emerging church, liturgy, nascent church, theology Add comments

A little while ago I was talking to a friend about churchy things. He told me he was trying to come up with a new term that was similar to but not the same as “Emerging”. I agreed this was a worthwhile venture because in my soon to be published book I was asked to take out any reference to the word “Emerging”, as it had too much baggage. This is an editing decision I agreed with because while I want to explore something I don’t want my explorations to carry the baggage of other explorations and then be forced to answer for the problems others have created.

We talked for a while. He worked on it for while, and most certainly had conversations with others. Then he said he was trying out the word “nascent”. It didn’t resonate with me right at first but the more I think about it the more I like it.

Websters defines the word like this:

nascens, prp. of nasci, to be born:

1 coming into being; being born
2 beginning to form, start, grow, or develop: said of ideas, cultures, etc.
3 Chem. designating or of the state of an element just released from a compound and having unusual chemical activity because atoms of the element have not combined to form molecules [“nascent chlorine”]

Basically, the term is something a few of us have begun to use, not sure if it’ll catch on or if it’s just our own wording. It comes from a few realizations. One, is that there’s something going on in the Church in our era. From all sorts of directions there are new frustrations, new hopes, new approaches, new emphases.

A major expression of this in the last decade has been called the Emerging Church. This in fact has a lot of interesting contributions and a lot of wonderful insights. Yet, because it was developed publicly and began more out of dissatisfaction than a ready made positive contribution a lot of baggage has developed around that term, which makes the term almost too loaded for a less intentional purpose. By saying I am “emerging” I would be seeming to attach to the positives and negatives of this movement, and would then be pressed to respond to the particular criticisms leveled against it. Much of those criticisms are useful, but a lot of them are distractions, especially as they don’t relate to my own developing views.

In addition, while the Emerging church is a potent and popular expression it is, I think, not the only conversation going on in this era. There are those who may share similar themes but have different approaches, different visions, and different backgrounds. They too are interested in bringing a renewed liveliness to the Church but are not really within the Emerging Church model. Nascent, then, is a word that is open rather than limited. It expresses a hope in a destination while realizing there is presently a movement that has begun without yet arriving. It is a word that suggests there’s more than just a liturgical change but also a theological change, one that does not dismiss orthodox beliefs as much as re-examines and re-explores the earliest questions so as to bring answers to contemporary questions. The Church, as it is, has developed liturgies, questions, emphases, and answers which reflect a Church dominated culture and a modernity oriented philosophy. While these are not false, they are no longer expressing an engagement with who we are now. It is not enough to have to first convert someone to a prior era then allow them to be a Christian. We want to explore what Christianity means now, in our present concerns, issues, values, and discoveries. And this isn’t limited to a specific group, or a separatist movement, or any particular conversation.

Yet there are shared themes, and these shared themes, I believe, can be expressed and worked out in a variety of different ways, all under the guidance and focus of the Holy Spirit who raises these themes. These broader themes, all but one which come from a book on Emerging Churches. They are not limited to Emerging churches, but instead express where Emerging Churches are tapping into a common yearning. Ten things: 1) an emphasis on the whole life and ministry of Jesus; 2) a lowering of the boundaries between what is sacred and secular, with the church being a going out into the culture rather than insisting the culture retreats within the church walls to find God; 3) a strong emphasis on community; 4) a renewed emphasis on personal and corporate holiness that isn’t limited to merely the outward do’s and don’ts of prior eras; 5) an embrace of those who are outsiders and different; 6) an emphasis on giving — not tithing merely to support a ministry or building, but giving to those in need and to bring an openness to all our resources; 7) a broad participation by all those within the community, emphasizing each persons ability to contribute in an important way; 8 ) a high emphasis on creativity as an expression of our Spirit empowered faith; 9) a breaking down of the older patterns of hierarchy and power, with a new appreciation for more fluid, flexible and broad leadership; 10) Worship which has a contemporary flavor while being aware of the historic contributions of worship through the ages, so as to bring wisdom and passion into our focused gatherings.

