Emerging Church, emerging churches
Due to my lack of knowledge and even basic information about the subject, this will be a short blog about the Emerging Church Movement, together with a few slightly connected ideas and observations from my experience.
First question: from what, when or where is the Church, are these churches emerging, or springing forth? Already we're familiar with a structure, entity or (best definition) organic reality known as church, so the more-or-less known church could be the what. From when? A logical response could be the new church is being born from a when of incubation or gestation, usually quantifiable in linear time if not always in a where of geographical longitude and latitude. However, what, when and where all take their place within history's eventfulness, so having started this blog by attempting to seem smart, on to the real topic.
A lot of what I've noticed happening tangential to my immediate world but especially just a little further down the pike convinces me that we [the churches] need to begin imagining new liturgical models, which still will focus on Word and Sacrament in a fully participatory manner—full participation as audacious counterpoint to the entertainment worship that's becoming prevalent in the more politically and socially conservative fundamentalist world and even sneaking in to mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Some congregations deliberately quest to become like those other churches across the street, down the boulevard, or in geographically near, but more visibly - at times ostentatiously so - affluent areas. Although I hesitate to write "evangelical," that was the Reformer's word for Protestantism in general and evangelical remains the word for "Protestant" in non-English speaking countries. Nonetheless, my readers know what I'm trying to say! To quote Krister Stendahl, "I hope we all are evangelical!" And I trust we all speak and walk the Gospel Good News, evangelion!
Mennonite, Moravian, Brethren
January's Faith, Order, Witness guest, whose house church is loosely Mennonite-affiliated, told our group the members of the community hadn't resonated with or been able to relate to more conventional churches at least for some time—if ever. When our mainline group asked, But is it sacramental??? He replied yes: we celebrate eucharist every week and we study the Word—rather, the Word studies us! He didn't mention baptism, though I'm aware Mennonites are Anabaptists and as such, officially have a low, essentially functional (sign of grace) rather than sacramental (mighty act of God and means of grace) view of baptism, despite affirming its necessity in obedience.
Our January visitor explained that his church first receives people into membership, then teaches them, and as a gradual process they assume appropriate Christian behaviors and lifestyle. In the formal Faith Journey I compiled a couple years ago, I referred to "performing the scriptures," and that particular house church tries doing exactly that, so as individuals and as community they'll become transformed into the shape of the biblical narrative as the Word re-shapes and re-forms them. But how do you line out the history of the people of God journeying in trust from slavery into servanthood? From bondage into personhood? From individualism into covenantal community? Could it happen, can it be done, by walking that walk oneself, the arduous, sometimes surprisingly joy-filled trek from pseudo-dependence upon self to total dependence upon God and community, so it becomes our (your, my) testimony to tell? That could be an exciting and a contagious way to live!
For both children and adults, the old model for full church membership was catechesis first and then full membership; however, the non-Anabaptist (Roman and Anglo Catholic, as well as we who formally identity with the Reformation's "Right Wing" ok, Lutheran and Reformed...) churches long have assumed baptized infants and youngsters as members. On Sundays and festival days the early church allowed catechumens to remain at worship only through the liturgy of the Word—the eucharistic portion was exclusively for the baptized. These days I'm giving that some thought!
Culturally Congruent=Counter-Culturally Incongruent
A dozen or more years ago "you are what you eat" was a buzz-phrase. During those same yesteryears, writing about a meeting of the local Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogue (styled LED), rather than getting arcanely theological since I wrote the paper for intro cultural anthro or anthro of religion, I observed one of the ways to be yuppie was to eat quiche and salad accompanied by box wine, though as I recall, the AELC congregation hosting the event was German in origin and probably served good wine during the repast (I'm relatively undiscriminating and quite unknowledgeable regarding spirits), especially since Angelica of Franciscan California mission origin was their usual sacramental wine. At least the food part of the event was congruent with the current culture, though the worship and discussion sections weren't! I also stated that in every culture, food has immense symbolic meaning, and particular foods become identified with and readily recognized as belonging to certain lifestyles, and thus are capable of symbolizing those lifestyles. Early on people learn to decode what a specific configuration of food means as class, as ethnic, or as personal symbol. In each of our lives, food is an essential part of the creation and sustenance of the self-image each one of us determines both consciously and unconsciously, and that consciously and unconsciously gets read, then received or rejected by others; whether high or low, ethnic or vernacular, cuisine is major ingredient in the interaction between individual self-definition and society's definition of that person. And a causative factor in class mobility: change your diet, change your life. Here's my invitation for you to translate this entire paragraph into Christianese?
