I’ve been working my way through Emerging Churches, a very useful book giving a survey of what Emerging Church is all about. I came across a reflection from Doug Pagitt who sees three ‘types’ of EC and one of them really struck a chord with me. He doesn’t see the church as “necessarily the center (sic) of God’s attentions” and that God is already at work in the world; the church “has the option to join God or not”.
As I read it I was reminded of an observation from Barth which I think I’ve previously mentioned – that the church has always been a minority. The implication is that it always will be, and that that’s no bad thing. In the light of Pagitt’s comments it even makes sense (to me anyway). It opens up the whole question of the purpose of the church. In a sense it only ever needs to be a minority if it sees its purpose as finding where God is at work and joining in. ‘Church’ then becomes the place where church members are spiritually renewed and sustained and sent out to mission again. Their mission purpose is to make disciples of all nations. But does that need to mean growing a church congregation? OK, so it raises issues of ‘Christian imperialism’ when we count those who are working for ‘the good’ to be disciples, but then the issue is about the kingdom, and not the church. It also ‘meets the requirement’ for the church to be ‘in the world, but not of it’. And it has a somewhat liberal, vaguely universalist, soteriology. But that’s just theology and a few proof texts will soon take care of that. 😉
But it also throws into question the whole issue of the EC movement. Is it actually necessary to establish churches to do mission work? The answer must be, “no,” but what then is EC for? It seems to me that EC is, in a sense, a by-product of missional work. Or, at least, it can be. It can also be a project in and of itself. Context is the key, I suppose.
It also raises some interesting questions for the Church of Scotland, particularly at this cash-strapped time and as it considers its ability to meet its Third Article and be a presence in every part of Scotland. Maybe by trying to be ‘church’ everywhere it will never succeed; but as the missional bringer of the kingdom, that may be a different story. A lot of joined-up thinking required I think.