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Emerging I: The Church June 1, 2007

Posted by Matt in Church, emergent.
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In order to understand the emergent movement, I think it necessary to first understand how they see the church as it exists today. Today is something of a slipper term given that the emergent movement saw its first rumblings in the 1980s. So this view of church today spreads from the late 70s through the present (think: Post-“Jesus Movement“). Continuing to disclaim a bit, this look will focus almost exclusively on church as it appears in America. (Not to be Ameri-centric, but I’ve never lived anywhere else.) Not to say that this approach wouldn’t be valid outside of the states, just that your milage may vary.

Since around the 1860s (the arrival of Pentecostalism),  there have been three rather distinct branches of Church. The first of these branches for discussion is the Catholic branch. The Catholic branch of the Church includes the Roman Rite, Orthodoxy, and certain members of the Anglican tradition. The Catholic branch of Christianity is largely concerned with eccessiology. (I use the term in a slightly irregular manner — Not only do I use it to refer to the structure and practice of Church, but also that Catholic activity is primarily centered on the church itself [in and of itself].) Highlights of the branch include a heavy emphasis on submission to the Church as a united whole as expressed through its tradition. The individual has little status in the eyes of the Church at large, excepting rare circumstances (“miracles”?) (ie: Fatima). Also characteristic of the Catholic branch is the equivalent reliance on tradition and Scripture. Catholic soteriology is Church-based: the individual receives salvation through the church. This places emphasis on the Church at large over the individual. There are, of course, significant theological differences between the Catholic branch and the rest of Christianity. However, it is beyond the scope of our present discussion to detail these explicitly, but anyone with a cursory knowledge of Christian doctrinal history will have passing familiarity.

The second major branch for discussion is  Pentecostalism. Pentecostals are by in large independent of any overhead leadership structure, leaving local churches to guide doctrine and provide pastoral leadership. Pentecostalism is primarily indicated by its heavy emphasis on the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this tradition, worship is primarily concerned with the exercise of the gifts. This fact tends to highlight the individual over the church as a whole. Pentecostal soteriology is based upon the spirit providing affirmation of the individual to himself and to the community at large via the presentation of the gifts. Beyond this primary influence, there is little that is characteristic of the movement as a whole (not even Christian orthodoxy). This is due mainly to its decentralized nature and its loose view of ecclesiology. Parts of the Pentecostal branch overlap with the Evangelical branch (esp. in fundamentalism) and even (ever so slightly) the Catholic branch.

The final branch for consideration is Evangelicalism. Now, I will be presenting my own opinion of what constitutes an evangelical, being fully aware that this is a term that is still being debated. Evangelicalism is the largest branch in States (though it does depend on how you define the term). In my definition: there are three distinct groups within Evangelicalism: Mainline Protestants, Independents, and Fundamentalists. The reason for this division is primarily simplicity’s sake, though I think that there is more overlap between them than not. Conservative Mainliners, Independents, and Fundamentalists all share similar views of ecclesiology and soteriology as well as an emphasis in praxis. Liberal Mainliners are outliers for the present discussion (maybe, because many of them are ’emergent’?). Most Evangelicals have a lower view of ecclesiology. Mainliners (as a whole) have higher views of Church (still lower than that of the Catholic branch) which includes an emphasis on non-local leadership and a slightly higher view of the sacraments. Mainliners tend to be more politically liberal and yet less politically active. Mainliners are also typically more established in their communities than other and (perhaps, for that reason) their demographics tend older. In contrast, Independents tend to have lower views of church (even though some of them are even known to serve Communion from time to time). Independents usually have no formal overhead structure, but often belong in church conglomerates or collectives (such as the Southern Baptist convention) with similar views of doctrine and political issues. Independents tend to be more politically conservative and trend younger demographically then their Mainline brethren. Finally, contrasting even further with Mainliner are the Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are characterized by an extreme commitment to orthodoxy (at least, in so much as the individual fundamentalist sees it). Characteristic of the fundamentalists is hard stances on the inerrancy of the Bible, Solo Scriptura (that first word isn’t a typo), and premillennial views of eschatology (esp. dispensationalism). Fundamentalists are almost exclusively politically conservative as the result of firm views on the issues such as abortion and homosexual practice. Fundamentalists tend to be very vocal in political activity. As a result of its radical doctrine, there is almost no place for ecclesiology within this sub-branch. Fundamentalist soteriology is characterized by extreme emphasis on a personal commitment to the gospel (as the local church would define it) and usually a ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’ view of perseverance. (How that fits within their praxis is a question for another day…) These three contrasting subtypes of Evangelical make trying to make overriding generalizations difficult, but there are couple of things that are probably worth noting of the movement as a whole. While not all of its constituents are political vocal, a majority of them are active in political causes that are primary a result of their personal beliefs on The State and moral issues. Most evangelicals, while having individualistic views of soteriology, maintain that local community is of value especially individual participant within that community.

