In my fascination, interaction, and conversation with the Emerging Church Network, I came accross a great little article at opensourcetheology entitled Obstacles to an effective emerging church? The author brings up some very thoughtful and challenging issues that any group of Christians seeking to live in community among the emerging culture will have to face.
Though there is much to ponder and discuss, I was particularly struck by the following:
2) How will you reconcile the many hot potatoes between current evangelical, bible-believing christians and the more liberal, post-modern christian sections of the church? Issues such as homosexuality, women in leadership, worship styles, abortion, relationship between church and state, doctrinal differences and so on.
Some of the topics in the list will take care of themselves to a certain degree since I think that younger evangelicals are less likely to get fired up about the church and state question. They seem to know that America is not primarily Christian and needs to recognize the presence of other belief systems while not denying our Christian heritage (which is dubious at times upon close scrutiny!).
I don’t see a whole lot of movement in our basic beliefs concerning homosexuality and abortion in emerging churches. While still discouraging homsexual relations and abortion, our approach will hopefully become more gracious and loving, entrusting the process to God. I fervently pray that we can show the love of Christ in tangible and authentic (which basically means “messy” and “costly”) ways to homosexuals and women considering an abortion.
The women in leadership issue is a sticky wickett for me. A recent theology conference at Wheaton College basically confirmed that there is a huge stalemate in this area. Josh and I have had some good talks about the issue and I respect his views. While I do believe that there should not be any restrictions on female leaders within the church, I think that Josh has helpfully pointed out that leadership in the emerging church or simple church that we plan to participate in (whatever that may look like) will be more of a network or community affair. So having one woman in leadership will not be an issue if the leadership responsibilities are distributed more evenly. I definitely feel for the pastors who have the pressure of leading and usually catering to their congregations. It’s not for me and certainly not for many other younger evangelical women and men graduating from seminary. I hope this issue will become less crucial as church leadership models become more networked, fluid, and decentralized. For the record, the best Sunday School class I have ever been in was taught by a woman at Park Street Church in Boston no less!! Granted she had a PhD, but my home church in NJ still would not have let her teach men because of some NT passages.
Lastly, there’s the issue of doctrine. I think that in all of these areas we must brush up on our church history, but especially when it comes to doctrine. Knowing our history helps point out what really is important and what may be negotiable. I myself have found that it’s so important what I believe, but what I do with what I believe. I have no time for those who claim sound doctrine but do not have love. Is it enough to call the church to gather before Christ and let the relationship with him be our binding point? I think it is very possible. Read the words of John Wesley:
“And I implore you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, that we be in no way divided among ourselves. Is your heart right, as my heart is with yours? I ask no further question. If it is so, give me your hand. For opinions, or words, let us not destroy the work of God. Do you love and serve God? It is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship”. Another time he said: “I love good men of every church”.
Do you love Christ, the Lord of your life? That may be enough for me. And yet I still think that our doctrine should be sound and important. That’s where knowing our church history is yet again very important. In fact, I think it is very healthy to be attached to a particular denomination or doctrinal system. It is this shared experience with those who see the world in a similar way that make life so much more wonderful
Is the emerging church the answer to many of the problems facing the church? Probably not. If we lose our focus on Jesus, then it’s just another movement that will get large on programs and bags of tricks (also known as books in the ministry section of Christian book stores). But I do think the emerging church has been changed by current institutional church in such a way that it has reacted to some of the pressing issues and may actually adapt in such a way that the hot topics for the previous church are no longer significant. Nevertheless, that is not to say that a host of other hot topics will not come about or that previous problems will never come up again. I think that the emerging church will have its fait share of issues, some inherited and some created.