A Brief Examination of Contemporary Theology: The Emerging Church and Christian Orthodoxy
Contemporary Church has undergone a transformative process to the point that it has now become difficult to differentiate between a true church and a false church. This is because the truthfulness or falsehood of an institution depends largely on the interpretation of the members of that institution. Some contemporary readers, and they form the bulk of the Emerging Church, have argued that interpretation of the Scriptures must be done in accordance to the time and circumstances. As such, whether Orthodox or Emerging, the proponents of each form of a church establishment have relative answers to the questions of how they carry out their activities. Interestingly, Orthodox and Emerging churches have at least agreed, with the exception of very few contemporary churches, on the authority of the Bible as the foundation of the Christianity. The letter and spirit of the Bible has largely remained the same, except for a few translation mismatches and the changing pattern of the language. The Emerging Church traverses a number of theological confines including contemporary theology, often distancing it from Orthodox Christian doctrines. This research paper presents an examination of the issues that characterizes Emerging Churches and analyzes the converging and diverging issues between Orthodox and Emerging Churches.
THE EMERGING CHURCH
According to Kowalski, the Emerging Church is commonly described as a form of movements that lay claim to Christian teachings while using culturally sensitive means to reach out to their target group. Generally, Kowalski argues that a church can claim to be emerging if it seeks to reach those who are lost in the post-modern culture, rejects doctrinal absolutes, and proclaims itself to be Emerging. This proclamation may not necessarily be verbal but through actions that aim at making the church identifiable with a particular group of people.
Some of these churches lean towards a liberal approach to interpretation of the scripture to the point where members are allowed to interpret scriptural doctrines according to their needs. Still others take a conservative approach to matters of scripture but inculcate new forms of worship that are alien to the early church. On the contrary, Christian Orthodoxy is the adherence to the original established beliefs and doctrines of the church. Such churches tend to view everything contemporary as evil, even though some have been overtaken by events and, therefore, no matter how hard they try to avoid contemporary world practices, they have found themselves amid the challenge of catching up with the masses or losing them forever. The former has always prevailed as Orthodox churches, such as Catholics and Protestants, start using broadcast media to celebrate their mass.
As such, the teachings of most Emerging Churches have elicited a lot of interest and controversy amongst theology scholars and even Christians themselves. This is partly because many new things are being introduced in the church programs. Much of their teachings conform to the practice of secular world. Embracing technology in church practices has become the norm to the extent that it is unimaginable how Emerging Churches could operate without technology. Today, television sermons and preaching, the use of social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook, the use of electronic equipments and many others define the way a church service is going to be conducted. In such instances, the Bible ceases to be the authority of the church and instead worldly ideologies and practices take the center stage in such Emerging Churches.
Mobsby observes that one of the outstanding characteristics of Emerging Churches is the contemporary ways that the churches are using to reach the un-churched population with message of Christianity. He notes that it is now common to find some churches using paraphernalia, like candles and statues, while engaging in either formal or informal church service. The churches also frame phrases and slogans that are repeated so many times that they become identifiable with them. For the most conservative Emerging Churches, terms like Holiness and Purity became part of their worship, while the ones that would want to appeal to a certain age group would use phrases that are more appealing to that age group.
CHRISTIANITY IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
According to Kowalski different groups that can be said as seeking a common agenda while using different means characterize Christianity in the contemporary world. The churches that are mainly out to seek for followers while remaining faithful to the doctrines of the early church have become commonplace. These churches are similar to those described as Emerging Churches except for a few differences in terms of presenting the gospel. Such follower-seeking churches follow an Orthodox way of teaching while remaining true to their mission of preaching the true gospel. Similarly, most of the contemporary churches have inculcated programs in their services that are distinct from the mere preaching of the gospel. For instance, it is now common to find a church organizing for seminars on marital relationship, success in business, or any other topic that is outside the teachings of the bible. Some churches have even gone ahead to invite experts in the area in which they feel that their members need to receive a reawakening.
Kowalski further observes that a distinctive feature of the Christianity in the modern world is found in the specific groups of people that these churches are targeting. For instance, he notes that majority of contemporary churches are specific in terms of the target that they are aiming at. Segregation of members in accordance to their genders, age, education, or even marital status is a common practice that most contemporary churches are finding appropriate to use in reaching out to their members.
