In the church but not of it…

I’ve been thinking further on the theme of the connection between old and new forms of Church. There’s a lot of talk about the kind of innovative ‘party church’ or house-group churches run by people like TallSkinnyKiwi, Alan Creech and many others; there’s lots of good stuff going on there. And there is another whole raft of people – me included – who have experimented with ‘new forms’ and ended up doing the ’emerging’ thing within the context of the traditional, or institutional Church.

But in both old forms and new there is suspicion and resistance about the form of Church that ‘we are not’. Traditional churches have always had their die-hards who wouldn’t countenance anything new. But there is also a tangible (and understandable) antipathy towards the traditional church among some proponents of Emerging/Emergent – often because it was bad experiences of church that pushed them not only into Emerging church, but into an independent setting as well.

For me, ‘Emerging’ within the context of a trad setting has at least 2 purposes –
a) I believe the whole Church needs to ’emerge’ into the present and the future,and b) I believe that both old and new forms of Church have treasures that they should share with each other. The experimental daring of new forms is a breath of fresh air to the tradition (in fact, the tradition is basically made up of a collection of daring experiments that have stood the test of time, so to reject things because they are new is a ridiculous bit of double-thinking). But the history, theology and stability of the tradition is a much stronger umbilical cord than Emerging groups would sometimes like to admit (especially if it’s just those traditions that have recently burned them).

There are good and bad renditions of both old and new forms. I long to see the visionaries, the pastors, the theologians, the teachers and the artists in both old and new connect up and share their treasures. We’ll all be richer if we do. But in both old and new forms of Church we need to resist the temptation to tribalism (the belief that only we have the right way of doing it) which is death to any church community. Maybe, to subvert St Paul’s phrase, we need to be “In the church, but not of it…”
Maggi is Chaplain at Robinson College, the University of Cambridge. She teaches and supervises on Modern Theology, and runs a fortnightly seminar in the Divinity Faculty on Worship, Theology and Music.