriputra,  he was starting the process to exclude us from membership. My questions and nudges were just too threatening to his ministry.  Instead of going through a formal inquisition I chose to give up my attempts of changing from within and leave voluntarily. That meant leaving friends there as most seldom continue friendships outside their particular faith bubble.

I can understand the logic behind my exclusion from that small congregation. It is very difficult for any clergyman to align to something not authorized through a strict denominational hierarchy.  The bosses just don’t like it when their authority is questioned. It is very hard for the local clergyman to take a stand on things not authorized by his superiors.

Martin Luther had no plan to upset Christianity as he ended up doing.  He was simply trying to change the Roman Catholic church from within. In some way you could have been one of the first emergents. But  since he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that he might not have all the answers. He started the practice of exclusion instead. Trying to change within is not an easy matter.

Will the emergent movement have much success within many present denominations? I personally kind of doubt it but I am hoping that at least a few will actually open their hearts and listen to the message of inclusion. It is a hard to admit that you just might be wrong about anything in life let alone things in the spiritually sphere. As with the Pharaoh, hearts are just too hardened now to accept any brutal truths and it is a brutal truth to learn that you may be wrong about some of the things you base your spiritual existence on. Tragically some are just totally unwilling to accept that premise.

I want to close out this series of posts with some unfounded complaints about the emergent movement. This list is mine and therefore might not align with the leaders of this movement.

Emergents don’t have a foundation, they allow their members to believe anything — While it is true that emergents don’t, as most common denominations do, try to prove anyone wrong about their current beliefs they do have fundamental things that guide them.  They believe that Jesus is God and gave us the Great Commandment to love him and to love each other.  They believe that God intends us to work with him to bring the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.  Unlike many Christians they admit that they might be wrong about things they think they know today. Just as much of theology is temporary and local, their thinking about different things related to God may be overturned by future knowledge or revelation.

Emergents are trying to tear the church apart — As the second practice in the previous post states the emergent movement is trying to do the exact opposite from tearing the church apart.  In fact they are about the only group of the 39,000 different flavors of God that are committed to Christianity in all its forms.  They believe that all of them have good points and not so good points. They will not align with one version and discard another. We are all wrong about the nature of God in one form or another.

Emergents are confusing the unchurched by their lack of a specific stand — Standing firm on certain beliefs that were meant to be temporary is actually what is confusing the unchurched. When Christians say, for instance, that the earth is only 6,000 years old and all the scientific proof otherwise is just God tricking us they are “confusing” the unchurched. Emergents have a strong commitment to living in God’s world today. They do not isolate themselves from it but instead firmly believe that Jesus told us to get involved in bringing his kingdom to earth.

Emergents don’t like other Christians. They are just a passing cult —  The most basic belief of emergents is God’s command to love him and to love each other. They are committed to strengthening our shared values and resolve to and encourage other Christians to learn from each other. They value interactions with other Christians. Emergents are not trying to form yet another flavor of God but instead they are trying to get all the current flavors to come together. The emergent movement has a very strong foothold in Africa and South America and is daily becoming stronger in all the rest of the world. They are definitely not a passing cult.

I am very aware of the threat many in Jesus’ church feel toward the emergent movement.  They feel that the things they hold dear will go by the wayside if emergents become dominant in the world. They fear the unknown if they have to admit that they might not have all the answers.  The emergent movement is nothing more that the continuation of the evolution of the church. I find  the emergent movement as the only one out there that are trying to make the church one as Jesus and God the Father are one.

Please don’t feel threatened by this movement. Instead study it and embrace it. Instead of destroying the church it just might save it for future generations….

Tony JonesThis post will be about the commitments of the emergent church as outlined in the book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier by Tony Jones.  Appendix A: in the book carries the title above.  This list seems in a nutshell to fairly characterize the emergent movement as it now stands in the U.S.  Here is a list of commitments from that text:

 1. COMMITMENT TO GOD IN THE WAY OF JESUS —  We are committed to doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. In the words of Jesus, we seek to live by the Great Commandment: loving God and loving our neighbors-including those who might be considered “the least of these” or enemies. We understand the gospel to be centered in Jesus and his message of the Kingdom of God, a message offering reconciliation with God, humanity, creation, and self.

 2. COMMITMENT TO THE CHURCH IN ALL ITS FORMS  — We are committed to honor and serve the church in all its forms- Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anabaptist. We practice “deep ecclesiology”-rather than favoring some forms of the church and critiquing or rejecting others, we see that every form of the church has both weaknesses and strengths, both liabilities and potential. We believe the rampant injustice and sin in our world requires the sincere, collaborative, and whole-hearted response of all Christians in all denominations, from the most historic and hierarchical, through the mid-range of local and congregational churches, to the most spontaneous and informal expressions. We affirm both the value of strengthening, renewing, and transitioning existing churches and organizations, and the need for planting, resourcing, and coaching new ones of many kinds.

3. COMMITMENT TO GOD’S WORLD — We practice our faith missionally-that is, we do not isolate ourselves from this world, but rather, we follow Christ into the world. We seek to fulfill the mission of God in our generations, and then to pass the baton faithfully to the next generations as well. We believe the church exists for the benefit and blessing of the world at large; we seek therefore not to be blessed to the exclusion of everyone else, but rather for the benefit of everyone else. We see the earth and all it contains as God’s beloved creation, and so we join God in seeking its good, its healing, and its blessing.

4. COMMITMENT TO ONE ANOTHER —  In order to strengthen our shared faith and resolve, and in order to encourage and learn from one another in our diversity through respectful, sacred conversation, we value time and interaction with other friends who share this rule and its practices. We identify ourselves as members of this growing, global, generative, and non-exclusive friendship. We welcome others into this friendship as well. We bring whatever resources we can to enrich this shared faith and resolve.

I am very much aligned with these four commitments of the emergent church. If only the church of Christ as a whole would get down from their individual pedestals and align with them we might be able to make a big change in this world.