September 7, 2005
Regular readers and people who know me may have guessed from the last few posts I have been mulling something over re the church thing. Annie has been looking at worship and Conrad makes a great response, outlining a positive wholistic approach to worship/life.
(Conrad in response to Annie) When Paul talks in Romans 12:1 about your whole life being an act of worship, he would be horrified if he thought the Christians were mistaking a life of faith for worship, as horrified as James, who said faith without works is dead, would be if Christians started taking that to mean social action was the same thing as faith.
Conrad goes on too ask
Whatâ€™s my subcultureâ€™s weakness? If youâ€™re in a place where youâ€™re likely to neglect the actions, what the New Testament wants of you is not merely works, but a faith that isnâ€™t lacking works. But if youâ€™re in a place where everything has to be about us or the effects we have or the numbers we win â€” about what we get out of it or someone else gets out of it, then maybe itâ€™s time to be told that thereâ€™s a time for prayer and worship that is about God and him only. The Christiansâ€™ true worship is more than this, but it isnâ€™t less.
My initial response (in Annies comments) was around a wondering if there is something more in Conrads comments that stems from a confusion around the kingdom and church. I started arguing in Off the Beaten Track that they are far closer to each other than evangelicalism sees. Our current approach to church and worship is discontinuous with this kingdom perspective of wholeness and shalomness that we should be progressing and to me is what Conrad was on about in his first comment when he was balancing James (deeds) and Corinthians (worship) so brilliantly. I still think that we may need a paradigm jump in our definitions of church rather than the emerging shift that is going on which often seems to focus on style rather than definition, and so in the end may not move us that far forward.
On further reflection I wonder if our subcultureâ€™s weakness stems from a commitment to a paradigm of church and worship that is no longer relevant or biblical. We are using an old wineskin, and even our new wine-skins are irrelevant. Theology and culture is moving on, it is time to move onto wine bottles, but this kind of radical shift IS our subcultures weakness. Radical shift is deemed inappropriate or unbiblical, and this is again part of our subcultures weakness; a commitment to evolution rather than revolution. I would argue that Jesus was the embodiment of a radical shift and whilst people may cite philosophers who promote evolution (Marx, Camus) look what an evolutionary approach has done for socialism. Other voices for revolution are needed but take care as Herbert Marcuse wrote: â€œIn every revolution, there seems to have been a historical moment when the struggle against domination might have been victoriousâ€¦. but the moment passed.â€? So care is needed in the process but it is one that can see real change.
Years ago I felt we needed a new reformation but couldnâ€™t quite put my finger on what was needed. The more I think about it the more convinced I am that it is our whole conception of church that needs reforming. Our thinking about what is church, and what is kingdom. A reformation of church that is far more about definition than style.
The current emerging model could be stemming from our subcultures weakness (surely it is a model that is more about evolution than revolution) and so will not achieve the shift required. Luther nailed definition to the doors and started a revolution. I value the conversational nature of the emerging church (and imagine something similar was going on in limited form in Luther’s time) and I value the emerging churches non combativeness, I think, the generous orthodoxy, has added much to the process. But we need to see the current emerging church stuff for what it is, a valuable early conversation that is bubbling away, but not a great hope for future change, and without care a possible hindrance to real change. Take heed of Marcuse and lets not allow this moment to pass.
Okay I recognise I have not offered an alternative definition of church, but I am working on it and hope to nail it the door soon.