Church: Old and New
The Emerging Church
Monday, October 28, 2019
I do believe that what some refer to as the “emerging church” is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Movements are the energy-building stages of things, before they become monuments, museums, or machines. In the last sixty years, several significant events have taken place, both within and alongside the various Christian churches, to foster this movement. Spiritual globalization is allowing churches worldwide to profit from these breakthroughs at approximately the same time, which of itself is a new kind of reformation! No one is directing, controlling, or limiting this movement. We are just trying to listen together. It is happening almost in spite of all of us—which tells me the Spirit must be guiding.
Just so you know I am not merely arguing for my own agenda within the Catholic Church, I want to briefly identify some of the historical developments that I see propelling this movement throughout Christianity:
- Our awareness is broadening, recognizing that Jesus was clearly teaching nonviolence, simplicity of lifestyle, peacemaking, love of creation, and letting go of ego, both for individuals and groups. More and more Christians are now acknowledging Jesus’ radical social critique to the systems of domination, money, and power. In the past, most of Jesus’ practical teaching was ignored by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. The establishment chose instead to concentrate on private sinfulness and personal salvation and, as Brian McLaren says, on an “evacuation plan” into the next world.
- There is a common-sense and growing recognition that Jesus was clearly concerned about the specific healing and transformation of real persons and human society “on earth as it is in heaven.” The Church, more than Jesus, historically focused on doctrinal belief and moral stances, which ask almost nothing of us in terms of real change. They just define groups—often in an oppositional way.
- We are recovering the older and essential contemplative tradition within Christianity, starting with Thomas Merton in the 1950s, and now spreading to numerous denominations, like a “treasure hidden in the field” (Matthew 13:44). Some emerging church leaders have yet to grasp the centrality of contemplative and inner wisdom.
- Critical biblical scholarship is occurring on a broad ecumenical level, especially honest historical and anthropological scholarship about Jesus as a Jew in the culture of his time. This leads us far beyond the liberal reductionism and the conservative fundamentalism that divide so many churches. We now see the liberal/conservative divide as a bogus and finally unhelpful framing of the issues.
While these may not seem like significant changes in and of themselves, together they are causing sea changes in modern theology as well as practice. These shifts may be the very reason we are currently so divided as Christians, with some clinging to an older way of doing and thinking while others are pulling in these new and “emerging” directions.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Emerging Church: Beyond Fight or Flight,” Radical Grace, vol. 21, no. 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), 3.