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…

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.

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….

Theology is Temporary…

February 4, 2013 — 2 Comments

Continuing with my study of theology as discussed in the book by Tony Jones entitled The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, here is the quote for this post:

theology is temporary. Since our conceptions of God are shaped locally and in conversation, we must hold them humbly. We must carry our theologies with an open hand, as it were. To assume that our convictions about God are somehow timeless is the deepest arrogance, and it establishes an imperialistic attitude that has a chilling effect on the honest conversation that’s needed for theology to progress…..

[we can’t as some ask to] “sum it up,” and “boil it down” when speaking of God and God’s Kingdom, for it simply can’t be done. The Kingdom of God is expansive, explosive, and un-pin-downable (to coin a phrase). Consequently, our characterizations of God and God’s Kingdom are necessarily fleeting.

For a number of years I read seemingly countless books by today’s theologians and each one seemed convinced that his version of theology came from God and was therefore the only correct one and the only one for the ages. But as Mr. Jones pointed out above this declaration is perhaps the deepest form of arrogance on their part.  When we try to lock down the meaning and lessons of God we are actually declaring that He has nothing more to say about whatever we are discussing.

I can just imagine that many of the big thinkers of Christianity had the same mentality, even the ones who arrogantly claim that the Bible is totally literal and without the possibility of error. Of course one of those theologians was Martin Luther. When he declared “Sola Scriptura”, that is the bible alone is the total and complete word of God he then went on to say except for the Epistles of James (he called that one an epistle of straw) and a few others that he chose to personally exclude. By that very declaration he invalidated the very idea of sola scriptura.  I can’t understand why others have not come out and declared that simple fact about his teachings.  Maybe Luther being the leader of the “reformation” was the “too big to fail” of his times.

The bible and all the subsequent theologians’ views make up a very complex story of God but really hardly touch on the expansiveness of the Kingdom of God. Just when we think we have it nailed down something else pops up in the biblical text, in scientific discoveries, in archeological digs, or maybe from personal revelations that shows us a clearer path.

As Tony Jones say we can’t hermetically seal God’s ever-expanding Kingdom or our experiences and articulations of that Kingdom. They are changing as we mature both in self and in the corporate body of Christ. What we think we know now just maybe discounted by something we learn or finally understand tomorrow. In other words  whether we want to recognize it or not, theology is temporary.

From Tony Jones in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier:

Good theology begets beautiful Christianity. And so it follows that Bad theology begets ugly Christianity. That may sound supremely arrogant, but hear me out. A lot of us, emergents included, are disheartened by the complexion of Christianity in America. We’re embarrassed by the Jesus junk we see in stores, by the preachers we see on TV, and by the ill-fated marriage of faith and politics. We’re equally saddened by the $75 million evangelical megachurch campus in the suburbs and the shuttered mainline church in the city. While there is much that is good about being Christian in America today, very many of us think there needs to be a profound change in the way that Christianity is practiced and promulgated. All I’m saying is that the current practices that embarrass us are reflective of a deeply held theology. So, while we rethink how we live the faith, we must also reconsider what the faith actually is.

When I read these words I couldn’t help but say “Amen, brother”.  One of the major things that sadden me is how much we Christians spend on our church building and institutions compared to what we spend on loving our brothers. When I pass by the even not so megachurches in my area I almost always cringe. It embarrasses me to think of all the money these members are spending on themselves while I see so much need going unmet in the area.

As mentioned above another thing that is doing damage to the church is the ill-fated marriage between faith and politics. When did that happen? Yes, there is much to be celebrated about being a Christian in America but there is also much that needs re-alignment and that is what the emergent movement is all about. Tony Jones and this book were at the leading edge of the emergent movement. Later in the movement Harvey Cox came out with his book entitled The Future of Faith to address the topic of what faith actually is and that is that faith is not a set of beliefs, almost all manmade, but instead is about a way of “being”.

