Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Understanding Church in Emergent/Emerging Conversation

I find it fascinating reading various articles or comments on the links on emergent and emerging churches on my previous two postings. The links were from some people who were for and some who were against the emergent and emerging churches. What I am impressed is the amount of emotions stirred up over this ‘conversation’.

While reading the materials, it occurs to me that basic to the whole discussion is our understanding of the Church. I believer there are two possible ways to understand the Church. (i) The Church is God’s instrument in His redemption plan to bring about the new heavens and earth in Revelation; and (ii) the Church is God’s ultimate purpose in his whole action of creation.

(i) The Church is God’s instrument in His redemption plan to bring about the new heavens and earth in Revelation

There are several points we need to take note in this understanding:
· The Church is an instrument of God. Creation was distorted by the fall. The Church is here to fix things and put things right.
· Creation is the primary purpose of God.
· The Church is a part of creation. Culture is part of creation. Here one of the Church’s roles is to correct culture- hence Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (Christ against culture, Christ of culture or Christ for culture). In other words, Christ against, of or for modernism and postmodernism.
· The narrative in the Old and New Testament is linear and progressive. It tells one story only, that of the redemption of creation. Here, prepositions are important because it gives understanding in the Church as an instrument in fixing the universe.
· Here the Church is seen as an instrument; i.e. the nature of the Church is in what she can or will do. It is the doing part that is important.

(ii) The Church is God’s ultimate purpose in His whole action of creation.

Here we have a totally different view of the Church:
· The Church is God’s chosen people (A Trinitarian community)
· The Church exist in principle but nor in actuality before creation.
· The whole purpose of creation is to provide the matrix in which God’s people are formed, informed and transformed. The development of a triune relationship.
· The Church though in creation is above creation. Hence the Church should not be subject to culture but be above culture (modernism, postmodernism). In fact the Church should have its own culture which will be considered countercultural in this world.
· The narrative in the Old and New Testament should be seem as how God deal with individuals, tribes, nations and countries so that a special ‘chosen people’ arises. God encounters are always experiential rather than prepositions.
· The nature of the Church will be in what it is, rather that what it does. The key is in what the Church is.

I wonder what the evangelical understanding of the Church is. And what about the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox understanding of what or who is the Church? How will that help us in the understanding of the emergent and emerging churches conversation.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous alwyn said...

For the "evangelical understanding of the church", S.Grenz has a good chapter in his Renewing the Center called Renewing Ecclesiology or something (interestingly enuff also the very chapt i paid least attention to, yikes!). Check it out, :)

1:18 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Grenz made an interesting comment in the chapter you referred to that the evangelical movement is more closer to a parachurch movement that being a church.

Actually, even among evangelicals themselves, they could not agree on what Church really is. IMHO David Wells, Alasdair MacIntyre abd Donald Bloesch made some interesting attempts.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

After an intensive trying to resolve conflict meeting at another church, your statement rings so true quoting Grenz ... "the evangelical movement is more closer to a parachurch movement that being a church. " IMHO, and intuitive guess a lot of our problems springs from such an inadequate paradigm-theology-view of church. This of course, is spiced up with personal, psychological and emotional entanglement.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

oh yes .. you might be interested to follow the discussion here
http://faithmaps.blogspot.com/2006/12/why-dont-more-in-emerging-church.html

Stephen Shields has always been a great conversation partner for me.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Thanks for the link to faithmaps.org. I have come across it but did not have the time to explore it further. Will do do now.

You're right. Many of our church conflicts stamp from personality and an inadequate ecclesiology.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous blogpastor said...

You have summarized two seemingly divergent strands: the "doing" and the "being" of the church. But perhaps they are not divergent but paradoxically unified. The first understanding seems best epitomized by the purpose driven or cell church models etc, whilst the second has been with us for centuries. the more orthodox liturgical mainline churches. The interesting thing is whether the two can wed.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi blogpastor,

Unfortunately, both strands of understanding of the Church are mutually exclusive. It will be ideal if they can be convergent. Unfortunately they cannot.

Hence, we need to examine our own understanding of Church. How we perceive and practice church stems from our understandig of Church

2:11 AM  
Blogger Eugene said...

Hi Dr. Alex,

I seem a little dense(!) at this late an hour but I would certainly appreciate if you could oblige by kindly elaborating a little bit more about the two being mutually exclusive and not being paradoxically convergent.

Is not what the church is also epitomized by what it does? And does not what the church do characterizes what it is?

2:59 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi eugene,

I am sorry if I was not too clear about what I meant by being mutually exclusive. Being an instrument (of God) as in the first argument for the nature of God is definitely different from being the purpose/object of God (second argument). The instrument cannot at the same time be the object/purpose it is used for. That is what I meant by mutually exclusive.

To elaborate, if the Church is God's instrument for the redemption of creation, then the church's job should be fully committed to social justice, social concerns and transforamtion of culture and society.

If however, God's purpose in creating creation is so that He can have a collection of people that He can call His own (the Church), then the church's job is to evangelise (call in the elect), character building, worship and becoming whom God wants them to be. This will also includes care of creation, loving strangers and taking care of the poor.

"Is not what the church is also epitomized by what it does? And does not what the church do characterizes what it is?"

What the church does and what it is may not necessarily coincide. There are many examples in history that what the churches did do not represent what a church is

3:27 PM  

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