Thoughts on ‘Emerging Churches’…(4)

Transforming Secular Space…

Enough of the inane, and on with some reflections of some reading that I’ve done over the past couple of months…

I guess at the heart of this concept is challenging the false divide between the ‘secular’ and the ‘sacred’. Those of us who’ve grown up in a churched context will be familiar with the talk of “in the world but not of it” – a missional view of existence that has not always been lived out. As I was growing up in a fairly standard Salvation Army corps, the majority of my life was taken up with church activities. I was a member of the junior church, the junior choir and the junior brass band…the youth club, the boys adventure club…my only engagement with the world was school – and nothing at church had prepared me for viewing that as an incarnational missional opportunity.

One of the biggest attractions of the emerging church is the desire to see a holistic approach to church life. As an example, the church we’ve been worshipping at for the last month or so has at the centre of its life ‘blurred edge’ – ‘sending’ its membership out to create relationships with the ‘unchurched’ – and viewing that as being just as important as worship gatherings. A meal with a group of friends is as much an act of worship, doing some DIY for a neighbour, doing some prophetic evangelism in a local pizza parlour! I guess you call that ‘holistic’ discipleship – ministering to mind, body and soul…

When we view the kingdom of God as being the whole world, then we no longer see a split between sacred and secular. God is as much at work in the world (some might argue even more so!) as in the church. We can encounter God at work through the most unlikely sources and in the most unlikely places. We can worship God through ‘secular’ things, not just within some kind of Christian bubble. We see evangelism as being something natural, respectful and relational. But the danger remains that in seeking to be ‘relevant’ we ignore the prophetic nature of kingdom living – calling people to ‘return and repent’. We embrace one metanarrative whilst abandoning another…and becomes disciples of a cultural movement rather than the living, awesome Christ who calls us to follow.

Sometimes we’ve become obsessed with a view of holiness that is all about the don’ts of life – to stay pure we’ve got to keep away from. As if locking ourselves away means that we won’t ever be tempted, that will keep us safe until we finally get to heaven. Perhaps we need to have a view of holiness that is more about being sent out than hiding away. A holiness that prepares us for engagement with the world, that is about understanding that faith isn’t just about what comes next, but about what happens here and now – transformation. Because we got caught up with protecting ourselves from the world we found ourselves marginalised, grasping at straws and using outdated, unauthentic methodology to broadcast our faith to those around us.

The authors point out that the

emerging church face a formidable task as they endeavour to distinguish between the parts of church life that are rooted in modern culture, to be discarded, and the parts that are gospel and need to be maintained. If the emerging church errs in regard to culture, the church dies, but if it gets the gospel wrong, it loses its identity. (Gibbs and Bolger p88)

So if we’re comfortable in a missional view of life that sees no secular/sacred split, a holistic approach to discipleship – we can negotiate away the modern ‘form’ that so many of us struggle with…but not replacing it with a postmodern form that in just a few years will be just as irrelevant as many claim church is today. Again, the key word has to authenticity. Authentic Christ, authentic lifestyle, authentic worship, authentic missional lives…


4 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Emerging Churches’…(4)

  1. Ah Martin, it’s great to have you back!

    The sacred/secular split is something that is growing of more and more concern to me. Although it’s been around for centuries it has grown more pronounced in the last few years. In my opinion this is a reaction due to the increasing change we see around us. The church, in many cases, is retreating into what it knows even when this is contrary to what we believe.

    Hence social work becomes a pratical outworking of our spirituality, rather than a fundamental part of being a Christian. Home schooling becomes important to protect our children from the endemic evil of the secular school system, consequently producing a generation who have little or no contact with people outside of the church community.

    We need to be balanced. We claim to rely on the strength of the Spirit but our actions suggest that we don’t trust Him to protect us from the evil in the world. Therefore we retreat further and further and end up being not in the world and not of it either!

    I’m also convinced that much of the Church is so enamoured of modernity that it instinctively seeing everything else as not of God. Modernity gave us absolutes, something the Church believes in, and we seek refuge in this!

  2. Purity and holiness doesn’t mean staying away from, of course. Its more about engaging.

    I suppose if your holiness is all don’ts its nothing short of legalism.

    Down with that. But lets not forget that without holiness, no-one will see the Lord (Hebrews somewhere).


  3. Couldn’t agree more, Andrew – holiness is about being called to be something different. I remember the old thermostat/thermometer(sp?) illustration – the thermometer simply tells you what the temp. is, not doing anything to change it – some would say that’s where much of the modern church is – whereas the thermostat reads and then changes the temp.

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