REACHING THE POSTMODERN CULTURE
A number of reason have been put forward to explain why Emerging Churches are taking the center stage faster to the point of threatening the mainstream churches. According to the findings by Pagitt and Jones, Emerging Churches aim are reaching out to the postmodern culture through the imitation of the life of Christ and emphasizing on the communal living. This is because as the world continues to become technologically advanced, the human society is disintegrating to the point that people are becoming lonely in a world that is expanding very fast in terms of population. According to the proponents of Emerging Churches, the problem is not with the coming of technological tools, as it was known, but rather a lack of proper system of spiritual guidance that emphasizes the need for communal living amongst people. The proponent further identifies that the Emerging Churches argue that the modern world does not offer sufficient love to humanity and, therefore, they bridge the gap that has been neglected by the mainstream churches. The Emerging Church, therefore, do welcome outsiders and endeavor to nurture them in the way of the bible through emphasis on the teachings and practices as outlined in their church programs. The Emerging Church identifies the need for generosity and creativity as international values that cut across all human beings, thus using them as a way of reaching out to people who would otherwise not come to the church if such programs were not in place.
Pagitt and Jones observe that the Emerging Church is build on a amalgamation of models of the Church and of Contextual Theology that draw on international trinity foundation that allows for mystical sharing of resources. This is done through sacramental approaches that the Orthodox Church has been using for a long time. In other words, the Emerging Church needs to actualize what the Orthodox Church has been preaching inside the church building and extend the same practice to the outsiders through sharing of resources and love.
In addition, it is evident that the Emerging Church has reacted to the needs of postmodern culture through the reinterpretation of the Bible to bring a new understanding to the mystery that is in church practices like worship, mission and community. He argues that the Emerging Church as movement seeks to oppose some forms of conservative evangelicalism and other reformed teachings that they find outdated and irrelevant to the modern society. As such, the Emerging Church also claims that the mainstream churches neglected the modern society through their preaching of holy trinity without following up to the tenets that are implied in the teachings.
From their definition, the Emerging Churches are a group of Christians organized themselves in movements that seek for alternative worship from the main churches. These churches are drawn from the various Orthodox Churches that have been in existence since the foundation of Christianity. On the other hand, Orthodox Churches regarded worship as the highest form of reverence that human beings could give to God. The concept of Holy Trinity formed a part of the worship that uphold that calling the name of Holy Spirit or Jesus signified the kind of respect that was given during a worship session. As such, the act of worship was regarded as the actual fulfillment of the reason why God created human beings. However, the Emerging Church has changed everything about worship and, therefore, technological tools are being used as worship alters. In the Orthodox Church, special places were designated for worship and those who sought to worship in such places were required to sanctify themselves before entering the holy place.
With technology, the Emerging Church has welcomed new forms of worship where communication media, such as television, have become more popular as the mediums of worship than the actual church places. The contemporary churches have embraced technology than in any other period in history. Worship has become more mechanical as preachers and pastors urge their members to turn on their television sets to prime times to watch their worship and preaching. Some of the members do not even find it necessary to attend the actual service as everything, including offerings and tithes, are given through devices supported by technology. For instance, some churches have taken the advantage of the availability of money transfer systems to urge their faithful to give their tithes and offerings during those services.
Similarly, most Emerging Churches use modern technology tools to reach out to their members or even those who want to join their church. Such tools that are used in the worship sessions include videos in which sermons are recorded and later distributed for selling. The other modes through which the Emerging Churches are reaching out to the un-churched include the use of the internet and social networks, the use of images, sounds, as well as smell.
A common characteristic for all Emerging Churches is that they seem to be in competition for recruiting the highest number of church members. While this is important as many people who have not heard the good news before can be reached, the reason behind these practices continues to raise suspicion amongst the conservative churches that read a gross violation of the scriptural messages in what has come to be known as the gospel industry. Most of the leaders of Emerging Churches embrace practices that have monetary benefit even as more people continue to be lost for lack of repentance.
Whereas the Emerging Church uses all contemporary means and tools and practices to attract people to their worship sessions, the Orthodox Church emphasizes that the act of worship should be approached with reverence as it symbolizes the highest honor that human beings give to God. In their definition, worship inculcates a personal outpouring to the mercies of God while recognizing that all other worldly things are useless and only God ought to be worshipped.
COMPREHENSIVE METHOD TO CLASHING BELIEF SYSTEMS
The Emerging Churches do not have a structured system of beliefs but instead each faction that forms the larger Emerging Church tends to emerge with its own way of doing things. This is in contrast with the Orthodox Church that had a defined system of belief that differentiated it from any other institution. Nowadays, it is common for Emerging Churches to come up with their own way of worship that will suit the worldly need of their members more than the spiritual needs that define the essence of a church.
