Wednesday, March 04, 2009

it may be emerging but is it church?

Just became aware of some Kiwi and Presbyterian discussion of emerging church in the last month or so. The annual lecture at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership was delivered by Dr Kevin Ward, titled It may be emerging but is it church? Followed by a response from Bruce Hamill.

A nice compliment by Kevin in his introduction: Steve Taylor, who has emerged as the leading spokesperson for emerging church in NZ, and a significant global voice, in quoting my “A Kiwi Emerging Kiwi Church: Yeah Right!” from the VisionNZ Conference last year.

Kevin addresses the question of whether emerging is church by using the fourfold formulae from the Nicene Creed – one, holy, catholic and apostolic. It is the same formulae I used in my book, The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (Emergent Ys), to argue that yes, emerging is church. I argue that the Trinity offers us a relational understanding of God and this church is one as two or three gather (Matthew 18:20). I note that the moment a group defines themselves as church (consciously or sub-consciously), they must recognise other groups that define themselves as church. This provides a relational way to approach tradition and history. No church is the Ground Zero of Christian faith. Rather, all churches, are fellow pilgrims, seeking to walk in the expressed love of the Trinity. So just because a church is older, it should not be privileged. Equally, because a church is newer, it should not be privileged. Both are pilgrims, needing to learn from each other.

That was in 2005. In 2009, I find increasingly perplexing the method by which the marks of one, holy, catholic and apostolic are defined. You see this is Kevin’s paper, where the marks are sheeted to theologians (dead white guys). You see this in my book, where the marks are sheeted to the Trinity.

I was pondering this on study leave and I began to wonder what would happen if the marks of the church were sheeted to Biblical narratives, rather than theologians, and particularly to women, rather than men. So Mary in her humility and willingness to say yes to moments of surrender and her singing of magnificient (Luke 1) defines one; Anna in her embodiement of Asher, the banished Northern Tribe, (Luke 2) defines holy; Elizabeth in her generous, hospitable, physical, welcome of the pregnant teenager Mary (Luke 1) defines catholic; Mary Magadalene as the first person post-resurrection instructed to witness defines apostolic.

It seems to me that such a reading produces very different marks of the church and serves both as challenge and encouragement to an ecclesiology that is humble, surrendered, inclusive, hospitable, and missionary.

Just some stray ruminations from a tired little brain on a beautiful Christchurch morning.

Posted by steve at 10:00 AM


  1. sometimes i just LOVE the way your brain works ! thank you for your ever innovative spin on the things of God !

    Comment by julie — March 4, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  2. Steve. I really like your re-ponderings on the 4 classical marks along narrative lines. Thanks for sharing them.

    Comment by Jason Goroncy — March 4, 2009 @ 11:31 am

  3. thanks Julie. i had someone tell me yesterday they hated the way my brain worked and it was time for me to simply stop being ever innovative and go back to keeping it simple!

    the diversity of people!


    Comment by steve — March 4, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  4. I went and heard Kevin when he gave this lecture, and my feeling was that it was very much focused from within a mainstream scenario (specifically Presbyterian, although I don’t think he said that). As a result it seemed to be on the defensive in relation to the emerging church.
    I know the emerging church ‘movement’ (if it can be called that) has some issues, but it also has a great deal of vital life, so it was a bit disappointing to feel that Kevin appeared to be dismissing it, especially when you consider that the Presbyterian church, institutionally, spends a great deal of time worrying about its lack of growth, life and numbers. (The Presbyterian Church on the ground, however, is a different ballgame, and there IS a good deal of real life in various areas, thank God.)

    Comment by Mike Crowl — March 9, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  5. thanks mike. it seems such a shame when the “mainstream” gets defensive. they already have so much power and so much resource.


    Comment by steve — March 9, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

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