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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

what's in a word?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Following on from Marko's excellent post 'this is emergent', where he looks at emergent behaviour in nature and uses it as a metaphor for the 'emergent church', there has been a bit of a flurry of blog activity around the theme of terminology. Dab Kimball posts two informative articles on the origin of the 'emergent' tag here and here; and Andrew Jones gives his perspective here.

Prior to all this though, Eddie C posts a less-than positive 'rant' (his description, not mine) about how the terminology is creating barriers and cliques, negating what the 'movement' claims to be all about. While I have some sympathy with the reflections of Eddie C, and am not at all interested in being part of a new movement that becomes a new denomination seen by those within as 'better' than other forms of Christianity, I do think that the terms, when used rightly, can serve as useful reminders and markers as to what it's all about.

To add a UK perspective to the discussion, we would have to introduce the terms 'Emerging Church' and 'Fresh Expressions' to the melting pot. Notwithstanding the criticisms of Eddie C, and conscious that all terminology falls short and carries problems, both of these tags offer helpful insights...

Emerging Church is a good reminder of what the Church should always be - emerging. Churches always hit the self-destruct button when they get complacent and think that they've arrived. The Church, from the first century to today, has always been and will always be 'emerging'. Tom Wright, in 'The New Testament and the People of God' writes about the task of the church being to 'faithfully improvise' what it means to be the community of faith in each cultural setting. Whilst remaining faithful to the story so far (the first four acts - creation, fall, Israel, Jesus), we as participants in the fifth act need to improvise, or quite literally 'make up' our own journey in relationship with Christ. In this sense, the Church is always emerging.

Fresh Expressions is the term coined by the Church of England report 'Mission-Shaped Church' to describe new forms of church communities. Although this term is, perhaps unhelpfully, fast becoming a catch-all term attached to any and every 'new' initiative, it does help challenge the status quo. To talk of fresh expression of church implies that 'church' is something bigger than these 'expressions'. If we are to remain consistent, this must naturally extend to every other church community, and so what might happen in St Whoever's Church on a Sunday morning at 10:30 (or whenever) is merely an expression of this bigger thing we call 'Church'. What's more, it's a culturally bound expression - church being lived out in the cultural clothing of those who belong to that community.

In a fragmented 'post-modern' context, with many cultures living side by side, we must have room in the Church for numerous different expressions of what it means to be the community of faith, as the Church continues to 'emerge' in our times.

Later today I'll be conducting my first research interview of a practitioner engaged in the emerging church. Amongst the questions I'll be asking of him, is this... "Do you personally identify with and find helpful the terms 'post-evangelical', 'post-protestant' or 'Emergent' and what do you understand by the terms 'Emerging Church' and 'Fresh Expressions'?" I wonder how many different responses I would get to a question like that if I was able to interview everyone involved in what is being called the 'emerging church'?


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:10 AM


If I may be so bold....

Out of the list you gave, I have only ever used the word "Emerging" for our church-that-was-formally-known-as-church. But even then, rarely.

I think the future-tense is helpful for focus and momentum, but it also can imply a lack of something. Now while I whole-heartedly believe that to be Emerging church is to opt for "the desert wandering", the "lack" (caused by us "RichChurch" going away and giving everything up to follow Jesus, as the RichMan so failed to do) I also think it's important (particularly for OrthodoxChurch) to recognise that we who become unchurched-church are not "lost" or "without". True, we have chosen to murder the zombie-church of Orthodoxy (euthenaise the decaying body), but what we are now living is still church. Maybe even moreso than ever, since without our meetings, leaders and adgendas we are having to truly,finally rely on one another as we seek Jesus in and with the World with whom we now "church".

That's why, when I decided to record a little of our developments on and offline, I have labelled our status as "Unseen Church".

An unseen church for an unseen God.
Makes sense to me ;)


commented by Blogger DAMNFLANDRZ, 5:30 PM  

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