Furthermore, the practices of worship sessions in most Emerging Churches are leaned towards the contemporary secularism. For instance, some of them encourage their members to attend night worship sessions arguing that because such duration is majorly informal hours when people are not working thus can worship God extensively. Nevertheless, as Gibbs and Bolger observe, such churches do easily turn into occults and cults whenever it becomes mandatory rather than a choice for members to attend night sessions.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXPERIENCE AND FEELINGS
According to Carson, Orthodox Churches used the practice of experiencing and feeling a miracle as a higher manifestation of God’s spirit. As such, Christian experiences of a miracle were highly regarded in the church. The miracles would not just take effect to anybody but to those who were spiritually sanctified and purified. The miracles would sometimes be used as a sign to sainthood LIK in Roman Catholic Church. However, Emerging Churches have come up with new teachings about experiencing and feeling the presence of God’s spirit in a church service. Using an inclusive approach to various and sometimes-contradictory belief systems, the Emerging Churches emphasize on the experience and feelings over absolutes.
RELATIONSHIP BUILDING VERSUS THE GOSPEL
The world today is faced with disintegrations in social units like family, religion and workplace. Disunity among people has risen to the level that is worries church leaders. Emerging Churches see themselves as agents to build the ailing relationships among people even as they preach the gospel. However, relationship building takes precedence to preaching the gospel as it is not possible to preach to a divided people. Emerging Churches uses relationship seminars and conferences to bring people from different occupations with different views on religion, family, politics, science and any other areas that bring division among people to discussion and develop a consensus over controversial issues. This is most likely to be viewed as secular practice for some orthodox churches.
THE EXCLUSION OF TRADITIONAL WORSHIP LITURGY, CREEDS, CONFESSIONS AND ABSOLUTE TRUTHS
According to Carson, the early church formed a system that distinguished itself from any other establishment that wanted to claim to be a church. Practices in liturgy, creeds, and confessions were so structured that people would identify the kind of church that a person belonged to just from the way the person behaves. The system provided dress code, songbooks, and even prayer books and this became the way of life for many of the church members. A similar distinction was the emphasis on the message of the Bible that only those who would accept Jesus as the Son of God would be saved. Those were exclusivism teachings that were acceptable to many members of the church during early Christianity.
However, the Emerging Churches are questioning the fundamental foundations of the early church such as the reason why Jesus is the only way to heaven and challenge his deity as a Son of God. Similarly, Emerging Churches are asking questions about the concept of the Trinity and questioning the possibility of God existing in a threesome form. In essence, Carson notes that most Emerging Churches engage in reactionary activities that counteract the conservative and absolute structures of the traditional churches. In the end, these churches aim at converting people’s beliefs and worship to those that are in conformity with the wants of the world. The churches emphasize to people the need to convert from their old system or style of worship and time-frozen cultures to modern and contemporaneous way of worship where they are given freedom to interpret the scriptures. Instead, the Emerging Church have its members believing that it is necessary to establish relationships with people by going where they are and meeting them at their level and then later presenting doctrinal truths after such aspects have become part of their lives.
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH IN TODAY’S CULTURE
According to Webber et al, the early church managed to stand the test of time due to its consistency in its teachings and practice even as the world cultures were transformed over time. In practice, the church was the source of solace where the world would run into when it had messed itself up. It provided formidable grounds that were important in maintaining spiritual soundness among the people. However, the Emerging Church seems to have defaulted on this important role in sustaining cultural practices by going out into the world to fetch worldly cultures in the church practice. Today, it is not the business of most of the Emerging Churches to control the practice and moral standings of its members even as they desire to get spiritual nourishment from those churches. Ultimately, Webber et al observe that a good percentage of members of the Emerging Churches are truthful in their search for truthful spiritual nourishment. However, the problem only comes about from the leadership of the church who are out only seeking for material wealth even as their churches corrode the message of the Bible.
Consequently, the Emerging Churches dwell on issues that are geared towards re-evaluating the position of the orthodox Christian church in the society by pushing their own belief systems into their members. Most Emerging Churches pride themselves in their ability to re-interpret the teachings of the Bible by emphasizing that no one has the monopoly of interpreting the scripture as written in the Bible. Furthermore, McLaren argues that the Emerging Churches provide channels for questioning the long held doctrinal practices and beliefs and this has continued to bring them into direct clash with the conservative churches that believe the scripture is holy. Some churches are even allowing for practices like gay marriage where ordained clergy are allowed to marry people irrespective of their sex. As such, their intention is to re-evaluate the position of Christianity as a system of belief even as they welcome worldly practices and beliefs in the church.
In conclusion, it is thus evidenced that that there is mismatch between the Emerging Churches and the Orthodox Churches in the sense that the two seem to be working to the same destination while using different routes. The Emerging Church is a movement that is taking up the territory that the Orthodox Churches have dominated for a long time. Generally, the Emerging Church is a movement that is changing doctrinal practices in the areas of worship, preaching, confession, liturgy, and absolute truth about the teachings of the church. This trend is expected to continue as the church continues to embrace postmodernism.