Have you heard? The Emergent/Emerging Church is dead. At least, according to C. Michael Patton of the Parchment and Pen blog it is. I am not certain what preceded his declaration or why he thinks he has the authority to declare such. But, just hop over to The Carnival in My Head, One Hand Clapping, Missio Dei, Emerging Women, Evolving in Monkey Town, Emerging Pensees, Losing my Religion: Re-Thinking Church, Decompressing Faith, or any of the many blogs you can find on their blog rolls, if you want to know the truth. While I often read the blogs I just listed I most appreciate Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head. Why? Because, this woman walks out what I believe is meant by the term the Emerging Church.
At The Refuge, Kathy and others with her are the Church emerging. They have come out from under what has imprisoned Christ’s image. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty. And, they are not ashamed to say, “The job is too big for us. It needs God.” I am blessed by Kathy’s witness, her faith, her passion. But, I am mostly encouraged by her willingness to admit, “I am not there yet.” Personally, I am not even close to being there. Thus, I need people like Kathy Escobar to keep whispering, “I think I can! I think I can!” because it helps me to think I can as well.
I am angered by Patton’s blog declaring the death of the Emerging Church. Usually I find what the P&P blog has to say at least thought provoking, even when I do not agree with its point of view. However, this post is disappointing. His arrogance offends me and actually seems out of character for Mr. Patton. I have no doubt that Mr. Patton loves the Church, and embraces what he considers its evangelical tradition. My own experience, however, causes me to wonder if Mr. Patton is not deceived. He seems to believe that the true evangelical is ever reforming and willing to examine its practice while holding firmly to its core. Based on my own experience, I must disagree. And, the voices from the Emerging Church I most often listen to would probably disagree as well.
Mr. Patton claims to have been a sympathizer of the Emerging Church movement. And, in his post he declares that he will always embrace the movement’s “ethos”. (If you do not know what ethos means do not bother looking it up; an ethos according to Webster’s is: “the distinguishing character…moral nature, or guiding belief of a person, group, or institution.” I submit that Mr. Patton and many like him do not actually understand, let alone sympathize with the EC, and by not truly understand cannot embrace its “ethos”. Their insistence that the EC have a cemented doctrine and be organized under specific leadership is evidence enough for me.
Granted, I do not speak for all emergers. However, I think it is fairly safe to say that what most emergers have in common is that they are coming out from under (emerging from) some sort of oppressive or ineffective system. It dawned on me as I participated in the comments on the P&P blog that part of what may be contributing to the confusion over just what the Emerging Church is, is the fact that there are really two groups that are “coming out from under” the more traditional Church umbrella. The first group could possibly be described as “seeker friendly”. They opt for a more contemporary service and usually offer a fairly dynamic kids program. They probably do not preach a lot of hell fire and damnation but if pressed the leadership, at least, would most likely line up along those lines and if you want more in depth teaching you can always find some kind of Bible study among the many and varied small group offerings. In reality this country club-like fellowship is simply a new wrapping for the same old controlling spirit, legalism, and self oriented religion. These are probably the fastest growing “Churches” but their primary focus is still internal.
The Emerging Church I consider myself to be part of is more interested in day in day out practice then in saying and believing all the “right” doctrine or attracting the masses to a building. It desires to be Christ’s hands and feet in a hurting world and in letting that world know God loves it. These emergers have been controlled, ignored, and patronized. We are tired of hoops, dictators, and waste. In general we are weary of watching while top heavy organizations squander their resources (both personal and financial) on fluff and entertainment (primarily seen on Sunday morning). But the part of “what it means to be emerging” that really galls the more traditional Church is that we are also more willing to see God and good in unusual places, we are not likely to condemn the homosexual to hell because we are not sure hell even exists, at least not as the everlasting place of torment we were once told about in Sunday school, and we are not too sure the guy in the pulpit has a better story to share then the alcoholic who has managed to stay 24 hours sober. We may not be considered “orthodox” but what many of us have seen of orthodox does not exactly convince us we are missing much.
Do you know why I know the Emerging Church is not dead? Because, I am part of the Church emerging and I have never been more alive! Nor have I ever seen more signs of life in the Church around me than I see in my fellow confused, frustrated, questioning, struggling, Christ seeking (following, worshipping) emergers. See you on the journey, Minnow
PS: Happy Mother’s Day!