I finished reading An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches by Ray S. Anderson on Monday night. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who honestly wants to know about the theology and scripture foundation under emerging churches. The emergent/emerging terms get thrown around way too easily in the blogosphere in both positive and negative lights, and I, for one, was tired of not knowing anything real about what is behind the emerging movement in churches.
I mentioned before in a previous post that I learned to see the writings of Paul differently in a much more refreshing way after seeing just how much the church in Antioch (the church that commissioned Paul's missions) was the first emerging church. The scriptural foundation of the emergent theology described in this book is just as refreshing and touches the longing spirit of my heart. The last chapter and the books ends with four things that are essential to being an emerging church and emergent church. I wanted to highlight them here to save them for reference (especially since I have to return the book today):
The life of emerging churches is grounded in their conception and birth as the community of those who are children of God, whose lives are personally drawn into the very life and being of Christ. Those who are born anew by the Spirit of God are not merely Christians, or followers of Christ, but have been placed (adopted) into the personal relationship between the Son and the Father as children of God and "joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).... One could say the words [of a creed] and even believe that they are true, but not yet "be in Christ." Belief if confessional, belonging is communal. (p. 213)
The apostle Paul experienced the reality of Christ before coming to believe in him. In every letter that Paul wrote there is an underlying theme of union with Christ. Participation in the life of Christ is not an extracurricular option for Christians, it begins with being baptized into Christ by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). He reminded the Christians at Colossae of their experience in Christ, not just of their faith in
Emerging theology is about being in Christ, hidden with Christ in God. The Christ who is present to me and with me gives me presence to and with the very being of God. There is part of me that is already secure and safe with Jesus in heaven. I came to know that as a child; I am coming to believe that now. (p. 214-215)
In the writings of Paul the word grace occurs eighty times. while he no doubt valued and taught the role of sacrament and symbol with regard to the community's life of faith, he did not bind grace to sacrament but sacrament to grace. Members of the emerging church lived out grace in their daily life, and when they didn't, Paul rebuked them: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the results of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). To revert to life under the legalism of the law is to nullify grace, Paul reminds the Galatians (Galatians 2:21).
Grace is not a commodity that can be packaged and dispensed. It is the life of the Spirit that renews and transforms every facet of both the inner and outer life of those who belong to Christ. Paul's only reference to the Lord's Supper is in connection with the disorder at the common meal, in which the Corinthians were failing to practice the sacramental grace of sharing with one another. There is no suggestion in Paul's rebuke and instructions that the problem was in the act of dispensing the elements of bread and wine that represent the body and blood of Jesus. The sacramental act is participation in the meal itself, not in a ritual of administration.
We should understand that the grace of sacrament is Jesus himself, who unites the real presence of God with humanity in his own person. He is the primary sacrament from which all sacramental life flows and has its origin. The essence of sacrament may be defined as a gracious invitation to participate in the life of God along with a gracious impartation of a spiritual benefit. When Jesus gave the invitation of grace, it included an impartation of grace. "Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in your heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). Living a sacramental life of grace means living with openness to the needs of other and to the persons who feel estranged from God. In our daily conversation we should speak with others so that our words "give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29).
Our need does not cause the grace of God to be dispensed for us, but God's grace in our lives brings up to the altar.... When the prodigal son approached his father's home, he did not expect grace and asked only to be taken in as one of the servants. Jesus said, "But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). The sacrament was not in the celebration that followed but in the embrace on the road. I have been embraced with the arms of grace while still trying to find my way home. (p. 215-217)
Roman Catholic scholar Hans Küng asked "Is the church then credible, does she help men to be truthfully Christian, to be truthfully human?" A truthful church, he argued, is a church that is provisional, that is, not an end in itself; unassuming, that is, to be constantly in need of grace rather than dispensing it; ministering, that is, taking the way of the cross rather than the way of triumphal procession; conscious of guilt, that is, exists in grace and not in righteousness; and finally obedient, that is, remains free from all claims except the radical will of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. "Wherever, among individuals or groups, there is a truthful church," Küng added, "there occurs ... a deepening and humanising of the world and of man; there dawns something of that complete justice, that eternal life, that cosmic peace, that true freedom and that final reconciliation of mankind with God, which one day God's consummated kingdom will bring." To be a truthful church is to make the truth of Christ an incarnational reality that is present in the world and to the world as the very presence of Christ.
Emerging churches do not claim to be the one, true church, as though other churches are false or, even more to the point, and though it is true because it merely exists. The evidences of truth, as Paul argued, are not in one's own life but in the lives of those who are transformed by the life of Christ to serve the true God. Writing to the church at Thessalonica, he said that the message of the gospel came to them not only in words, "But also in power and in the Holy Spirit..." (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Truth is not something that the church possesses but what the Spirit produces.... The truth is that God himself is given to us through the person of Jesus Christ, not just information about God. Paul reminds us that the language of the Spirit is the language of Jesus - it is the wordless language of the soul of God.... When the church learns to be silent in the presence of the Word, it speaks the truth. (p. 216-218)
If you were to ask the apostle Paul, Did you go to church today? he would stare at you dumbfounded! The people of Antioch did not just go to church, they were the church! The emerging church had its times of gathering. It was while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting that Saul and Barnabus were selected by the Holy Spirit to go on what would become the first mission journey (Acts 13:1-3). The church was not a place but an assembly of believers in a certain place.
The emerging church is about being the church, like a family. It is an everyday reality with occasional gatherings and some celebrations. Being the body of Christ is a domestic as well as public practice of kingdom living. Being the church is as much a transformation of the secular sphere into sacred service as it is filling the sanctuary with ordinary saints. (p. 218-219)