Wednesday, July 07, 2010

this is classic: emerging church danger!

Two strangers met at an academic conference. One was me, new to Australia, new to lecturing in the Uniting Church. The other was retired, also a lecturer, a figure large in the life of the Uniting Church. Over lunch we compare notes, talking about the history of theological education in Australia. Wanting to listen, I, the new one asks a broad, opened ended question:

New one: So what is the most important thing a person coming new to the Uniting Church from New Zealand needs to know about the Uniting Church?

Retired one: The danger of the emerging church. The Uniting Church is founded on the Creeds and Reformers and the emerging church is a danger to that.

The mouth of the new one falls open in surprise, amazed at this turn in the conversation!

New one: Oh, I thought the Basis of Union encouraged a pilgrim people, a people always on the journey. That’s why we are called Uniting, not United. So wouldn’t some sort of commitment to the emerging church be some sort of commitment in the Basis of Union to the emerging church?

Retired one: Yes, but a prior article in the Basis of Union says we have a commitment to the worldwide church and to our relationships. The emerging church is a danger to that.

New one: Oh, we’ve recently as a Synod had speakers from the Anglican church in the UK. They, in partnership with the Methodist church, are working on fresh expressions. So they suggest some sense that emerging church is part of the worldwide church conversation.

Pause. Genuine pondering on both sides.

New one: What is interesting is that they called it “fresh” not new. They do not want this to be seen as something new, denying the Reformation, but simply as the challenge for each generation, to be a faithful and pilgrim people in their generation.

The conversation moves on … true moment

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM


  1. Wow.

    I’m glad you had this reflection within the conversation. It would be a shame for the existing institutions to throw the baby out with the bathwater in their response to the emerging church.

    I attended a methodist church in Auckland once and saw what I perceived to be a wonderful blend of ancient tradition and fresh emergence within the people and the service there. I was impressed.

    My reaction to a person who demonised (perhaps that is too strong a word) the EC would be frustration and annoyance. It would tend to turn me off that person, in the sense that I wouldn’t feel safe to share my journey with them. For me, it would tend to indicate that we didn’t have much to say to each other.

    I don’t see how it makes sense, for new or old, to put up senseless barriers like that between people in conversation.

    Comment by Iain — July 7, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

  2. I’m curious, what specifically did this mean: “the Basis of Union says we have a commitment to the worldwide church and to our relationships. The emerging church is a danger to that.”

    In what sense is the EC a danger to relationships and church?

    Comment by Iain — July 7, 2010 @ 9:05 pm

  3. Iain, in terms of your first comment, this was a wonderful person, deeply wise and loving of God and the church. I hope that my post does not in anyway make this person look bad, and if it does, I will say sorry and take it down. I see it as a reflection of someone being fed some misinformation and I put the post up hoping to help correct that.

    In terms of your 2nd comment, I think that the misinformation they had was that the emerging church was somehow narrow and divisive and not committed to trying to live out Jesus prayer in John 17 “may they be one.”

    I repeat, this post is meant to correct misconceptions, not demonise a person. I don’t think you are doing this in your comment, but I’m just want to make that clear,


    Comment by steve — July 7, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

  4. Oh, I think I came across badly. That’s not what I meant, sorry. Your post is fine 🙂 The conversation was valuable.

    Comment by Iain — July 7, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

  5. and I’m just being over-careful – aware of the tensions around public/private, steve

    Comment by steve — July 7, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

  6. Hi just read your article on the historic churches attempts to hijack the emerging church. Here in the sunny old u.k London to be exact the historic churches are trying to do the same thing. The reason is that any new way that seeks to alter the status quo is seen as a threat to the existing church establishment. These churches especially the state church in England The Anglican communion wants to absorb what is new and control it. Luckily if i can use that word? the Holy Spirit cannot be ruled controlled or manipulated by man. Recently God has been speaking to me about Messy church. God gave me the equation E=MC2 meaning Ecclesia equals messy church too! Church is meant to be expressed in a myriad of ways many of which are extremely messy but real. Church should be more spontaneous more free more open to new expressions as long as these are expressions based on and in Love.

    Comment by David Hall — July 8, 2010 @ 2:24 am

  7. Hi David, I wasnt’ suggesting a hijack. My sense was more of a misunderstanding.

    Perhaps the Spirit is always calling the church to messy – from Pentecost to 2010,


    Comment by steve — July 8, 2010 @ 11:06 am

  8. great conversation, steve! we need more illuminating conversations like this one. thanks for reporting it. I must admit I never liked the term “Fresh Expressions” – but never thought of Fresh as an unthreatening term, by contrast with New. (pause to ponder…)

    Comment by maggi — July 8, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  9. thanks maggi. appreciate the feedback. your comment got me wondering what would you have called it instead of fresh expressions?

    Graham Cray told me they looked for the blandest name possible, as a way of trying to get as many people as possible on board,


    Comment by steve — July 8, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  10. A great conversation. I’d like to reiterate how amazing your response was in the moment. In the U.S., we currently have a hard time with bombarding one another with intense theological accusations, and I find myself freezing up in those moments. As Iain posted above, I think that I’d be more likely to get defensive or aggressive in my emotions and less charitable in my sensibility. My internal process would probably get the best of me!

    I’m reminded of Paul’s encouragement to not “worry about what you will do or what you will say”: but that we should be open to the Spirit’s movement within us. This seems like a real GOD moment.

    You’ve also reminded me of the importance of knowing ourselves and our values: all the more we are prepared for such a grace-full moment. Thanks!

    Comment by Drew Downs — July 9, 2010 @ 12:01 am

  11. You are very generous Drew. Thanks


    Comment by steve — July 9, 2010 @ 9:39 am

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