Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Will the true Jesus church please stand up!

The reality is, if we are really honest (but since we're sinners i guess the paradox is we can't be all that honest, anyway) there isn't just one ecclesiology by which we go about being/doing church. But are we even aware of the fact that there are major assumptions underlying the way we are and do church? Most within church don't even realize that there is more than one way of doing it. We know/realize there are different denominations, but not the meaning behind deep ecclesiological underpinnings for what we are then up to on the surface.

If we are honest, church is much more multivalent in its approach than the Western church wants to admit or celebrate. I've been thinking a lot about differing ecclesiologies (ways we live out or understand what it means to be church) such as Trinitarian ecclesiology, missoinal ecclesiology, liturgical ecclesiology, sacramental ecclesiology, Celtic ecclesiology, doctrinal ecclesiology and even incarnational ecclesiology. WHEW!!! To add to the complexity, each of these are viewed differently whether you're speaking with someone in the Western or Eastern church. Many churches embody each of these understandings at certain points along their journey as congregation.

Will the true Jesus church please just stand up! In short perhaps what the emerging church is helping to demonstrate is the expansive nature of church and the ways in which it can be embodied, its beautiful diversity, over against rock solid traditional means of being church that have existed and been passed down mindlessly without any thought as to why we're doing what we've been doing only to allow a modernistic tool such as measurement to let us know we must be off track because our numbers are slipping. Ah, that's not really fair, we have been thinking about this, but we tend to keep it locked up in the place where knowledge really lives and needs to be, the academic realms of the seminaries.

Recently I've been thinking about one of the great distinctions that the emerging church is really confronting head on, not only by talking about it, but living it. What I'm talking about is the distinction between doctrinal or propositional church versus incarnational or relational church. The Western church, and the mainlines heavily included, have operated out of an enlightement/Modernistic church driven by epistomological (knowledge is most important) concerns. And so what this looks like is that we have confirmation classes to inform our young about the baptism into which they were baptized by suggesting that what is most important is memorizing our catechisms and having knowlege "about" God rather than a living, breathing relationship with God. What would it look like, by the way, to just have a confirmation class and their parents discover what church was by doing it, rather than merely talking about it, DO IT. "Ok everyone, your assignment for the next 2 years is to learn how to be church! Now what should we do?" A big request I know.

What I call 'fake emerging' are those communities who are really driving a doctrinal/propositional approach but manipulate others relationally, either aggressively so or REAL nice, for the sake of only pouncing on them later to get to their real point of making the pitch, "now here's what you really need to believe about God. Do you believe it? Pray with me. Now you're a real follower! Congrats!"

What's going on in emerging communities is an emphasis and freedom within relationships, gathered around particular habits of Christian faith, to discover individually and corporately, who God is, what God is up to and what God is calling us to do. Through an incarnational ecclesiology relationships are central rather than doctrine. We are more concerned with how we are treating, living with and loving one another rather than what we actually believe (doctrine) about God. Or that the doctrine becomes so as it is lived not merely confessed. Or even more, that it is through a relational process that beliefs about God emerge. Belonging precedes believing. This is a little of what I think Peter Rollins is up to when he talks about orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy in his book How (Not) to Speak of God.

The emerging church understands that people come to trust and are drawn into God, not by telling people what to believe and then expecting them to become the very essence their propositional faith suggests ("you need to believe x, y or z and by the way, I'm ABSOLUTELY right about all this so just believe it"). NO!!! Rather, through relationships engaging freely and openly around the promises of God that for us as Church come through time shared in dialogue with the ancient practices of faith which include worship, scripture, prayer, service to the poor, oppressed and marginalized and the ways we reflect and use the resources God has given us. Of course, each of these habits come with incredible baggage because even as I share what they are each one of us has preconceived notions about how to define them.

The approach I'm celebrating and learning to live into is no different than Jesus' words to love God and love neighbor. Great! Now what, how do we do that? How do we embody that...and together? For me, this incarnational, Trinitarian ecclesiology fits, I don't know about you.


jWinters.com said...

Hey there Dave,
Another interesting post. Indeed "the real church" isn't really "the" singular "church," --- it's the Invisible union of all believers in Jesus Christ...or at least that's what my epistemology-centered Seminary taught me. ;-)

The issues of belonging before believing are swirling in my thoughts as well these days. Good to see someone else thinking about them.

in Christ,

Chris said...

Hey there Dave,

I haven't forgotten about you - just getting overwhelmed by children and a pending move . . .

A question, though. In a relational vs. doctrinal paradigm, what is the role of the knowledge of faith, tradition, Scripture, theology? Doesn't this knowledge inform the way we shape and live into our relationships? One thing I worried about on my CPE Residency is that there was so much an emphasis on relationship and authenticity that there was little room to be formed pastorally by theology, tradition, or Scripture.

Second, the overwhelming majority of Emergent leaders were raised in traditional churches, learning their Bible and theology in Sunday School, memorizing their catechism in Confirmation class, and attending several years of seminary. Despite some bad pedagogy and paradigms, there's lots of good stuff in such a system, too. The emergent leaders have the knowledge provided to them by the traditional church, and were blessed and formed by it, but offer something very different to their congregations today. Will those attending emergent congregations get the same kind of theological or scriptural foundation that their leaders received from traditional churches?

As I've said in the past, I love the ethos of emergent, but I wonder how practical it is on a larger scale.

dave said...

Thanks for your thoughts, good to hear from you guys again.

This dynamic relationship between the two is not an either-or reality but a both-and, as well for me it is wondering around the place of each in relationship to being God's missionary people. Peter Rollins I think talks about the epistomological stuff as that which reflects the relationship and the hole left in the aftermath of God. For my personal journey memorizing has been very helpful, but only as a way to engage further and more deeply in God I've already come to trust. For me, the emerging church is radically embracing protestant theology, especially our recovering fundy bros-sisters. I embrace the great wisdom of our tradition as Lutherans, and also those of other traditions to more fully wonder in and around various expressions of articulating an pre-existing relationship of God. Rather than the enlightenment's scientific ways of knowing God. Perhaps it can be used for engaging in and around a reality that will always fall short of explanation, but by its very search, speaks to a deep yearning and work of God in us.

Anonymous said...

You got your wish! The true Jesus church decided to stand up! Ha ha!


Anonymous said...

Sorry, here it is...


isipwater said...

By moving toward a stance of being church does not mean that we need to throw away what has been helpful in the past.
Emerging or being church is simply a new way to shift our focus on how we will be church together.

Anonymous said...

True Jesus Church


Anonymous said...

hello..if u want to noe more about the true jesus church.. y don't u try to visit us? we r all over the world.

Anonymous said...


this is the true church that God Himself established.

Anonymous said...


I agree.