The Emerging Church: The Old Church Made New

Thanks DJ Chuang for this article by Tim Dearborn, The Emerging Church: The Old Church Made New. It’s encouraging to read from a western American perspective how the emerging church in Asia, Africa and Latin America can impact American Christianity. So, has the age of genuine, level, equal conversation and partnership begun? I suppose both sides already have people working on it …

Here’s some statements and stories that caught my attention:

“… Obviously, the world is messy and the church complex. Any generalizations are suspect. To attempt to categorize and distinguish Western evangelicalism with the emerging Christian movement in the two-thirds world is laden with hazards. If there are indeed two streams, at times they flow together and at times flow in divergent directions. Much of the world church is flowing in a stream toward the Western church, attracted to American evangelicalism with our affluence and technology, our emphasis on individual freedom and fulfillment and our entrepreneurial zeal. Just as the world imports western pop culture and seeks to emigrate to gain access to western affluence, so it adopts western church forms. I’ve sung “Shine Jesus Shine” in 7 countries on 3 continents in the past year. The Jesus Film, Purpose Driven Life, Prayer of Jabez, Maxwell’s Principles of Leadership and Alpha are omnipresent in the world. Unquestionably God is using these tools. However, they risk imposing Western cultural and theological forms. They risk participating in the Western imperial rule. Recently a group of mission leaders met in LA to design web-based strategies of evangelism. When someone cautioned that they needed to make sure their messages were culturally appropriate, the leader of one organization retorted, “If it’s good enough for America it’s good enough for the world.”

Yet at the same time, there is a current moving away from the West—concerned about our individualized, consumer-oriented religion. There are several distinct marks of this church:

1. It is digging deep into traditional cultural forms, rejecting Western styles of church life and theology.
2. It is highly charismatic, relying on the Spirit rather than money
3. Anointed leaders guide its life, regardless of their academic training; generally with high authority and conservative morality.
4. Worship is a dramatic encounter with the power of God, rather than a passive and comforting moment of education and encouragement.
5. Its community is a gathering of people rather than a cluster of programs and activities.
6. Mission is a daily encounter with the demonic and evil, conducted through spiritual battle, suffering and a holistic engagement with the world; for all of life is deemed as the domain of God, with social, economic and even political ministry integral to church life.

… I met last year with 25 rural pastors in Zimbabwe. Their average monthly salary was $10. They carried to our meeting one of their three books, their Bible. (Their other two had recently been given to them (and most of the pastors of southern Africa) the Prayer of Jabez, and Maxwell’s Principles of Leadership. Many walked for two days to get there. When they discussed the life of the church in their region, I had the clear sense of meeting with the ekklesia theos—the people of God called by the Spirit to conduct the affairs of the community. Penniless, these pastors—Pentecostal, Salvation Army, Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, African Indigenous Church, and Adventist described their vision and the activities which were transforming their community. Their vision wasn’t merely for saving souls, but the care of AIDS orphans. They didn’t concern themselves with constructing church buildings—most met in schools, under trees, in sheds. Rather they were building wells, clinics and model farms.

… The emerging church lives under the sign of the cross—not as a source of comfort and as a protector from harm—but in recognition that it is called to share in Christ’s suffering. This church is well content with weakness, rather than pretending to coerce and conquer with campaigns and might. The gospel of the emerging church isn’t simply the good news that we’re forgiven, but that we’re called to a new kind of life that puts us in conflict with the empire. I read recently that Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher who has inspired millions with his brilliant book, I Thou, near the end of his life, confessed Jesus as the Messiah. However, he never called himself a Christian and refused to identify with the Church, saying “I cannot see what the Christian Church as an institution has to do with Jesus Christ.” (quoted by Graham Kings, Christianity Connected (Zoetermeer, The Netherlands: Boekencentrum, 2002:270).

… A Hindu leader recently met with the village heads in a community where World Vision works in India. He warned them to watch out, lest World vision staff try to make them Christians. They replied, “if you saw how they lived, you’d want to become a Christian too.” We are called not to love in word but in deed and truth. If we say we love God, then we will love our neighbor. The world will believe in Christ by our love for one another. Taxi drivers are my favorite social commentators. Recently I was speaking with one riding from the airport. He was an emigrant from Ethiopia, having been here for four years. I asked “How is the America of your experience different than the America of your dreams”. After a few cautious remarks, he said, “the biggest surprise is that I had thought the Gospel would have made a greater difference on American life.” He went on to explain, “besides driving a taxi I’m studying nursing at North Seattle Community College and work as an orderly in a nursing home. All the staff comment on how you can anticipate by the quality of care from their family a resident will receive by their nationality. Asian residents are visited almost every day. Eastern Europeans are visited at least weekly, but we have Caucasian Americans, who even though family members live in Seattle, are only visited on birthdays and holidays. In Ethiopia we believe the gospel is about community and love for one another. America is a very religious country but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference.”

… The emerging church is dynamically creative, with new forms and patterns which she believes are inspired by the Spirit, rather than the fruit of human education and skill. A few years ago I visited The Church of the Divine Canal, in a medium size town in the Dominican Republic. The pastor received a vision of a canal of living water pouring through the church into his town. The church prayed together for weeks to discern what this might mean. Convinced that this was from God they renamed their church and prayed that the Spirit would guide them, pouring living water into their town. What were the first acts they believed God wanted to do through them to bring living water to the town? Nothing I would have ever imagined. Their town lacked a fire station. When a building caught fire they had no way to save it. So, the raised the money and petitioned the government to give them a fire truck and created a volunteer fire department. Living water to put out real fires! Their next act was to create a public park, which their town lacked, resulting in many children being injured or killed by trucks while playing in the streets. Living water in children’s paddling pools!

… Though I don’t commend their strategy I admire the passion of a group of Korean missionaries in India last year who disrupted a major Hindu festival attended by over two million Hindu pilgrims. Their loud and aggressive proclamation of the gospel in the midst of the crowds was finally silenced by their arrest and deportation. When interviewed they expressed profound disappointment, for they had hoped they would have been killed and claim martyrdom. I prefer the response Kerry and I received from the mother superior of a Missionaries of Charity center we visited in the midst of a horrific slum in Calcutta. When asked if the sisters’ lives were ever threatened during their work in the slum she said, “Of course. Always by disease and sometimes by violence. But they took the eucharist this morning. They are prepared to die.”

Last year Kerry and I worshiped at Nairobi Chapel on the Sunday in which their long-range plan was announced. The church gathers business leaders and slum dwellers, people from myriad cultures and even nations. Arriving only 10 minutes before the service began, we had to worship outside the walls, through the open windows—along with 100’s of others. And the vision? For a new building, more staff, a larger budget? No. The vision was that over the next decade God would work through the church to raise up Christian leaders in the 250 most influential positions in the government, businesses, media and educational institutions of Kenya. It was for a dozen new churches in Nairobi and 10 internationally. It was for better schools for children, greater justice in their nation, and end of corruption in society. They didn’t only have a vision. They outlined detailed plans. This is the life of the emerging church.

… we have an opportunity to let the emerging church in the rest of the world shape and transform our way of life and worship. I believe we need them to help us learn how to respond to the deepest hungers of people in our own western societies—the longing for a vibrant spirituality, for moral clarity, for embracive community, and for a solid enough reason to live that it is not threatened by suffering or death. Perhaps one of the greatest missionary challenges of the coming decades is for missionaries from around the world to help churches emerge in the West, at the heart of the empire, faithfully to follow our Lord. This indeed, is already happening, with hundreds of dynamic churches emerging in Western cities pastured by people from abroad.”

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