So we must refigure our theology. Too much bad theology has engendered too many unhealthy churches and too many people who don’t quite get the whole “following Christ” way of life. Too much thin theology is responsible for too many Christians who practice the faith in ways that are a mile wide and an inch deep. The hope of emergents, their ministry, their message is, more than anything, a call for a reinvigoration of Christian theology-not in the ivy towers, not even in pulpits and pews, but on the street.

The “mile wide and inch deep” reference stuck me as a perfect description of what Christian faith has become for too many. They say all you have to do to be a Christian is to make an altar call and proclaim as such. That is so far from reality to almost be ridiculous. Theology is nothing more than man’s beliefs about God and far too often it comes down to man’s desires of what they want God to be, where it should be the other way around.  To emergents Christianity is meant to be a life changing event; not something that is simply professed and then quickly ignored.

This post is about the fourth great rummage sale and that is the “Great Emergence”. In this post I am only giving you a small taste of the emergent movement In future posts we will look at just what the Great Emergence is and where it is going.

Lets start off this post again with some words by Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence:

The Great Emergence, like the Great Reformation or the Great Schism or the time of the Great Gregory or the Great Transformation, is a generalized social/ political/ economic/ intellectual/ cultural shift. Like its predecessors, this one too is a phenomenon initiating in the Western experience; though unlike the preceding reconfigurations, the Great Emergence is not limited to the Western world in its expectations, expression, or exercise. It suffers also from an unfortunate confusion of terms that its predecessors did not have to surmount.

As pointed out above the cultural trends that are pointing to the Great Emergence are spread far beyond the religious realm. Another important point made by this book is that this rummage sale, unlike those in the past, is not limited to just the western world. In fact many African and South American nations are at the forefront in this transformation. That in itself is very frightening to many of us here in the United States.

There is much trepidation in some current Christian denominations when the words “emergent church” are discussed. There is almost a panic among some as they see their spiritual life being extinguished.  It should be pointed out again that as in the past the Great Emergence is not about shaking Christianity off its foundations but instead is about opening the blinds and letting new, and some not so new, light in.

Anyone who has read some of my posts of the last few months know that I believe the emergent movement will take the church back to its roots of “Being” instead of just “Believing”. In other words it will take us back to our roots but this time with a twenty-first century understanding.  I will have much more to say about this in coming posts.

Lets close out this post with, again, some word from the book The Great Emergence.

One of the hallmarks of the Church’s semi-millennial rummage sales has always been that when each of the things was over and the dust had died down, Christianity would not only have readjusted itself, but it would also have grown and spread. Never has that principle been more operative than now. In the hands of emergents, Christianity has grown exponentially, not only in geographic base and numbers, but also in passion and in an effecting belief in the Christian call to the brotherhood of all peoples.

I am very aware that I have probably not began to cover the questions you might have about this movement.  We will be getting to more of those in future posts. But for now I will be going on to some other topics, including the most important thing of all and that is the words of Jesus. 

A Giant Rummage Sale…

November 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

Anyone who has visited this blog in the recent past know that I am pinning great hope on the “emergent” church being able to rescue the current Christian establishments from their focus on believing things about Jesus as opposed to of “being” a Christian through our actions. I was very disheartened when I discovered the statistic that almost no one can tell the difference between a Christian and anyone else in the population. People who call themselves Christians live their lives pretty much like everyone else. In fact they actually divorce more often than non-Christians! Something has to change to move the church and its current occupants to be more Christ like. I am praying the emergent church will be able to do that.

One of the major proponents of the emergent church is Phyllis Tickle.  In her book entitled The Great Emergence she shows us that every 500 years the church remakes itself in a major way.  Here are some of her words from that book:

The only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he goes on to say, we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales. Now, while the bishop may be using a bit of humor to make a point, his is nonetheless a deadly serious and exquisitely accurate point.

Any usable discussion of the Great Emergence and what is happening in Christianity today must commence with yesterday and a discussion of history. Only history can expose the patterns and confluences of the past in such a way as to help us identify the patterns and flow of our own times and occupy them more faithfully. The first pattern that we must consider as relevant to the Great Emergence is Bishop Dyer’s rummage sale, which, as a pattern, is not only foundational to our understanding but also psychologically very reassuring for most of us. That is, as Bishop Dyer observes, about every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results or corollary events. First, a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second, the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.

