Q & R: The Emerging Church

Here’s the Q:

I am currently a college student who is studying to be a minister, and have recently heard a lot about this movement that you have started. I was just wondering about how it started and what are some of the things that are different views from the New Testament Church, and where you get these new ideas from? If you could respond that would be greatly appreciated. I know you are most likely very busy, but this would help me out a lot in my studies.

R after the jump.

R: Thanks for your important question, and for your interest. First, it’s not true at all to say I started this movement. In fact, many movements have been springing up independently in many countries, stimulated by many leaders, and gradually, these different movements found one another and entered into conversation. In one sense, we were part of a movement before we even knew it existed, because something has been brewing for quite a while and many of us have been stumbling in the same direction, experiencing similar frustrations, asking similar questions, and reaching similar conclusions without knowing one another.
When you ask about how the church that is emerging differs from the “New Testament Church,” it raises a number of questions for me. Do you mean the church in the New Testament era? My sense is that there was nothing like uniformity among early churches – one gets the feeling that the Jesus movement in Jerusalem was very different from its counterpart in Antioch, that the early church in Corinth would have differed greatly from that of Ephesus, etc. There weren’t any creeds beyond “Jesus is Lord” (which probably had a meaning for its original confessors that differs from what we might assume, by the way). There was diversity in structure and practice – as evidenced by the fact that Paul was trying to build some harmony at least, if not uniformity.
If by “New Testament Church,” you mean an approach to church that exists today, that would also raise some questions for me. Churches claiming to be based on the New Testament today differ widely from one another: some allow women to lead, some don’t. Some speak in tongues, some don’t. Some believe in 6-day-creationism, some don’t.
So it’s hard to talk about this very broad and diverse conversation that is emerging in simple contrasts to other communities that are themselves very broad and diverse. It would be better, I think, to emphasize how much we have in common on a deeper level – our shared desire to love God and love our neighbors, our deep commitment to Jesus, our desire to walk in the Spirit, our love for Scripture, our commitment to mission, and so on.
But let me offer one starting point for your question. Many existing churches don’t realize the degree to which their identity, structure, theology, and practice have been formed by history – from the era of Constantine through the Middle Ages and especially within Modernity. Emerging churches are no less formed by history, but they are beginning to awaken to that reality. When you start awakening to the degree to which you have been molded by historical events and trends, it becomes more possible to change, to go back and ask some primary questions such as “What was Jesus about in the first place? What was his message, his mission? How can we realign ourselves with that original message and mission in our own context today?”
If you’d like a short and somewhat gentle introduction to all this, I’d recommend my first book, The Church on the Other Side. If you’d like to jump right in to the deep end of the pool, my newest book would be a good choice. Hope that helps!