Hopefully, this overview of the Church at present will give us enough of a basis to discuss the Emergent critique of Church as well as how Emergents define themselves apart from this overview.  Next up, we’ll take a look at the culture that we find ourselves in. Until then… :-)


The Emerging Church: A Tiger’s View May 27, 2007

Posted by Matt in Church, emergent.

I begin this series with the following understanding:

I, Matt Lemieux, do not pretend to speak on behalf of The Emerging Church. I do not pretend to have a complete view of the movement and its content as a whole. I will restrict myself to addressing the movement as I see it. I will attempt to explain my position relative to those qualities that I find defining the movement.

With that preliminary explanation, I hope to follow this outline in looking at the movement:

1) Introduction (this post)
2) The catholic Church: Where are we now?
3) The Culture: Where are we now?
4) The Emergent Church: Introduction
5) (One Post for Each Major Strand of Emergent — Probably following Scot McKnight’s view)
6) The Emergent Church and Culture: What now?
7) The Emergent Church and catholic Church: What now?
8) Conclusion

I reserve the right to alter this outline at anytime (because it’s my writing… :-P). I will link each post as it is made and hopefully make it easier for those of you who follow along after I write the series. At present, I do not know the schedule for how I am going to write these posts. I will be following the outline from 1) to 8), but the gap between each maybe be entirely random.

I will state ahead of time that I will NOT be quoting much from primary sources. This is not to say that I haven’t read them or that I value what they have to say or add to the conversation, but I’m namely dealing with emerging as I see it.

If you have questions or comments on the overall program/series as a whole, please leave them here. Specific comments or questions about the Emergent Church or any other comments that I make, please leave those on each post.

So I’m Emerging? May 25, 2007

Posted by Matt in Church, emergent, Matt.
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I suppose that over the past year or so as I have become increasingly familiar with the emergent church and its varying ways and streams of thought that I have gradually been pulled in by the basics of post-modern Christianity. Now, I’ve been struggling over the past few days to try to place some definition around that admission.

I suppose there is something that I find wondrous and mysterious about not being able to completely define the movement that I call home or even describe the basics of that movement. Yet, there is also I think something to be unnerved about the fact that there really is not a firm understanding of the underlying theology of the movement. For instance, what does an emergent soteriology look like? Now, I think that every can agree that there is a fairly plain and common eschatology and missiology amoung those in the emergent movement, but what about beyond that.

I have spent the last few weeks trying to get a hold of as many different intro’s to post-modern Christianity that I can in order to try to make better sense of these issues. I hope that I’ll be able to return to many of them and blog my thoughts.

Anyway, this is all to say that over the next couple of weeks I want to spend time looking at my own views and the views of the movement as I see them on display both in text and in the blogosphere.

The Eucharist August 8, 2006

Posted by Matt in Church, Liturgy, Sacrament.
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It’s the first Sunday of the month (well, it was when I thought up this post)… Must mean that it is time to chat about Communion. Yes, I admit that I am a Methodist and that as a Methodist I believe that Communion is something that should only happen once a month… Oh, wait!!

Quoting John Wesley (and let’s face it, if you ever want to get through to the Methodists, you are going to have to quote Wesley):

it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can

What?!? Duty?!? “Often as he can”?!? But if you have Communion too often, it becomes less sacred…

A Third objection against constant communion is, that it abates our reverence for the sacrament. Suppose it did? What then? Will you thence conclude that you are not to receive it constantly? This does not follow. God commands you, “Do this.” You may do it now, but will not, and, to excuse yourself say, “If I do it so often, it will abate the reverence with which I do it now.” Suppose it did; has God ever told you, that when the obeying his command abates your reverence to it, then you may disobey it? If he has, you are guiltless; if not, what you say is just nothing to the purpose. The law is clear. Either show that the lawgiver makes this exception, or you are guilty before him.

Hello? Wesley is battling the same arguments in 1733. It’s now 2006. (That’s 273 years ago.) My campus minister passes me a copy of Circuit Rider, a magazine intended for the pastorate in the United Methodist Church. This month’s issue just so happens to deal almost solely with the sacrament of Communion. And wouldn’t you know it, I hear the same arguments being addressed. Though this time, it’s not John Wesley fighting back. It’s Will Willimon (PDF warning):

Celebrate more frequently! Holy Communion is the normal food of Christians.  Churches that celebrate this sacrament more frequently value it more highly.