Other concepts come to mind as well. The nascent church is a missional church, one which takes less cues from the establishments of Christendom and more from missions work in other non-Christian cultures. As such it tends to reflect a pre-Constantinian order, finding much resonance in Early Church discussions. By being missional this isn’t just about being evangelistic. It is deeper and broader than that, seeing the Gospel as more than a few phrases to be repeated. It involves a broad range of involvement as Christians within a culture that in many cases has little or no Christian experience. In the past evangelism was about bringing people back into the fold or encouraging them to take more seriously that which they were neglecting. It also assumed a person had a respect for, if not passion for, religion. Now, however, we deal with people who are in many cases inoculated against the message of the church, having just enough exposure to make an intelligent and considered rejection of Christianity or people who have absolutely no connection at all with the conversations we take for granted.

This new cultural reality implies a distinct change from 1500 years of Church existence and roles. We cannot just continue on like nothing has changed and expect what was assumed in the past to be a present reality.

Also as well, there is a distinct breaking down of denominational barriers. In modernity and throughout the prior eras a community was defined in its distinctions and differences, asserting its separation from other Christian communities within the broader culture of Christendom. Now, however, as in the earliest communities, the assertion of a vibrant Christian faith is itself a shared bond that separates it from other cultural assumptions. We can and do differ in the accidentals of the faith, holding onto the unifying themes of Christ and Spirit to bring a shared mission to the Church in this world. Instead of these different opinions being reasons for a broken communion, these differences are held within the common bond of a unity that can withstand the pressure of diversity because of the deeper and broader hope of God’s complexity in his work. A Catholic can be nascent. A Baptist can be nascent. A Presbyterian and a Methodist and a Pentecostal can be nascent. So too can an Emergent. The denominational or community titles are less important than the underlying values and themes.

These are things which can be expressed in a variety of both new and established communities and traditions, while sometimes not being found in those communities which may take on the name of cutting edge movements but in reality reflect a lot of old emphases under the cover of stylish liturgy.

It is these emphases, not the particular liturgy or denomination or movement, which I think will be increasingly influential across the board of Christianity, with the Church of 50 years from now very much different than the Church of 50 years ago, or even the church of today. This process of discovery and renewal needs a non-baggage laden term, that is broad while retaining a similar feeling of hope and exploration. The goal is not merely to question, but to find answers and to find a place of arrival.

So we went with nascent. It’s not a settled word nor does it have yet a settled meaning as it is applied to church. I am just sketching out my thoughts on it. You’re welcome to join in on this fun.

3 Responses to “nascent”

  1. sonja Says:

    Hi Patrick … I have to run out the door, so I’ve only skimmed this thus far. But I’m already breathing a huge sigh of relief. I love the word and having different term than emerging. I’ve been struggling with what to call myself, because I too have baggage with the institutional church, but don’t want to closely associate myself with Emergent Village or the Emerging conversation or all of that because I’m not yet really certain of what I am. I simply know what I am not (which isn’t a happy place to be, but it’s something). What I do know is that I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with how organized emerging things are becoming. The central mass is getting more and more like a denomination, all while saying they are not. Anyway, have to take kiddos to their activities … but I like this nascent conversation 😉

  2. Patrick Says:

    Welcome to the conversation! We’ve got both coasts covered, now to convince the rest. Then we’ll have a convention, and meetings, and a Statement of Beliefs, and a daily calendar, and an approved tartan.

    I’m the exact same as you, by the by. Indeed, while I talk alot about Emerging things I’ve actually kept out of the movement for the most part, having seen a lot of the burgeoning emerging communities along the way. I’m excited about the possibilities but uncomfortable about some of what I’ve seen worked out.

  3. worshipartist dot net » Let’s Go to the Emerging Church This Sunday Says:

    […] As mentioned earlier in this post, I recommend the term “nascent” which has a fitting definition, but can also embrace the … […]