Saturday, February 11, 2006

weakness in emergent church

Its so amazing to be apart of the church planting that is happening now in the U.S. It’s so challenging to be apart of the emergent church conversation. We are so blessed to be able to learn from our conservative evangelical roots and expand our understanding of church, faith and community. The emergent church has so many strengths its hard to know where to begin. But just to name a few about the church of which I am a part, we seem to be great at loving the outsider, creating community, starting discussion, being teachable, allowing change, being missional and allowing disagreement. These are just a few.

Yet if we are honest with ourselves, we have glaring weaknesses. One such weakness, it seems, is knowledge, specifically, theological knowledge. I am sure there are plenty of scholars in and among the emergent church. Most of our favorite authors and inspirational leaders have such a knowledgeable background. But what about our average church goer? Do we have room to teach in the midst of our dialog? Do we have room to educate in the midst of our communities?

Most of us have rightly expelled the "classroom" setting from our church communities. Unlike the mega-church model, we don't have Christianity 101's and 203's. We don't have lectures or instructors (in the traditional sense of the word.) What we have are small groups. What we have are facilitators of discussion. What we have are amazing relationships and close knit groups of truth seekers. And certainly there is learning, the best kind of learning, happening there. We gain wisdom from each other. We gain humility. We gain perspective. We give of ourselves and get something better in return.

While wisdom is often more important than knowledge, I hope we will not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It seems that we are looking more and more like the fluid, communal, familial first century church. And as we move towards healing the wounds of the modern church, we open ourselves up to new threats. It makes sense that if we look more "first century", then we are likely to open ourselves up to the same threats they faced. One of the greatest threats, which councils spent the following 400 years dealing with, was false teaching.

We desire that people would belong before they believe. And this is how it should be. But when they believe, do they know what they are believing. I am not talking about teaching specific doctrine of particular denominations. I am not advocating for quibbling over divisive issues. I am speaking of Nicea. I am referencing Chalcedon. Does our community know the historical foundations of our faith? Do we know what it is that Christians have always agreed on for the last 1500 years? Do we know of the early heretical threats to the core of the gospel? Do we know the form in which they take today?

Be warned Emergent Church! We have found ways to avoid the pitfalls of the modern church. Yet, we are heading headlong into rampant false doctrine and false teaching if we don't also take with us the best that the modern church had to offer. The teaching we grew up on helped to shape who we are now. This sound teaching must continue. Not in classrooms or bible studies, but over coffee. Not in lecture halls but in small groups and one-on-one. But if we settle for open-ended conversation without ever teaching, if we settle for relativism when it comes to Nicene faith, if we choose simplistic faith instead of simple faith, then we will reap the consequences. If teaching doesn't thrive in the emergent culture, our ignorant spiritual offspring will inherit a weakened church led astray by the warmed-over false teaching of old.

8 Comments:

At 2:35 AM, Blogger Dave said...

A good word, Mark. And there are other weaknesses... but that's a good one.

 
At 3:05 AM, Anonymous andrew said...

yes - lets beware and keep up our guard!

 
At 1:50 PM, Blogger gar said...

"This sound teaching must continue. Not in classrooms or bible studies, but over coffee. Not in lecture halls but in small groups and one-on-one."

In many cases, I think we run into trouble when we imagine that we need to pick one thing or the other.

Classrooms need not be the enemy of small groups and meaningful relationships. Knowing and understanding our history need not prohibit change.

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger Dave said...

"Classrooms need not be the enemy of small groups and meaningful relationships. Knowing and understanding our history need not prohibit change."

I agree, Gar.

 
At 12:04 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Gar,
Good point about classrooms. I wasn't meaning to create an either/or in my post. I am all for the both/and, unless it calls for a but/not.

I will add that classrooms tend to set up an "expert/guru" environment with "students" who are less apt to be given the chance to lead and teach themselves. In my mind, a classroom setting works best if all are seen as learners and teachers.

 
At 7:20 PM, Blogger gar said...

"a classroom setting works best if all are seen as learners and teachers"

I know where you are going, and I agree. I also really think there is something to be said for learning from those who have "gone before" us. Not a superiority thing, just a sequence thing. Once in a while, it's nice to have a Paul-type show up and set us all straight. Then we need to go away and talk to each other ... try to wrap our heads around what the heck he or she was talking about.

Most folks only get Step 1. You guys get Step 2 in spades. Bravo!

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Gar,
Its interesting that you say that. This post was exactly about the danger of the emergent church doing so much of "step 2" that we forget about "step 1."

I am finding that much of our "sitting under a teacher who has gone before us" or "step 1" as you have put it, happens in reading a book. Rather than one of us becoming the teacher, we allow the author of a book, who presumably has gone before us, to teach us. Then we receive that and discuss. This seems to be very helpful for me personally in my learning/discipleship process.

This "author as teacher" method may also be helpful for the church as a whole. I think it is what we see in Paul as he writes to his churches.

 
At 4:57 PM, Blogger Dave R. said...

If we can sit at the teaching of an author, why not of an actual teacher in a classroom? In a classroom setting there is at least the possibility of some interatction (assuming the teacher is good). I know in my MBA classes, I learned so much more than I could from a book because I had good teachers who broght the book to life and helped me apply the knowledge. I guess ideally, I think learning happens on 3 levels. 1-books 2-sitting uder an expert or teacher 3-discussion with peers. 4- applying it in real life. The discussion is indeed where it really sinks in, but a good teacher or author can help guide that discussion and give weight to our dialogue because of the research that they have done.

 

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