I did a session on Emerging Church on Wednesday at the Baptist college, and pulled out the verb and noun issue. One of the comments in the discussion was looking at the notion of church moving from/through movement – sect – institution. The roots of some this is in Weberâ€™s work on the sociology of religion and implicit within this model is the idea of protest and equilibrium. I donâ€™t want to focus too much on the terms and semantics but look at the concept and importance of Emerging church as â€œmovementâ€?. NB not â€œaâ€? movement. The idea being that EC resembles much of the movement idea but is not as cohesive or worried about cohesiveness enough to be a movement. Part of the root of this is in protest, but again not in the classic idea of being against something, but being for something; in the EC the protest element is present in the deconstruction needed but this is done in the climate of being pro or for people, for culture, for dialogue, for journey, for connectivity.
Gerlach and Hine in Kraftâ€™s Christianity in Culture talk about movements having 5 key characteristics; A more cellular, segmented structure, Face to face recruitment, Personal commitment, An ideology or conceptual framework, and Real or perceived opposition. Again these characteristics donâ€™t fit EC exactly as it is not â€œaâ€? movement but are present in EC.
Part of the issue why these donâ€™t quite fit I would suggest is that the greater recognition of weaknesses and humility in EC is part of itâ€™s strength, and key to maintaining movement and that there is a maturity in this approach, that is aided by post modernity.
So in order to maintain movement it could be important for EC not to align too closely to institutional or established church that seek to define, but to move on into fluid type definitions or labels, that maintain key verbs that help give shape without holding it down. Whilst it could be that we are in a catch 22 type of situation as any label can restrict, I would suggest that with the shift in culture and maturity in EC that there is the capability to define itself in this more fluid way. For example in the post on redefining church I posted these elements towards definition
6. The redefinition we are offering of Church in the post- Christendom west is a way of being and living that is a series of chaotic but intentional encounters with God, one another, and the world, founded on the holistic teaching of Christ, and encompassing the whole of life.
7. This encompasses the critical outcome of the imagery of church used in the bible, this being that all the bibles images of church include â€œattitude and course of actionâ€?.
8. This whole of life process is not about walls, rules or fences but about wells, mutuality and redemptive processes.
To conclude I would ask/argue is it time to redefine in this fluid way as it could be crucial to maintaining movement, and stop EC becoming â€œaâ€? movement in the classical sense as otherwise history would suggest (see Baptists, Methodist etc) that becoming an institution could quickly follow.