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What’s next? > Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church > Part 1

October 25, 2011

So I’m starting to sense some convergence in my personal quest for “What’s next?” As I have been living with the 12 Marks of a New Monasticism there are a couple that I have barely lived into at all. There’s the one on “racial reconciliation” that I have little practice in and this one as well:

5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

N.T. Wright writes, “For many people, in fact, fresh expressions of church mean no church buildings, no services as such, certainly no liturgy, no fixed times or days, and no sacraments… it may be that some readers coming at last to a chapter on shaping the church for mission, are expecting that I will agree with this relentless popular level Protestantism (which is what it is). If so I am afraid I am going to disappoint them… the logic of new creation compels me to what I hope are some salutatory reflections, not to dampen the enthusiasm of new expressions of Christian life but to remind people that they must not throw the banana away with the skin… it won’t do either to stick slavishly to old forms of church or equally slavishly, to abandon all traditions and insist on perpetual innovation.” (Surprised by Hope pgs. 258-259)

A little background. In the UK there was a book that was written called The Mission Shaped Church. Graham Cray wrote it. This led to a movement that continues to this day of new types of churches being started primarily in Anglican and Methodist churches in England (though it has spread to many parts of the world and other denominations. There’s even a fresh expression’s coordinator in southern Ohio… more on that in a minute). This new movement is not surprisingly called “Fresh Expressions.” So when NT Wright uses words like “mission shaped” and “fresh expressions” he is speaking directly in unveiled terms though not naming the actual organizations to a movement that is springing up in his tribe, the Anglicans (or what we in the US call Episcopalians.)

What (I think) N.T. Wright is cautioning against is “throwing the banana out with the skin,” meaning in our quest for innovation and new expressions of church we can not lose sight of what the church has always been. For him that means a traditional, sacramental, worshiping community that is bound by certain shared doctrines and practices that have been a part of the church universal and historic. What the creeds call the “one, holy, apostolic church.” Put another way, the Church that has existed for over 2,000 years and spans all nations.

The concern (and again if I am reading N.T. right) is that protestantism (as opposed to I’m assuming the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions) has gone beyond reforming the church and has continued to split and split and split and split and that new movements like Fresh Expressions and Emergent among others are at risk of taking us even farther away from the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.” For this reason I’m glad the new monastics have decided to anchor in a “humble submission to Christ’s body.” I’m not saying they will all agree with N.T. in advocating a return to a “high church” but at least, if those words are heeded, there will not be a further splintering.

For me personally the experience has been the opposite. The freedom to experiment that I’ve learned from my tribe the Vineyard and from the emerging church movement has led me back toward the more traditional, liturgical church… more on that in a future post…

What do you think?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2011 11:36 am

    Heh. I think you know exactly what I think…!

  2. Mark Rambo permalink
    October 25, 2011 8:18 pm

    I hear what you’re saying. It’s kind of what Tickle talked about in Great Emergence that as new expressions of the church emerges there remains a core of the past (church history, liturgy, etc) that gets refined, strengthened, renewed, etc. She used the example of the Reformation, which forced Catholicism to take a serious look at themselves, reflection, and decide what they were going to be about, refine, improve, etc in light of what was happening around them and what led to the Reformation in the first place.

    I think all of us who are trying to create a safe place for others who find church too institutional, etc, struggle with what we can we still use that is foundational to being the body, in worship, etc. I like Mark Pierson’s stuff about curating worship. Still, what defines us, our doctrines and traditions or our practices as a community grounded in the ways of Jesus where we actually embody those teachings, exhortations, life, etc? I know it’s a both and kind of thing but we usually lean heavy to one side or the other.

    Thanks for this. Much to ponder

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