Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More On Gilley, The Church, The Truth

In his article, Gary Gilley comes down hard on the "emergent" church. First, let me state that some people call what we do "emergent" while others call it "micro church", some call it "home church", some "organic", some "cell", etc., etc. Our church has no name and perhaps this is part of the problem. If we had a name on a sign people could more easily put us in some type of spiritual box and then perhaps more easily dismiss us. We tell people over and over that we are not trying to do church... instead we are trying to be the church... we are truly attempting to live more as missionaries right here in America, than as "church-goers". Second, let me make it clear that I make no claims of being the mouthpiece for any of the previously mentioned groups. And third, allow me to state again that I have not "arrived". I will never again treat my faith as if it were the destination. The faith journey I am on is exactly that... a journey, and what I offer below are merely glimpses of what I've seen from the peaks and valleys of the trip.

By Gilley's description I would want to disassociate myself from anything "emergent" ASAP. At the same time I must admit that I feel he is selectively quoting the various authors (McLaren, Sweet, etc.) in an attempt to convince the reader that he has the correct interpretation of doctrine, truth, etc., etc., similar to how pastors from the modern era selectively dissect scripture in order to prove their points, promote their agendas, etc.

Gilley is dead-on when he writes, "Truth claims are held with suspicion within postmodernism..." There is no doubt that a post-modern culture rejects truth claims, but Gilley is dead-wrong when he says, "Something has to give and that something seems to be truth." (If you haven't read it yet, please read the entire article to get a better understanding of Gilley's perspective).

Like I stated in my previous post, the Christian message CAN'T change, and that message is THE Truth, and it is THE Truth that post-moderns, moderns, and non-believers throughout human history have rejected and will continue to reject.

I think that some of the confusion comes from the term "postmodern". What do we mean by that? Does Gilley mean the same thing when he writes "postmodern" that McLaren and Sweet mean? In the simplest sense of the word, postmodernism refers to what comes after modernism. It's like saying it's "post-3pm" for anything that comes after 3pm. It's a term that means everything and a term that means nothing. Someone along the way called the modern era, the "modern era". They could have simply called it the "post-medieval era." Even though it may actually be 11pm, the term "post-3pm" would still technically be correct due to it's catch-all nature. Postmodernism quickly became the buzzword because no term so easily defines the transition we are currently in from the modern era into a new era and until a better term comes along "postmodern" wins.

Now the trouble comes when we start applying this term "postmodern" as an adjective to modify a noun (i.e. "postmodern Christians"). If we are moving from modernism into a new era, which most everyone agrees we are (even though many will go kicking and screaming into this new era), then every Christian (good, bad, holy, sinner, sanctified, purified, backslidden, etc.) could be called "postmodern Christians", simply because that is the age in which we dwell. If by "postmodern Christian" it is meant "a Christian who has bought into postmodern thought" (i.e. the rejection of all truth) that would simply be an oxymoron. How could someone who rejects all truth claims, believe in THE Truth Claim of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection? I would imagine that if I had the chance to sit down with Dr. Gilley, we could agree on 99.9% of the core message of gospel... Christ was a real person and somehow, simultaneously he was the Son of God, he was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, buried and somehow, miraculously rose from the grave, he sits today at the right hand of God the Father almighty and intercedes on our behalf, etc., etc., (sounds like some of the creeds our spiritual forefathers wrote as statements of their beliefs).

So the way I see it, the debate (and a necessary debate it is) is not about message, but rather comes down to methodology... If we as the Church (and the secular world around us) are entering a new era (posmodernity), would it be appropriate to adapt our methods (not our message), but our methods, in order to be salt & light to people who reject truth claims?

The method of my father used to teach me right from wrong was effective... simply put, it worked. But in the time from my childhood to that of my own children, the world under us has changed. My father never had to worry about what I might find on the Internet, simply because there was no Internet. He didn't have to worry about what my little eyes would see on 500 channels of TV, because we only had 3 channels. He didn't have to worry about me rejecting all truth claims, because it hadn't become so prevalent within our culture. His method of teaching right from wrong worked! All I need to do as a parent is modify his method to account for the changes that have occurred within the culture over the last generation. It would be foolish of me to tamper with the message, because it is still critical for my children to learn right from wrong. But I have no problem adapting the method to account for any cultural changes. And this is all we are proposing to the Church.