 I will be spending the next few posts looking at the three previous remakes of the church and how it changed as a result. I am a lifelong history buff and a thorough believer that if we don’t understand history we are more prone to be repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Next time we will start with the first major remodel of the church in the sixth century.

Of course all Christians recognize the phrase the kingdom of God from the Lord’s prayer. But the interpretation of that phrase seems to vary considerably depending on what version of Christianity you follow. Here is what Martin Luther said about it in his small catechism:

Your Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven:

What does this mean? 
The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Luther being a firm believer in a passive form of Christianity stripped any reference to our responsibilities in helping kingdom come to earth. I believe this comes from his belief in the  total worthlessness of all humans.  This epiphany  came when he discovered one particular verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: It is by grace that you are saved not be works…. Luther gave this one sentence in the Bible total priority over all the others, including even Jesus’ words and many have continued to do that since that time.

There are many today that take these words very differently. They believe that the Kingdom will come by the hands of those faithful who work for a better world. That Jesus’ commands to feed the hungry and clothe the needy are the kingdom to which he was referring. In other words they take these words as a call to action and not something to sit back and wait for. This interpretation is not new, some of the early church fathers believed it and to one degree the Catholic church still aligns with it.

The emergent movement that is now experiencing exponential growth is another of those groups. They firmly believe that Jesus’ commands are to be taken literally and as he said and I am paraphrasing here: Becoming a follower of Jesus changes everything.  Here is a quote from his book entitled A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren about the kingdom of God and its significance to the emergent movement.

Similarly, we’re discovering that the more we let Jesus’s message of the kingdom of God sink in, the more it begins to unsettle all our existing understandings and categories. It changes everything. Before this realization, we are like lawyers trying to save an old contract, adding more and more fine print on page after page, until the provisos are weightier than the original contract. (This is good work, I suppose, and must be done for a generation or two, but it is not the work to which I feel called.) At some point, though, more and more of us will finally decide that it would make more sense to go back and revise the contract from scratch. And that process has begun. It is nowhere near complete, but the cat is out of the bag; imaginations are sizzling, and exciting theological work is being done—by theologians, yes, but, equally important, by pastors, preachers, songwriters, screenwriters, producers, poets, dramatists, sculptors, photographers, painters, architects, youth leaders, community organizers, moms and dads, and thoughtful readers like you.

In the coming years all those who are currently disheartened by the legalistic and creed based versions of Christianity will discover that there is a movement emerging that takes the kingdom of God to a whole new level and gives it back its literal meaning. It changes Christianity from a “sit back and wait” religion to a an action oriented one  based on Jesus’ words.

We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech I doubt our country we even exist today.

Anyone who has studied church history at all knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical oriented top-heavy organization. When the leader of the church, or even most of his immediate underlings said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with his words. Dissension is just not allowed.  Anyone who even hinted of a disagreement were quickly handled.  In the past anyone proclaimed a  heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with their leaders in some aspect, had all of their writings burned so they would not pollute the church.  And many followed their books into the flames.

Thank heaven at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are not severely dealt with. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims.  But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well.

If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements given by your denomination’s leadership you will also be chastised or even kicked out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with those in other Christian groups.  It seems that most denominations and that includes the Catholic church (although they don’t like being called a denomination) just won’t accept any straying from the stated doctrine of their group. They all claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds in general that seems a natural to them.

This lack of accepting fellowship with other Christians is one of the most serious problems causing the generally sharp decline in the institutional church.  Their arrogance in thinking that they are pure and others are not is driving away membership especially among the younger generations.  The emergent church movement, although not yet well-defined , generally prefer a very horizontal structure if they have a structure at all. Creeds and such are just not important to most of them.

I will be posting more about the emergent movement in the coming weeks. There are several books that are well worth the read if you are interested. I will be getting into that in later posts.