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October 13, 2005

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"In the emergent movement, what are the circuit breakers that kick on to say "enough, no farther"?"

Great question, Gina.
My hunch is that many EC'rs would respond with: "who says we need circuit breakers?"

Experimentation is important; probably essential. But who is out there urging responsible experimentation?

I appreciated how you put it:
"I need to be working out my salvation in fear and trembling every day. That makes a person cautious, in a positive way- conservative."

Sometimes I wonder if rather than working out our salvation with fear and trembling, we're working out our salvation however we darn well please. And it's certainly not limited to EC'rs, but neither is it limited to IC'rs.

Gina, in your mind, would those in spiritual authority over us serve as some of those "circuit breakers", along with our theological traditions?

"My hunch is that many EC'rs would respond with: "who says we need circuit breakers?" Experimentation is important; probably essential. But who is out there urging responsible experimentation?"

During the formative years of the church the churches founded by the apostles acted as circuit breakers. Later christianity saw ecumenical councils and creeds, canon and tradition. Today we have greater and smaller international organisations and communions that take this place. World Council of Churches is one of those, lutherans have their World Federation, Anglicans their Lambeth Conference ... the good thing about this is that they aren't too concerned about what is being experimented with on a local level (that's where bishops, supervisors etc. come in) but with the big picture.

Christianity has great selfsearching engines built into itself. If novelty goes beyond orthodoxy or orthopraxis (if the shoe starts being too small) someone is bound to blow a whistle! The answer to that is not to shut that whistle up but to listen to it. Protestant churches have however a history of moving out of the whistleblowers range ... I think that when it comes to that, the line between reformation and apostacy grows thin indeed.

As an emergent pastor I think that your concern is valid but there are some leaps that you have made which trouble me as much as leading people in to apostacy troubles both of us.

The first is that all post-modernism is deconstructionist post-modernity. Even modernity is founded in challenges to the dogmatic - or what was passed on by authorities and unquestioned. But there are many advocates of a reconstructionist post-modernity where you never deconstruct for sake of deconstruction - but for the express purpose building something stronger.

That one is a bit harder to get your head around and involves a lengthy discussion of how it works out. But the second leap is a little easier to work with.

I feel that you are assuming that laying bare our own personal beliefs is a bad thing. But it is really the only socially responsible thing to do. If we are calling people to live what they believe - that is live a life that is a sacrifice of worship as the only reasonable response to Jesus' death and resurrection - then why do we want to skirt around the places that will solidify this are their own revelation. And when someone really comes face to face with the revealed reality of Jesus then everything changes for them. If in the process they realize they didn't believe, then we now have the opportunity to reveal Christ in us to them in a way that captivates their hearts.

In fact I think that the church that never challenges us to examine what we believe, but just accept blind dogma, that is the one that leads to apostacy. Jesus had the harshest words for those who enforced the letter of the law without the heart of it. You can believe in all the right things, but for the wrong reasons and Jesus will tell you that he never knew you.

Great questions. I recently posted at my blog asking what advice we could offer new comers to the emergent journey that would prepare them for the rocky part of the road. There is some interesting comments. Keep it up!

Peace,
Jamie

Frank, thanks for the well-articulated post. You raised some important objections and affirmed some important truths. I'll try to respond.

I didn't say "that all post-modernism is deconstructionist post-modernity", although I can see how my opening questions may have led you to think so. Oops! I've long been an advocate of "responsible deconstruction", which is committed to "reconstruction", or as you put it so well: "a reconstructionist post-modernity where you never deconstruct for sake of deconstruction - but for the express purpose building something stronger." So I believe we're on the same page there.

"I feel that you are assuming that laying bare our own personal beliefs is a bad thing."

Actually, I believe we must work at nurturing an environment where it is safe to share one's beliefs and doubts in complete honesty, without fear of judgement or reprisal (this is hard for many people to practice). Alan Jamieson, in his book "A Churchless Faith", does a great job pointing out how significant this is. In addition, I believe it's important not to get stuck in an "honesty-for-honesty's sake" mode. I'm discovering that people are also longing for meaningful reflection, challenge, and even leadership. Does that help? Are we a bit closer?

"And when someone really comes face to face with the revealed reality of Jesus then everything changes for them. If in the process they realize they didn't believe, then we now have the opportunity to reveal Christ in us to them in a way that captivates their hearts."

Well said, Frank. I pray we see this happening more and more.


"In fact I think that the church that never challenges us to examine what we believe, but just accept blind dogma, that is the one that leads to apostacy. "

I completely agree. One of the BIG mistakes evangelical churches made in recent decades was to take meaningful theological discussion our of their community life together, making it no longer safe for people to wrestle through what they believe or don't believe. In addition, many fundamentalist churches became even further entrenched in their "behave, believe, belong" mode, which really means: behave as we behave, believe as we believe, and then you can belong to what we belong to. Not only do these approaches lead to apostasy -- as you've pointed out -- they often lead to spritual abuse.

I suppose, Frank, that I should have originally posted a much longer piece, and served up this topic from a more comprehensive approach. I guess you have helped me see that sometimes what I don't say ends up saying as much or more than what I do say!

I look forward to hearing your further thoughts.

I believe we must work at nurturing an environment where it is safe to share one's beliefs and doubts in complete honesty, without fear of judgement or reprisal

In our practice, the place for this is confession.

Grounding the common worship on such an exploration of belief and doubt- if that's what is happening, I don't know- sounds like a recipe for confusion.

Gina, how about during catechism - when the purpose is to learn the tenents of our faith? Isn't the "primary" purpose of confession, "confession" and not exploration?

Maybe I should also ask, how long are confessional sessions or how long can they be?

The length depends, mine have so far been 30-45 minutes. I'm not sure about "exploration," but it would be the primary place I would talk about and get counsel on doubts or struggles with the faith as well as the things I give thanks for.

It may be that the paradigms and circumstances are so different, my comments don't apply. If so, I don't want to distract the discussion.

The priest usually has to clear his schedule when he knows I am coming to confession.....

World Council of Churches is one of those, lutherans have their World Federation, Anglicans their Lambeth Conference

Carlos, these you've mentioned (at least the WCC and Lambeth) lately serve as warning for many because they see them dismally failing to restrain apostasy. So, I suppose, in a way they are in fact acting as "circuit breakers."

I do think we do well to seek as much accountability as possible, in our own time as well as holding ourselves accountable to the body of Christians across the centuries. And trust in God's mercy to help us remain faithful!

Chris, good post. How do you connect the context of the question that raised the statement to which you refer? A young man asked me about this verse a few weeks ago. I am interested in how we often 1) treat the text as though it is proposition embedded in story and so extrapolate based on the principle or 2) we connect the verse in question to the story and find ourselves in the story and how it might be that we would cause someone to stumble around the question of greatness. Is it possible we may be overlooking an important feature of both the question of the disciples and Jesus' answer? (Just had to answer a question with a question to maintain my EC points - lol).

Gina, no church body by itself can stay out of "trouble" by itself, indefinately, not the WCC, LC or the LWC. See what happened to the papacy? I do believe that the councilar process is needed to maintain the church in truth. That means dialogue, the art of listening to each other and to admonish where that is called for.

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