Why are we still having to tell people this? Why doesn’t Protestantism take up its Reformation background and actually change things towards the way they are supposed to be? I’ve heard various ideas as to why: It’s too Catholic, Our pastorate isn’t educated enough, Our congregants aren’t educated enough, We don’t have enough time and on and on and on.

Am I the only person who thinks that this is simply abserd? Guess not.

As a side note, my own community here in Clemson, SC took these words to heart and has actually started a weekly Communion and Healing service (theological considerations aside, when is the Youth going to have their turn?). They also had a true Service of Word and Table this past Sunday. It excites me. Things are actually changing, even in my aged community.

More thoughts later…

Grace and Peace,
Matt Lemieux

Politics July 22, 2006

Posted by Matt in Church, Mission.

Ah, the joyous subject of American politics… You may insert any cynical cliche introduction to the topic as you may see fit.

Personally, I have to wonder how either side lives with themselves. Both make the same mistake: Confusing the Government’s work with The Body’s work. For the “Right”, it’s social issues. The Government’s job is to enforce the moral status-quo (that of, so-called, Juedo-Christian values). For the “Left”, it’s economic issues. The Government’s job is to enforce arbitrary standards of healthy living.

Of course, regardless of what you think the roll of the Government is, it is most certainly not a replacement for the work that we as Christians are called to do. Yes, we as Christians are called to be a people set a part (namely, by our adherence to the moral guidance of the Spirit), yet we are also called to be agents for bringing about the Kingdom of God in the places where we are. However, I think that the Scriptures are rather clear that WE (that is, the Church) are the people called to that task, not the powers and municipalities.

Then Chaplin at Duke Divinity (now Bishop of Northern Alabama) Will Willimon writes in his book Resident Aliens:

“Sometime ago, when the U.S. bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing…At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, ‘Well, preacher, what do you think?’ I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing of civilians, as an ethical act.

‘That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. ‘That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in the airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.’

The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.

‘You know, you have a point,’ I said. ‘ What would be a Christian response to this?’ Then I answered, off the top of my head, ‘A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning the United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered it is a fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.’

‘You can’t do that,’ said my adversary.

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘You tell me why.’

‘Because it’s illegal to travel in Libya. President Reagan will not give you a visa to go there.’

‘No! That’s not right!’ I said. ‘I’ll admit we can’t go to Libya, but not because of President Reagan. We can’t go there because we no longer have a church that produces people that can do something this bold. But we once did.

That’s right… We once did. Ask a Church Historian some time. They are the forgotten few in modern scholarship, namely because their project has been appropriated by others for other motives. They’ll love to hear from you.

Notice well that the Christian response (as Willimon suggests) is not a “Liberal” one or a “Conservative” one. It’s a missional one. Christians would do well to remember that Jesus was a radical precisely because he wasn’t a Liberal or a Conservative (if such terms can even be applied). Jesus was radical because he told everyone that they were wrong and they needed to get back to doing God’s work and not their own foolish pursuits.

Reminding You to Go,

The Joy of Rediscovery July 22, 2006

Posted by Matt in Church, Gospel, Matt, Mission.
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The following blog entry was written primarily as a free write exercise in order to better understand the place that I am currently in. The flow will reflect my own thought process. As such, it may not be the most coherent piece of writing on the face of the planet. However, I think that it accurately represents the place that I currently stand, even if I am the only person who can understand it… — Matt

As much as I hate to admit it, it is time to start writing about myself. This may strike some people as odd, but recently my identity has shifted from the traditional individualistic Western view to a more collective and Eastern view. This is the result of a paradigm shift in the way that I approach Scripture and Revelation, which, in turn, impacted my Christian identity. My identity as a Christian moved from being a quality of who I am to become the “whole” of which I am only a small and barely significant (if I may be so bold) portion of.

This shift was facilitated by a severe case of Clinical Depression which onset in the midst of my Freshman year at Clemson University. In the muddle of my depression, it became necessary that I maintain a firm grip of my own identity, both in a holistic sense and in a spiritual sense. Without the conscience effort to keep my own identity intact, I would have killed myself. Without a firm understanding of the place that God had for me in his world (not in a specific sense, but a general one — one in terms of life and existence), I would have lost the last barrier between myself and myself, between the man that I would called to be and the man I saw myself as. I look back with a sense of irony that this was also my period of greatest doubt, both of Christianity and the existence of God.

