Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A World Emerging

A World Emerging
Ps. 36; 1 Cor 12:1-11[1]
Sometimes being a Presbyterian who used to be a Baptist can be a pain in the neck. But there are also benefits to having worked in more than one Christian denomination. It does give me a unique perspective on institutional churches—all of them. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that churches of all stripes face similar problems. Denominations from the Methodists to the Baptists to the Presbyterians to the “Christians” all fight some of the same battles. This may come as a shock to you, because I’ve learned that whatever the brand of church, “we” are always the ones who do “it” best. It’s built into the very way in which we describe ourselves. For example, we Presbyterians recognize that other groups are quicker to respond to disasters. But the way we describe what we do is that we’re the ones who stay until the job is done. You get the implication—“we” do “it” best.
This tendency shows up in an interesting way in the fads that come and go—“contemporary” music, for example. The very language implies that it is better than the alternative—after all, nobody wants to be “outdated”! I find this to be true as well with the latest effort to find new ways to do church: the “emerging church.” You may or may not have heard about it. It’s been a movement for at least the last ten years. All over the world, there are groups that identify with the “Emerging Church.” Of course, actually defining what it means to be “emergent” is much harder. Its worship can be very “up to date” or it can be positively ancient. The message can range from straight Bible teaching to “pop psychology” and everything in between. About the only thing they all have in common seems to be their desire to change the structures in which church has operated. If you’re willing to be innovative enough to meet in a coffee shop, or to combine visual arts with the spoken word, or simply to color outside the lines of any and all institutional churches, you can be part of the emerging church.
What I find amusing about those who get so wrapped up in the “Emerging Church” is the fact that they call themselves “emerging.” From my perspective the church has been in the process of “emerging” for a lot longer than just the past ten years. Let me hasten to add that if the church is to be “reformed and always reforming according to the word of God,” there’s nothing inherently wrong with innovation. My problem with is the language they use. For these folks to call their particular innovation in how they do church “emerging” seems to me to imply that the rest of us have missed the boat. If we’re not “emerging” does that mean we’re “regressing”? Or maybe just “stuck in a rut”?
In my understanding of Scripture, I would have to say that the church has been in the process of “emerging” ever since the day of Pentecost! Through all the ebb and flow of history, the church has been constantly and consistently “emerging.” There may have been times when we did a better job of “bearing witness to God’s reign” than others, but to call one particular expression of the Christian faith “the Emerging Church” misses the message of Epiphany—that God is in the process of creating a world that has been “emerging” since the time of Creation, and the Church is a very important part of that new creation.[2]
Epiphany is the season when we celebrate God’s glory revealed to all people. It is the time of year when we celebrate joyfully the good news that the new life we have in Jesus the Christ through the Spirit of God is itself one of the signs of the new world that is emerging. We look forward to the time when God will dwell with all people in such a way as to enable them all to experience all the freedom and joy and love that define God’s very being.[3] Epiphany is the time when we pray fervently, “Let your glory be over all the earth.”
But we should not think that this is something different from God’s original work of creation. The Bible presents all of God’s work as one great, beautiful tapestry.[4] Beginning with the Creation, through all the mighty works of redemption, and continuing to the present day, God has been in the process of producing a wonderful world. As the Psalmist so eloquently puts it in our lesson for today, the skies, the mountains, and the oceans serve as tangible reminders that God’s work is beautiful beyond imagining and God’s determination to finish this beautiful world is unshakable. It is a work in progress—it is in a very real sense always “emerging.” From the very beginning of Creation, what has been “emerging” is a world where all people and all of nature itself are filled with God’s love, God’s freedom, God’s joy, and God’s life.[5]
In a very real sense, this is what the Spirit has been up to in the church—the gifts, the ministries, and the “workings” that the Spirit pours out on and through us (1 Cor. 12:1-11) are all signs of God’s new world that is always emerging all around us. Through all the ebb and flow of history, the church has been and will continue to be “emerging.” It cannot help but continue to emerge because it is a part of God’s new world that has been “emerging.” And it will continue to be “emerging” until the day when God’s glory—God’s love, God’s freedom, God’s joy, God’s very life—fills the whole earth.

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/17/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX
[2] This theme runs throughout Scripture. See especially Brevard Childs, Isaiah, 299 where he talks about the importance to the second section of Isaiah of the idea of the “inbreaking of a new age of salvation.”
[3] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 184; Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 222.
[4] Cf. Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology II:240 where he summarizes the unity of creation and redemption in the Hebrew Scriptures by saying that in the second section of Isaiah “creation is the first of [Yahweh’s] miraculous historical acts and a remarkable witness to his will to save.” Cf. similarly, Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, 14, where he says that only a God who is Creator and Lord of History “can be imagined powerful enough to bring about the new miraculous deliverance” promised by 2nd Isaiah.
[5] Cf. Moltmann, Trinity, 124, 178.

1 comment:

Bordentown Church of God said...

Interesting point of view.

If you had worked on more than one church, probably you had noticed that many churches seem to be more in love with the idea of a God rather than with God himself.

It's like living an illusion. The word of God says many things, but most Christian pretend to misunderstand and tend to ignore it because those teachings do not comply with traditional believes.