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.
In 1997 Richard Carlson wrote a very popular book entitled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…. and it’s all small stuff. In that book he listed one hundred things to make our lives more peaceful. Some of those topics that I took to heart included:
- Let Others Be “Right” Most of the Time
- Learn to Live in the Present Moment
- Surrender to the Fact that Life Isn’t Fair
Most of the things we worry about the most have little real impact on our lives. They are just clutter that gets in the way of having a happier life. As I have come to “not sweat the small stuff” I also come to realize that most of what I was told I must believe as a Christian is also small stuff!
I know this sounds like a rather shocking statement to hear that many of the things of the present day church are just small stuff. But, the more I studied the more I found that to simply be the case. It seems that Christianity has become a recitation of creeds about Jesus rather than taking to heart the actual messages he gave us. There have been literally hundreds, if not thousands, of creeds put out by various leaders and councils of Christian churches and all believers were then expected to automatically pledge allegiance to each of them. In studying them they almost all include things to believe instead of things to do.
The creed that is recited weekly in most liturgical churches today is the Nicene Creed (click on this link to see the words). If you take the time to actually look at the content of this creed you will see that they are all about what to believe instead of what to do. The messages of Jesus were actually the reverse of that. He spent much of his ministry teaching us how to live together and how to please God. Almost nothing from the text above actually came from Jesus.
When I started studying the practices of the Quaker faith is when this realization came to me. Quakers are very creed averse and I came to find for a very good reason. They believe in acting out faith instead of proclaiming beliefs. When we realize that what we do matter more than what we believe it changes everything. It was an epiphany for me personally to finally realize that fact.
The Christianity of belief in creeds is small stuff compared to actually acting on the words Jesus spoke. Where did we lose this critical understanding? When did Christianity become a “sit back and wait” instead of “acting out our faith” religion? It certainly wasn’t that way in the early church.
Lets get our attention off the small stuff and back to the true messages of Jesus. One of the emergent movement’s focuses is to get back to the true meaning of the Bible as a whole and the gospels in particular. That true meaning is enveloped in the words of Jesus. They must take front and center over absolutely everything else.
I am again an Apple computer guy so when I saw recently that Apple had won a court case against Samsung on their using things that Apple has patents on the thought of for the title above came quickly to mind. Many Christians seem to think that they have exclusive rights to who God is and what we are to believe about him. I believe I can say with some certainty that no one has exclusive patent rights on God.
When I was a Catholic in my early years the nuns and priests that taught me about God insisted that only Catholics would go to heaven. All other types of Christians including Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and the like and especially including all those “other” type religions will not be in heaven. Even as a very young person this proclamation bothered me. Why would God send Johnny, who was my best friend but not a Catholic, to hell? Johnny was probably the most caring person I knew so it pained me that he would spend an eternity in unquenchable fires!
Since those times back in the 1950’s Catholics have admitted, although very quietly it seems, that maybe others who believe in Jesus just might also earn heaven but still those “others” are bound for hell. Of course almost all of the different denominations think they alone have an exclusive channel to God. Everyone else only have a fuzzy vision of who God really is. As an adult in a Lutheran Bible study was told that Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists and everyone maybe even those Catholics are not praying to the same God we were. Their god was indeed a false god. This practice of each religious group excluding all the others has always troubled me.
I personally believe that everyone has access to the same God. My muslim brothers are praying to the same God as I am. Jesus said no one gets to heaven except through me but he didn’t say he wouldn’t let other religions come through him. Jesus is the gate-keeper but he didn’t say he was going to reject those who come to him on different paths. Jesus was very much Jewish in his religious affiliation. If we want to exclude every religion that came after Jesus then we would also have to question whether Christians are allowed in heaven as that religious body never existed in his time.
I think it is pompous at best and deadly wrong at its worst to say I have exclusive rights to God. God is who he is and no one can ever fully fathom what is in his heart. We all pray to the same God but with different man-made sets of beliefs. Who is to say that other religions who happened to come after Jesus are not from God? Please don’t insist that they are not because they are not mentioned in the Christian Bible. I just don’t buy that logic anymore….