As a French Christian I found myself at ease within this Anglophone website and fully identify with the spirit that drives this growing network. I share the same desire to be able to live my faith with conviction and authenticity keeping in step with today’s culture; the same desire to be the church in the most fluid forms(1), that allows the Body of Christ to manifest itself in its diversity, by leaving behind old divisions and by connecting itself through networks.
This vision of an emerging church joins in the radical changes occurring in our time. As Pierre Diehard de Chardin (2) predicted semi-prophetically in the 1950s, the Holy Spirit is giving birth to a new work. A new world is in the process of being born. In the West the religious institutions are struggling to follow the rhythm of change and often miss the point of the new aspirations of the society around them. Their influence is diminishing. In spite of them and right before their eyes renewal and innovation take place. In new configurations, free from the weight of the past, Christians are forming partnerships to create new horizons.
France joins in this panorama. The sociologist, Daniële Hervieu Lèger, clearly shows how the parish ideal, which in the past shined in a rural society, is taking its last breath today. Since the 1970s, the younger generations are, for the most part, far from the church. But as Daniële Hervieu Lèger (3) also shows, we are witnessing an increase of spiritual aspirations. “The fact is that large churches are not in a position to meet the demand…” People who are searching need to exchange ideas with each other. “Actually the means for people with the same aspirations to meet each other through informal networks are massively expanding and them to share and mutually validate their beliefs.”
In fact, since the 1970s, a number of groups in France have appeared within the Church: reflection groups, prayer groups, and very diverse communities. All the more, in the course of the last half century, France transitioned from being primarily Catholic to a plural Christianity. “Tèmoins”, an inter-denominational Christian association in which I participate, found its place within these changes. Tèmoins represents the fusion of two grass roots movements created in 70’s. One was a group of post-1968 lycèe students (15-18 years old) and a prayer group. Tèmoins then fought to develop a way of speaking about Christianity that was based on the testimony of those who lived out their faith as an engagement with the contemporary society. Later the range of activities extended to promoting research and awareness of the need for to be more relevant in relation to today’s society. (www.temoins.com)
From this point of view, we are able to analyze the French situation. From an international perspective, we are able to compare it with that of our neighboring country, Great Britain. In France, there are elements that can join in the emerging church movement; but today, they are still dispersed and often suffer from an internalized dependence with regard to traditional institutions. Otherwise, the conjunction of research and innovation that one can observe in Great Britain is still in its beginning stages in France. To this end, the partnership between Gospel and Culture (Study group of the Evangelical Alliance, www.evangile-et-culture.org) and Tèmoins is a ray of hope. The two groups worked together last October to host a day of study on the emerging church with Stuart Murray-Williams. Michael Moynagh’s book, “Changing World, Changing Church” was just translated into French. (4)
Thus, we can determine several paths of action. How to permit the emerging church to be aware of herself in France and therefore be able to grow in relation to the international emerging church community? Certainly to facilitate this gathering, an effort to communicate is necessary. A Catholic Christian, Jean Delumeau, who is a great historian of religion in France, just published a book (5), in which he supports the development of an interdenominational Christian movement: “To decentralize, to succeed and surpass the movement by multiplying the initiatives at the grass-roots, because it’s from these movements that, first and foremost, salvation will come.” Tèmoins is well placed to testify in favor of this interdenominational dimension as a guarantee of liberty and a condition of a new creativity. This labor of relation and of communication also requires an international spirit. My personal experience has been in the professional domain, which showed me in times gone by how communication and research could contribute in France to the spreading of innovation from other countries. Of course, in this age, as it is expressed by Matthew Glock’s article “Adventures in Cross Cultural Emergence,” this communication cannot and must not be practiced in only one direction.
Today in France, it is necessary to encourage new initiatives, the new growth, and to allow the French to have access to international resources. But at the same time, we must equally recognize the contribution of the French Church within the context of a culture among the most productive of the Western world.
To develop these exchanges, let’s create concrete initiatives: meetings, study trips, common teachings, ad hoc websites and why not an international publication. In short, to facilitate the development of the emerging church is to forge new connections and new points of orientation. At the time when professional, cultural and university exchanges multiply in Europe and in the world, the way ahead for Christians is traced.
Beyond a doubt these investments are of the highest priority. As in the Book of Acts where calls resound for new openings, today, the Church, which is at its base a network of relationships, is called to show itself interdependent and enterprising.
Jean Hassenforder is a member of Tèmoins Research Group
1. The reading of Pete Ward’s book “Liquid Church” was very enlightening for us. (Paternoster 2002)
2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, auteur du “PhÈnomËne Humain” (Seuil, 1955)
3. Hervieu Leger (Daniele) Le PÈlerin et le Converti. Flammarion, 1999
4. Moynagh (Michael) L’Eglise Autrement. Les voies de changement; Empreinte, 2003
5. Delumeau (Jean) Guetter l’aurore. Un christianisme pour demain Grasset, 2003
Translation by Andrew Bowers