Thus, I started an intellectual pursuit of Truth. (This should surprise precisely zero of the people with which I have had ANY significant contact.) I began to seek out those answers that Christians offered to tough questions. Questions brought to the forefront by honestly seeking doubters. As much as I wanted Christian answers to be resoundingly and obviously true, this was simply not the case. The answers they gave began to ring with a hollow sense of artificiality. It was as though even the people giving them knew that they were lacking. Even the most astute (at least, seeming so) attempts to prove the existence of God, to disprove another Bible “contradiction”, or push the latest and greatest in 16th Century Christian thought, began to show sign of being forced, as if something about them were artificial.

It was this artificiality that caused me to approach some the primary scholarly material of the past half-century. Slow, but surely, I was introduced to an entirely new view of Scriptural Study, an attempt to return the texts to their proper and full context in the ANE, specifically in the idea-world of Second Temple Judaism (and, yes, it is okay to be completely confused by that last bit). From this study, I began to see a clearer picture of where we as Christians were called to be.

At the same time as this shift in focus, I was also confronted on several sides by this seemingly popular notion of a “Radical” Jesus. From youth retreats to billboards, from Spiritual self-help book to NOOMA videos, this notion came through loud and clear. However, nothing the people presented seemed all that radical to me. It was the same old picture of Jesus as that great moral teacher who died to save me from my own sin. Not to say that this wouldn’t be a singularly unique person, but it simply didn’t strike me as radical. This is, perhaps, to blame on my own Evangelical upbringing and this fact that this notion had been drilled into my head from such an early age. Whatever the reason for that reaction, it is the one that I felt at the time.

Then, these two decidedly different streams of thought came crashing together. This “modern” view of Scripture present a “Radical” Christ. Radical not only to his own day, but to ours as well. It is incredibly important to unpack everything that this revelation entails. So important, in fact, that I won’t even begin to venture an attempt to do so here. There are several works on the subject avaliable and I hope one day to possess the ability to pen my own thoughts in an attempt to encapsulate a small portion of that significance.

While I don’t even have the words to begin to explain it, this revelation caused a complete shift in my own understanding of myself. A shift from an individual to a member of a collective, a shift from needing to figure out my place in the world to the joy of finding out what God had in store for me, a shift from understanding Jesus’s sacrifice for me to understanding Jesus’s sacrifice for the whole of creation, A shift from an urge to understand myself to loving everyone in every way that I was capable.

This is the joy of rediscovery. The joy of finding the truth that has always been there. Like solving a puzzle or having a singularly marvelous insight, it’s uncovering the truth that laid just under the surface, eager to break out of its binding in ancient text or bad assumption. My joy of rediscovery was finding the message that drives to the very core of the created order, Gospel.

However, that joy brought hardship. It brought the understanding that I was not where I needed to be. Further, that the Church (as a collective whole) was not where it needed to be. We (I and the Church, if I can even begin to speak as though those two were separate) had a mission. Something that we had been neglecting to accomplish. English scholar and churchman N.T. Wright call it “putting the world to rights”. Jesus charged us to proclaim the message to all nations, but, even beyond that, he charged us with the very act of bringing about God’s Kingdom in this world in the fullest possible expression. If that sounds like an easy task, then you probably need to spend some time thinking about what a Kingdom of God would be.

However, there is hope to be found. Christians have been doing this work all along, even if they never completely appreciated the significance of that work. Even I had been developing an “attitude for service” for a long time before I ever realized that this is what I was compelled to do by virtue of my loyalty to the Christ and his work in this world. I had never understood it on those terms before, but somehow (read: the Spirit) I was already on the path that I needed to be on.

However, this began to beg a larger question. What is my unique Kingdom-Work? What is it that I am supposed to bring to the Table of the Church? I must admit that I am currently deep in the heart of this struggle. I know pieces of the picture: Seminary, Ordination, Clemson. Yet, this doesn’t provide even a glimpse of the life that God has in store for me. Through Clemson, I was able to tap into a unique community of believers known as Clemson Wesley. That unique community has yielded unique Christians who have challenged and continue to challenge any view of my future. I am continually haunted by Jesus’s call to Kingdom-Work.

I continue to see many avenues in which that work is being carried out and will be carried out. Visions are coming out of this community that simply can have no other source than the very Spirit of the Living God. I am excited. I know that God placed me in this place and with these people for a reason. I still have no idea of my place in this Kingdom-Work, but I am ever excited to see where God wants me to be. I am also excited to see where God wants me to be. I am also excited by the fact that others are excited by the very same thing in their lives. They may be further along in that journey than I am. They may be slightly behind, but you can still sense that joy. That joy of rediscovery. That joy of finding the place that God has for you in this world.

Praise be to the Lord for the place that he has brought me and for the places that he will take me. Amen.