Emerging church as a manifestation of our subcultures weakness

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
What’s my subculture’s weakness? If you’re in a place where you’re likely to neglect the actions, what the New Testament wants of you is not merely works, but a faith that isn’t lacking works. But if you’re in a place where everything has to be about us or the effects we have or the numbers we win — about what we get out of it or someone else gets out of it, then maybe it’s time to be told that there’s a time for prayer and worship that is about God and him only. The Christians’ true worship is more than this, but it isn’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 subculture’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: “In every revolution, there seems to have been a historical moment when the struggle against domination might have been victorious…. but the moment passed.� 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 couldn’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.

8 thoughts on “Emerging church as a manifestation of our subcultures weakness

  1. Hi Rich. Good post. I feel very strongly that church does not need a mere cultural style update, but rather a fundamental change. If I was to go nailing something to anything it would have to contain the idea of being spirit driven, but to achieve that by reducing our focus on rules and tradition.
    As humans I find that we love the ‘security’ that rules give us, but we find it hard to break out of rules into freeform God inspired lives. We love our 10:30am start, our hymn sandwich, our Kendrick clanging, our monologue sermons, our ‘at a distance’ family, our creeds and beliefs, our theology and our ecclesial power structures.
    Time for change I think… perhaps 2000 years behind the trend!

  2. you said:
    A reformation of church that is far more about definition than style.

    yes, i agree.

    i’m convinced one of the 1st things that must change is that we should spend far more time with each other… but how to do that? We are all so busy. Work work work and all that!
    Until we can fix this (shall i ask Jim?!) then why don’t we use the times we DO have together more wisely… share, pray, discuss, etc. Currently we tend to use these times to: sit next to each other for an hour and a 1/2, listening to 1 person preach (and no chance to discuss what they’re saying with them or with each other)… and listening to the worship leader (so-called) organise our weekly dose of worship, etc etc. Even housegroups and other mid-wk meetings can be just as anti-social.
    Sure this wasn’t how it was supposed to be!


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  4. Len,
    I’ve just started reading that article that you posted the link for. FANTASTIC stuff. Well done. Might have to read it a few times and then keep kicking myself to make sure that it affects my life!
    Thanks for that.

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