The Emerging Church
Many of my friends will appreciate the following article from the Seattle Times on what is popularly called the "emerging church."
I honor and appreciate all sincere seekers, but obviously I have made a conscious decision to not be in the "emerging church" movement but on the contrary have joined myself to one of those old "traditional" churches mentioned in the article...you know, the kind that "lack flexibility and openness to new styles." And furthermore, not just "one of those" old traditional churches, but what is arguably the oldest and the most traditional. As such I feel compelled to point out a couple of stumbling blocks I run into while reading what is written and/or quoted in the article and thereby perhaps explain why I (who am still barely in the prime demographic for "emerging churches") am not on that particular bandwagon.
I will only briefly at this point address the problem I see in catering to culture. I think that having as a foundation the need to adapt and change in order to better be accepted by popular culture is a dangerous precedence. I think caution is advised, lest we end up amidst extreme relativism as sadly can be found in many mainline denominations today.
from the article:
Often these churches are relatively small, dedicated to fostering personal relationships among members and not setting the pastor above the members...'Ultimately,' Ward says, 'emerging churches are about asking: What was it that caused the church to grow in the early days? I think it was the authenticity of the way of life. It wasn't an institution at all then. It was people following in the path of Jesus' way of life.
Sadly this demonstrates a profound, albeit common, misrepresentation of history. The conception of the church being just a group of regular people who hung out together with little structure and no authoritative leadership flies in the face of many of those ununderlined verses in the New Testament. Furthermore, it shows a complete lack of knowledge of the writings of the earliest post-NT texts which clearly demonstrate an early church which was well organized and very much hierarchal. I once mentioned to a friend that I had some serious historical problems with quite a few of Wolfgang's Simson's (a fairly popular author amongst those in the "emerging church") 15 Theses and they asked for details - I have uploaded that rather lengthy response: here and it addresses in detail some of the problems with these popular perceptions of the early church.
also from the article:
'Everything the church has is in the treasure chest that we can use,' Ward says.
Am I the only person who hears this comment and finds it reminiscent of the attitude of Jurassic Park scientists? Let me elaborate: is there an inherent arrogance in standing above said 2000 year old "treasure chest" picking through it and saying in essence: "Well, we are going to do it right this time...we're not going to make their mistakes, but none-the-less I need this chalice, and this icon, and I'll try this prayer rope....ooooh this copy of the Philokalia is kinda cool!"
Let me urge, and I mean REALLY urge caution. It is generally perceived by the medical community as a very bad idea for doctors to self-diagnose and prescribe treatment, and the reasoning for this is not at all dissimilar to the reasoning why in Orthodoxy we have the much forgotten concep of obedience. You see as an Orthodox Christian I do not diagnose myself and neither do I prescribe treatment...instead, relying on the fullness of the Tradition (as opposed to buffet style picking and chosing) I seek the guidance of my Father-Confessor whose job it is to guide me into the Orthodox Way.
Pulling random items out of the "treasure chest" can be literally dangerous. Time and time again the Fathers warn us about reading certain writings or doing certain ascetic practices without having them given to us under the obedience of a Father-Confessor. Spiritual pride and deception seems to be the biggest problem mentioned by the Fathers when "going it alone", but another issue in this peculiar modern case revolves around the tearing of certain practices away from the fabric of their being and how that could very well be problematic. The many practices of the ancient Orthodox faith did not develope independently of the rest of Tradition, but rather evolved naturally and continues to be nurtured by all the other Orthodox practices and most especially Orthodox theology. Tinkering around, non-chalantly in the Church's "treasure chest" seems to me to be a most unsober thing to do. Perhaps, on further thought, it's really not all that different from protestant Biblical interpretation - which is itself arguably unsober.
I liken both (protestant hermeneutics and tinkering in the "treasure chest") to baking a cake. You can look at a well known (ancient) recipe and follow it exactly and end up with the cake as intended, or you can choose only those ingredients you know you like and hope for the best. I've embraced the whole of Orthodoxy because I know I am a bad cook and cannot rely on my ability to rummage through the "treasure chest" to find what will "work" best for me. The prophet Jeremiah was speaking of me when he said: "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? "
As always, your mileage may vary...
...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 4:51 PM [+]