Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Emerging Church - Back to the Future!

Well, so I have been seeing more and more on the topic of the Emerging Church - how it is new and hip and vital - or so I am told. "This is the future of the Church!" - or so the story goes. People gathering in small house churches to gain better access to more authentic spirituality than they can get in large, faceless congregations.

This is new? :sigh: This is why we need more and more history classes taught at the Seminary (I'm almost convinced that for the training of theologians it is pointless to try to learn theology if you don't learn history -- "The Structure of Lutheranism" is probably as informative and much more practical than Pieper - because without the history, you don't understand why Pieper emphasizes what he does). If you were awake and aware in History class, you might have noticed something. As Bon Jovi sings - "It's all the same, only the names have changed. Every day, it seems we're drifting away."

First, let's take Pietism, and then let us change small groups or clubs into "house churches" and change holiness, the goal of pietism, into something equally amorphous - "spirituality" - and you have the Emerging Church. A group that desires to place their experiential enjoyment of faith as the defining factor of what is true - except this time that experience is based not on a sense of "holiness" where one is a better person in terms of living, but based on "spirituality" - where one feels more connected to the "divine".

And what ought to be the Lutheran response? To point to good old fashioned preaching on Justification. To adminster the Sacraments. To deal with people individually with Law and Gospel. Yes, yes, each of those a cliche', but they are our cliche's for a reason. When done - they provide all that either of these groups, pietists or emergers (does that work as a term) desire. Do you wish to be holy, to flee from a life of sin? Hear the life giving and sanctifying Word of God - hear His law that hits you and convicts you of your sin - hear the Gospel that lavishes the holiness of Christ Jesus upon you. Do you wish to be close to the divine? Draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord - indeed, ponder that you, Baptized Christian, have been joined to Christ - joined more closely than anything earthly we have - where marriage is simply a picture of the higher reality of your relationship to Christ - and ponder that you have in your mouth God Himself who purposefully and inentionally designed this meal so that He would be with you always, not just in thought, not just by what you hear, but by what you can see, and taste, and feel, and smell - connected by every sense.

Cynically - what will be the Lutheran response? By in large. . . unthinking conservatism will reject this at first - simply because we haven't done it. . . until the movement outside Lutheranism begins to die. At this point, as it is on the decline, we will decide it is a fine idea, run with it, and be foolish theologically and probably 10-15 years behind the power curve of theological trends to boot - tossing out the baby to have more room in the crib to store jars of old bathwater. Thus is life.

There is nothing new under the sun. What remains for us is always the same - preach Christ and Him Crucified - no matter what fad reinvents itself.


Christopher D. Hall said...

I prefer The Who: "Meet the new boss--same as the old boss." I have an elder who reminds me of this from time to time.

What I do appreciate about the Emerging/Emergent/Energizing Church--whatever--is the move away from mega-worship-spectacular-spectaculars and the realization that sanctification stinks among American Christians.

You can also read Christian History as a continual tension between institutional church life and individual piety...witness the early monastic movement arising precisely at the time that the church became "popular," and so forth.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Indeed, the history of monasticism itself has much tension between individual piety (as demonstrated by the hermits) and the more institutional life of monastic orders. And you are right - the desire for the direct and personal spirituality isn't a bad thing at all -- it's just that we need to make sure that we remember how to fill it properly.

P.S. Where do I get a Simpson's style icon at?

Anonymous said...

Past Elder said...

One of the titles from Bishop Sheen's books is "Old Errors and New Labels".

William Weedon said...

This has NOTHING to do with the emerging church, but WHY have we not seen any pictures of the happy nuptials or even of the couple enjoying their honeymoon in the old country, eh?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Um. . . because I don't have pictures over here at the Church computer?