Korean Presbyterian – assume both words are adjectives rather than nouns
The blazing success of evangelization in Korea by the Presbyterian branch of the Church is well-known, but I heard about a Korean Christian telling an American Presbyterian it was wonderful Presbyterians brought the flower of the gospel to Korea, but they definitely did not need the flowerpot!
About an hour ago I heard Bruce Hornsby and the Range singing When the sun goes down on the Water Town,...or, in my case, when the sun goes down on Watertown, Massachusetts, where I lived during my last semester in seminary. When the created sun goes down on anytown, without a doubt it rises the next morning on that same town unless it's rainy and overcast, but it rises everywhere else, too, sometimes at the same chronological hour, sometimes at different hours, but every sunsets and sunrises happens on history in motion—on a venue of God's creation and redemption.
One more time:
•"The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6." Philipp Melanchthon, Augsburg Confession, Article 7.
•"Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 4, chapter 1, section 9.
Luther's Seven marks of the Church
Word, Baptism, Eucharist, Office of the Keys [confession and absolution], Office of Ministry, Worship, suffering and persecution [cross].
In plain words, works are not the primary marks of the church; the primary mark of the church is the presence of Jesus Christ, being in Christ, faithfulness in Word and Sacrament. Regarding approaches to liturgy and homiletics, Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As post-modern creatures yet descendants of the industrial, post-industrial, technological and cyber-revolutions, we need to trust that works are neither the major mark of any Christian person nor of the church; but as gifts of the Spirit, to the same extent as faith is a spiritual gift, works happen in strange places and in surprising ways as historical events measurable in time and space. Living in trust as human beings rather than human doings—not doing human but rather being human!
For a couple of centuries during, taking upon oneself a vital piece of American culture meant to be mainline protestant. Parents would make sure their kids went to Sunday School; often people who'd drifted away or left church would return to church because they wanted their offspring to have a moral education. So true that for ages Americanism almost equaled Protestantism, but as immigrants moved up the alleged social ladder and became financially articulate, they became hyphenated into Italian- Irish- Polish-American, so Roman Catholic Christianity gradually became a way of being American. One of the hallmarks of the Reformation Church was biblically well-read and theologically well-educated laity—hardly the theologically and biblically close-to-illiterate folks trying to sit comfortably in the pews these days, but maybe they're trying to keep up with the assumption they grew up with that part of being American means church attendance? Word: this afternoon I noticed a song called "Springtime Jesus" in a Sunday worship bulletin. Where in the Bible can I find Springtime Jesus? Sacrament: little perceived hunger for the bread of life and the cup of salvation; too many instances of the blasphemy of rebaptism at the request of parents or significant others.
Being American 2
I mentioned "new liturgical models," so how about looking out from the church and in at secular society's new "liturgical models"? Cities of all sizes in this country and in Europe have been rediscovering neighborhood as a social setting, with the multitude of creatively revived downtown shopping centers designed to facilitate face-to-face and group interaction. Here in San Diego the Gaslamp Quarter immediately comes to mind, as does the Padre's Petco Park, whose(?) presence has been generating new and revitalized housing, with soothsaying that by 2030 I don't recall how many people will work and live downtown. Urban revivals and rebuildings have happened as reactions to decay, displacement and demolition. Referring once more to our FOW guest's house church, the kind of coming together he describes is what people seek and are finding in the cities these days: casual, routine, social interactions that build trust and grow persons as well as communities. Ironically, I write all of this from the notoriously anomic and anonymous section of Clairemont: a few blocks down the street from here some of the 9/11 terrorists could be so invisible not a single person wondered about their comings and goings or thought anything clandestine was happening right next door. This being the section of town it is, most likely no one thought at all. My condo complex feels anonymous, too, but I'm well aware (poignantly so?) I wisely (really!) grabbed this property as soon as it was available, despite hankering after City Heights and North Park. Time to quit this reflection.