The only Christian died on a cross
Has the "Emerging Church" died? Such was the topic of a recent (and rather provocative) article on the Christianity Today website. This rather short and simple article coincides with a good deal of what I have been thinking through over the last year or so....ever since I walked away from institutional/organized religion.
The gist of the article R.I.P Emerging Church:
“The emerging church will disappear.” That is what my informant told me as we shared drinks at our clandestine watering hole. I felt like Luca Brasi being handed a dead fish wrapped in newspaper. The hit had been ordered…the emerging church’s fate had been sealed. In my informant’s mind, the death of the emerging church was a settled matter. I double-checked my surroundings for listening ears before whispering, “How can you be so sure?” The informant (who worked for a publisher) leaned forward and said their marketing plans included dropping the “Emerging Church” brand within two years.
That was two years ago.
Now comes word from recognized leaders and voices within the emerging church movement that the term has become so polluted that it is being dropped.
(Cf. McKnight article)
If you want my take on the issue, I favor a merging and submerging church: that those with a faith centered on Jesus would merge with culture and submerge beneath the turbulent waters of dogma, institution, and commercialized, market-driven religiosity.
My struggle is that I see all of Christianity as a fad, commercialized, consumer- and market-driven. To say "I am a Christian" is not to say that one identifies with Christ, but that one identifies with some form of a hyper-commercialized movement.
This explains, in part, the fact that the church has such a difficult time retaining those who are passionate about changing the world, have a heart for joining believers in open/authentic community, and have intelligent minds that desire to challenge status quo thinking. These are three key types of people that seem to be lacking in most church institutions. Most institutions tend to prefer organizing around static beliefs/practices rather than letting dynamic people loose to affect genuine change.
I can't help but sense an urgent need to purge and purify; a need to go underground; a need for silence, reflection, and growth.
In my opinion, the American church is neither hot nor cold. It is bland and boring. A few months back my boss told me that the water heater had not been working for quite sometime....but no one had noticed. Why? Because the water heater doesn't do a good job heating water, and so we don't ever expect the water to be hot. Such is the state of Christians.
Thought: Once the water is no longer hot, there is little difference between water that is merely warm and water that is cool.
When Nietzsche suggested that God is dead, wasn't he really just suggesting that God is not needed? If God doesn't actually exist, would that make a difference for the Christian religion? If we found out that there was never really a water heater to begin with, would the water temperature change?
Is it in the best interest of Jesus to let Christianity die? To put the movement out of its misery? I tend to think that the answer is, “yes.”
What would faith look like if it were just a gathering of people? Sharing life together? A non-Movement movement?
For most Christian leaders, a non-Movement movement would be too ambiguous…..the author of the above emergent church article says as much at the end of the article when he snidely remarks, “As the emerging church rides off into the sunset, where does that leave things? Well, news has been leaking about a new network being formed by Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus, and Scot McKnight among others…..They appear to have learned from the emerging church’s mistake—define purpose and doctrine early so your identity doesn’t get hijacked.”
But is it even possible to think faith without religion? To think spirituality without an Institution to regulate it? To think about Christ w/o Christianity?
Where is “faith” going these days?
The so-called "Reformers" did little to change the structure of institutional Christianity; they merely substituted different doctrines and introduced more legalistic standards to measure faith so as not to allow the church to devolve into the types of corruptions and abuses that Luther was so appalled to see when he journeyed to Rome as a naive young monk.
Interesting note: a friend recently informed me that Luther seriously considered the idea of organizing the new reformed churches as house churches. His one drawback was there were not enough people who could read, and hence there may be many house churches without someone to read the Bible…..hhhhmmmm…..but is such a drawback still an issue in 21st century America?
It is interesting that the emerging church appears to be going the way of the dinosaur. It was essentially a Movement that masqueraded as a non-movement. Hence, one kind of always felt as though a diagnosis of "multiple personalities disorder" was in order. I don’t mean to be too critical, but they did consciously decide to take this Movement public via mass distribution channels.
Eh hem….well, my thoughts….
I suggest: merge with culture and lose the holier-than-thou mentality; submerge from religion, dogma, and institution. Free people as individuals within community to pursue a pure and liberating faith.
Perhaps, this merging/submerging move would mean the death of commercialized Christianity and the use of "Christian" as an adjective: no more "Christian books," or "Christian music," or "Christian tee shirts," or "Christian worldviews," "Christian churches," or even "Christians.”
But to merge and submerge, as I am suggesting, would be the end of "Christianity" and "Church" as an institution and as an institutional powerhouse. Of course, such is still a radical suggestion....it means that the gathering of the faithful is organized around things like freedom, openness, love, acceptance, grace, and self-discovery......most Christians will prefer some sort of modified hybrid: an institution that merely shifts its values a bit. Add a bit more love, lose a bit of the moxy.....add some room to disagree on dogma, lose a bit of the need to control......sure, modifications can be made to ensure the survival of the mediocre institution, but in this era, I think such a suggestion is naive: the American church is overrun with the complacent, and a shift of values merely means that we will be complacent about a new set of "priorities." But perhaps this is an issue I am wrong about. Perhaps institutions with new values would, in fact, provide a new and fresh vision around which something powerful and dynamic could be formed….hhhhmmmm…..I’m doubtful, though……I think we need something more radical and extreme, something less man-made, synthetic, or artificial. Something that indicates a real connection to an external power surge. It seems difficult for me to see how things like love, freedom, grace, and power can be captured by religion. Religion and institution tend to kill these things…..but regardless, it seems quite clear that churches simply will not survive with any vibrancy unless something changes. And faith itself seems to me to be on the brink.
My suggestion of merging and submerging would seem to require the greater amount of courage, boldness, and failure: small groups striking it out on their own; trial and error, victories and failures, highs and lows. People of faith (and even non-faith) who are no longer connected by the obligation of a large-scale religious affiliation but by a more intangible and undefinable connectedness.
A LOVE SUPREME
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Saturday, December 13, 2008
The only Christian died on a cross