I believe an additional part of the confusion develops from the cultural definition of the word "church". We Americans are so accustomed to saying things like, "I'm going to church", "what church do you attend?", "I really like the pastor at the new mega church", etc. We know in our hearts that The Church is people and not structures, but our language betrays this idea. In reality, culturally speaking, the church is the building where the people gather. And unfortunately, as believers, we tend to define our faith experiences by the space in which they occur. What I and others are proposing as part of this "emerging, micro, cell, etc." phenomenon is a redefining of the word church within our greater culture. This adjustment to the word's definition would focus on the people and not the locale of their activities. Of course, to redefine a word is a near impossible task without an enormous marketing campaign, so instead of trying to convince the world that The Church is people and not structures, instead I will live that out and hopefully impact a few along the way. And as I and the thousands of others like me do just that, slowly we will impact the greater culture.

I know that all of this barely begins to scratch the surface of the debate... for some it will hopefully be something interesting to chew on... for others it may just be a waste of perfectly good blog space...

Until next time... vaya con Dios, Amigos!


FriarWade said...

Interesting Timing.
In the past 3 days, I heard of 5 people who were meeting to 'start' their own churches - a house church, a circuit church - something 'other' than a traditional church. In the past month, I have once again been reminded of the power struggles and political 'religious' coups - orchestrated with clockwork precision - leaving in their wake a sea of hurting believers. Where is the pastoral care? Where is the 'do unto others as you would have them do to you?' It can be all too depressing - if looking solely at the circumstances and the poor stewardship of many traditional churches.

But churches are made up of people - no matter the size or origin. These people have their own customs, belief systems, prejudices and motives. Too often the argument over 'who is going to be the greatest' and 'where do we get to sit' remains our focal point. And since our post-modern culture tells me I have to right to believe what I want to believe, I'll choose exactly how I serve, whom I serve and when I'll serve. Thereby I have fulfilled my religious perception of reality and can now go back to judging the spirituality of others. (God help us!)

Perhaps every group of believers (every mission and church), regardless of size and property, should perform an internal audit. Too bad there isn't a guide that rates churches similar to the travel association that rates hotels and motels.

Now it looks like I'm to be ordained next month as a priest in the Old Catholic Church of North America. Am I to be a missionary and start an Old Catholic Mission? (Old Catholics seek to return to the faith of the early church - the church of the first seven ecumenical councils.) I see the need to be a champion of Orthodoxy in this post-modern age. I also see the need to get on with the program of Jesus and truly love one another.

Lord, your Kingdom come! Your will be done!

Peace to you!

Rev. Dcn. Wade Fahnestock+

Ron Goetz said...

Kent, I'd like to comment on something you wrote early in your blog. "The Christian message CAN'T change, and that message is THE Truth."

Jesus said something, among many things, with explosive implications ignored by most Christians. The verse gets quoted a LOT, but a significant element seems to be universally ignored.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

The ignored part is the statement, "I am...the truth."

With this statement, Jesus sets our concept of truth on its head. If we were to have said this, or written this, it would probably read, "I know the truth," or "I speak the truth," or "I am telling you the truth." But Jesus said "I am the truth."

Our whole idea of truth is forever changed. Truth is no longer a statement which can be proven or disproven. It is not exclusively a propositional statement. Truth is a person. A person is now the truth. Not a bunch of facts, but a person.

A person is the truth. Jesus is the truth.

Paul extends this to include as well Christ's followers in II Corinthians 3:3. "You show that you are letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

Just as we look to the Scriptures as truth, Paul says we are epistles from Christ with his "message" written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

You are an epistle from Christ, not written with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. Keep in mind that Paul wrote with ink.

Jesus said, "Even as I am in the world, so send I you."

Jesus was in the world as "the truth."

The fact that I feel inadequate to this reality does not negate it. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen."

I don't know how to be that living epistle. We have Epistles of Paul, Epistles of John, Epistles of Peter, and for some time now, Epistles of Christ. Kent, Karen, Brad, Margaret, my wife and I, all Epistles of Christ. Six letters, like the Seven Letters to the Churches in Asia Minor.

God help us. God help me.

If this seems extreme, I just need to put it in the context of us being co-heirs with Christ. Whatever Christ has or is by way of being God's Son, so we also have and are by virtue of being sons of God as well. It's by virtue of our union with Christ.

Have you ever wondered if God was out of his mind when he included us in his plans like this?