Emerging chuch for an emerging culture
Given the assumption that we accept the validity of liquid modernity or postmodernity, then we need to face quite a challenge. Whatdoes it mean to be ‘church’ in such a brave new world defined by consumptionand individualism? How do we build connections between Christians in someform of relationship and what does church look, taste and smell like in a newcontext?
To start with, I want to express my enthusiasm about change. Wehuman beings do not generally like change. However, I sense greatopportunities for us to be creative and inventive, to try and correct some of theinstitutional control and abuse of things that have been done in the name of’church’. We live in exciting times, and we can play an active part in shapingways of being church in our present.
Firstly, we need to unpack key themes of ‘being church’. I am going to use termsand concepts used by Alistair McGrath in his book ‘Introduction to theology’concerning the doctrine of the church. Once we have got these ideas straight,we can unpack ways of being church that are authentically Christian andreflective our current culture.
A key starting place is the Nicene Creed – Church as a ‘holy, catholic andapostolic’ body. Such phrases such as a priesthood of all believers, andKoinoina – the worldwide fellowship of Christians is key, (see essay on this later).Holy, as we are accepted and loved by God and called by Jesus into discipleshipthat enables us to belong, and through Christ be priests as well as brother andsisters. This does leave us with the paradox about us, our relationships andwhat we do as Christians as holy, even though we are still broken andincomplete, on our journeys of human becoming. So we immediately see thatwe live in what has been called ‘now but not yet’ times of the kingdom of God.Hence the crap that has been done in the name of church. From this we get theidea that the church is imperfect in its ‘now but not yetness’. Augustine hashelped us with the idea of visible and invisible church. The invisible – is thefulfilled, the healed, the truly Christian, where visible includes our brokenness.So Church as we all know is an imperfect expression of humanity but Godapparently still loves it.
Continuing with us unpacking concepts of authentic Church, are the ideas ofChrist’s presence in the Church. That Christ is present through the sacramentssuch as communion/Eucharist – as activities that bring Christ into our present -as acts of grace. Secondly is Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit -openness to prayer, healing and the rest as worship and prayer. Thirdly is theidea of Christ’s presence through the proclamation of the gospel – the saying andhearing of the stories of God and in particular the stories of the face of God,Jesus the incarnation.
From my own perspective, we get the idea of the centrality of relationships -relationships to each other and relationship with the trinity, which is itself, anexpression of perfect relationship. Scripturally we see that the people of God getthe identity not as individuals but by a sense of dependence to God’s otherness,and that God chooses to use us in our collectiveness rather than in ourindividualness. Both these concepts, in our individualistic and therapeutic world,are distinctly counter cultural today. Further, we are called to follow Christ as thedisciples followed Christ – to do worship mission and community through therelational.
Now we know that since its inception the church has stuffed up, it has often beenschismed through conflict and heresy through its network nature, and thenoppressed by over authoritive male dominated structures that then stifle thepeople from God to follow their incarnational calling. The Church has often beentoo ‘them and us’, removed and arrogant. We should be haunted by Jesus’interactions with the Pharisees as they too made the same mistake.The arrogance and aggression that we see and hear from the modern church asstructures and organisation reduces – continues to bring schism and removalfrom involvement in the grass roots. We know, that most of the western post-industrialised nations churches are predominately over 60s. That most are postor un Christian, and being Christian is not really cool to say the least.
So where do we start? Well for me the starting place is being in the real world.From there is the sense of relationships. So lets look at what worship, missionand community could look like, relating this to my hopes and dreams.
Firstly in the last 15 years we have seen the rise of alternative and creativeworship. This worship is profoundly sensitive to our current cultural context -which subverts activities, images, film and music to draw out a spiritual meaningwhich is profoundly helpful as a tool, (see www.alternative worship.org). Thepower of this for me was modelled in the labyrinth which as a worship experience- is now travelling all over the world and is profoundly hope giving the way it hastranscended cultural/spiritual divides. This type of worship enables encounterwith God the transcendent yet imminent – in new ways. Moot services are anattempt to do this also. It is relational, it attempts to use creativity to promoteimagination and encounter, and uses the metaphorical including naming God toenable people experience something of the reality of God in our world. Suchworship experimentation is key to our future. It must model a way of worshipingthat is not in/out but welcoming and engaging and not boring.
When looking at community, there is a need to build and embed relationships,but not in control structures or cults – but an empowering/envisioning of growingtogether – of being there when it matters, of love and mutual acceptance – tolaugh and cry. Not very British I know, but as things become increasingly fluidsuch places of belonging are becoming increasingly oasis in a busy desert of thelonely and isolated.
Mission is the greatest challenge. For me there are key points. Makingconnections of encounter through the arts, the use of discussion forums,relational growth not for numbers but for a vision of being. It will need to be ableto cope with us in our fragmented states, to grow. It will need to feeluncomfortable and at times hard work. We need to be creative in how we bechurch. For example I have always wanted to do cafe church – to build aconsumption purpose to serve a locality – to build relationships that are real, andthen the arts and being church on top of that. Can you imagine what that wouldlook like? Interestingly this model is being done in other places (see cafechurches in the links page of the moot site). Even Building societies such asAbbey National and Costa Coffee have caught this vision, to draw people. It isno co-incidence that we see Jesus munching his way with others in the NewTestament all the time, and that communion is the focus of being church. Sowhy not commercialise that function at the centre? How exciting would thatbe….. I dream and wish I had lots of money to take such a risk.
Some rightly have said that we need to be counter cultural to such an apoliticaland selfish culture. I would agree with the thought, but not its application that wecontinue to do out of date church. We can interpret the many denominations asattempts to reconnect with culture as it moved on – so that church did not loosetouch. I would propose that we are to be counter cultural by our understandings,dreams and hopes. Our identity in God is profoundly counter cultural, whichthrough relationships built the church in the first place. It is time to return to thisoriginal model in our own times. We need to experiment with being church.That everything we do, everything that we are is being church – whether it’s anart gallery, a meditation, drink with friends…… we can’t stop being incarnational.So now we need to wipe the white board clean and explore ways of being churchthat enables our friends and those we have connection to, find and be with Godthrough us in a new way of being church sensitive to our times. It could bebrilliant if we take some risks!!!
Ian Mobsby is a member of Moot, an expanding emerging church project with plans next year to have a curate in the London Diocese responsible for developing it as emerging church attached to St. Matthews Westminster.