an emerging history part II

There are lots of different sources and versions of when what has been called the emerging church began. And these different versions depend a bit on the different ways that the emerging church can be defined. Trying to define the emerging church is itself its own set of posts, so I’m not going to get into that now. As I’ve studied and participated, however, I’ve come to some of my own ideas on how it’s defined and how we can understand its beginnings.

The trouble with the emerging church as opposed to say the Pentecostal movement or Methodism or the Anglicans is that there’s not a definitive founder, nor is there a definitive principle that sets it uniquely apart from other movements in the present or in history. Which means that to speak of the emerging church in our present day is to see a contemporary, semi-cohesive, amalgamation of communities with shared emphases and values. This contemporary expression takes the form it does because of two aspects of contemporary culture, both dependent on mass communication. The first is that these contemporary expressions allow for substantial interaction between what would otherwise be quite separated contexts. A small community in east London can learn about what a small community in Sydney Australia is doing, and share thoughts with participants from Minneapolis or Denver. What may have been isolated pockets of local reforms have been given strong validation by interacting with similar minded men and women throughout the world. “There are other people thinking like us” is a very enabling and encouraging sentiment.

Next, mass communication as it presently works does not depend on power brokers or communication managers in order to train, share, teach, order, and convey values/mission to various congregations. Indeed, we can say that now bureaucracy slows down communication by forcing the almost instant sharing of information to be taken out of ready channels and be put into artificial models of control and conversation. Now, communication certainly isn’t the only reason for a hierarchy to exist, but it has been, historically, a major factor in why otherwise fluid movements begin to harden into some kind of institutional form.

In other words, if there’s no need for a central system to share information and convey direction, then everyone can share with everyone in the exact ways that best fuels mission in their particular context. We can, then, find mentors and guidance and hear key questions and learn key answers within moments of a simple search. The power of the priests to read the texts and communicate the important bit to the masses has been almost entirely overthrown.

So, that’s the difference in our era. This is an important point because instead of saying that the emerging church is doing something particularly new, I’m saying that the emerging church is a contemporary expression of a long standing drive within the church–but has its particular character defined by the ease of communication and the issues (and problems) of our present society.

What’s this have to do with me?

A whole lot. Because my family history is filled with religious zealots who broke away from established movements and sought to find the ways in which there was an active passion for the full work of God.

I come from a line of zealous religious discontents.

The church has always had them. And it’s important to see the emerging church in the line of the small communities throughout history who pushed the religious establishment to be reminded of its own values, of missed parts of Scripture, and of the emphases that might better help the church reflect the fullness of Christ to this world. Now that’s a big thing to say, I know, but this isn’t to say that any of these communities were without their problems. It’s to say that the goal, at the heart of it all, is the Kingdom of God. For Christ and his Kingdom means something to these people, and it may mean pushing against the establishment and it may mean including the excluded, and it may mean emphasizing the forgotten in order to bring renewal to the broader world.

There I go, sounding like a cheerleader again.

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