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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!

the new dissidents?...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Without doubt, one of the most informative, uncomfortable and challenging articles I've read recently is Stuart Murray's 'Christendom and Post-Christendom' (which can be downloaded as a pdf from 'here'), which charts the rise and fall of Christendom in the West and looks at how the reality of Christendom has adversely affected both Biblical interpretation and approaches to mission.

Throughout his paper, Murray refers to the dissident marginal groups and movements in the Church, such as the Lollards, Waldensians and Anabaptists, who have consistently opposed the marriage of church and state, challenging the very foundations of the Christendom church. Their constant refrain has been one of reasserting the central place of Jesus, whose humanity and earthly ministry has been largely sidelined since the fourth century in favour of a more celestial 'emperor' type figure.

Murray argues that in the post-Christendom context we now find ourselves in (in the West) we need to rediscover the voices of these dissident groups and recover the impetus towards being a truly missional church. We must be prepared to reassess not only our models of church and mission, but the theological foundations that have underpinned Christendom faith for sixteen hundred years. We must re-establish the central place of Jesus - his life, ministry and teaching (and not only his death and resurrection) - at the heart of belief and ethics, both personal and social.

Murray's paper is riddled with quotable passages, but this is perhaps my favourite which seems to sum up the missional task in the 21st century Western world:

"Christendom is dead or dying. We live now in a post-Christendom society and we desperately need to stop thinking in Christendom categories. Europe has decisively rejected the institutional form of Christianity known as Christendom. Arguably it has not yet seen enough of Jesus to decide what to do with him. Perhaps it is time to read the Bible in a new way, to recover the Christocentric approach of the pre-Christendom churches and the marginal movements, to rediscover Jesus for ourselves and to follow him into a world that is heartily sick of Christianity but which might yet be intrigued by Jesus."

It seems that this has been the central agenda of the emerging church conversation, and of related books such as those from N T Wright, Brian McLaren, Kester Brewin and Steve Chalke. So, is the emerging church a new 'dissident group' in Murray's use of the phrase? And, if so, might there be a good reason for remaining at the margins of the Church so that we can continue to raise the prophetic call to Christ-centred discipleship? (As an aside, at a recent gathering of people involved in the UK emerging church, a significant proportion of those present had connections with the Church of England - the established church! Is this simply an interesting irony or a source of hope?!!)

Murray's article is well worth reading, as I'm sure are many more of the articles which can be downloaded from postmission.com

Stuart Murray is Oasis Director of Church Planting and Evangelism and Lecturer at Spurgeon's College, London, England

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 12:41 PM


Is the emerging church

-a self indulgent introverted experiment catering for bored middle class churchgoers?

-angst ridden communities of like minded dissidents united by discontent?

-tentative forays into unfamiliar territory from which pioneers will return licking their wounds?

heteodox communities lacking substance or sustainability?

lacking with engagement with evangelism/mission or involvement in local community issues?

The first 3 points are taken from the Church after Chrisrendom and the last 2 are my own. I think the EC is a complex and divergent movement which resists simplistic definations.
For me the jury is still out on your piont if the EC can emerge into a new dissident grouping after Christendom.


commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 8:58 PM  

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