In response to the conversation the Mike started over at zoecarnate.com I’d like to a little bit about the convergence of house church and emerging church.
FIRST: A DISCLAIMER
My own spiritual biography is as much all over the topography of evangelicalism as the next guy. I grew up in the belly of Churchianity and in 1998 took a neccesarry time out. I was young, I was opinionated, and I had an ax to grind. Since then I’ve spoken about many of those moral outcries’ against the institutional church simply being daddy issues getting worked through. And I do really believe that; not so much about the actual points of contention, make no mistake, I still have real and, I believe, legitimate concerns about that nature and conduct of much of what passes for the Way of Christ today. But actually, in reflection, most of my daddy issues came out in the manner I reacted against the institutional church in. I was angry and brash and fundamentalist to the core. Those attitudal leanings clouded much of what were actual prophetic concerns for direction of Christianity. I made it easy for people to disregard the message.
FROM ONE SYSTEM TO ANOTHER
I cut my teeth in the house church world. I called it primitive church. First century church. I made pithy (read: obnoxious) comments like “God is at home when His people are at home”. I centralized the role of the house in all things. And I was not alone. It felt like most everyone in that stream, be they more radical (ala Gene Edwards, Frank Viola, etc) or more moderate (Rutz, Simpson, Dale), were all reacting deeply to the institution.
Eventually I ceased to live in deconstruction. My enjoyment of labeling denominated Christianity as “them” and those who met in a home as “us” faded. Truth be told I was seeing much of the same deadness I had reacted against, in my own church community. Many of the same issues were incredibly present. Of course I ended up realizing that institutions were not the problems…people were. And without sounding too Augustinian (which I’m not on this issue)…I realize that people are simply going to be…well…people, wherever and in whatever form or system you set up.
That was the other thing I realized. No matter how much you try and escape culture or systems, you are making them. Every point of view is a view from a point. In other words we all bring our entire culture with us. It’s false positivism to imagine we are uninfluenced by our pasts or that THIS church experience will be pure in being detached from our previous ones. Besides all that, if you do something twice you’ve just created a working ritual. And I inherently began to understand some things deserved to be done twice.
ENTER THE EMERGING CHURCH
In many conversations with a variety of people and friends I discovered that there was an entire world of friends and followers of Jesus who were exploring these same radically complex issues. They were doing so with a level of honesty, humility, and dogged experimentation. It felt like they had learned many of the lessons that were now hardpressed for me. For that i was grateful. It also felt like they had not veered quite so reactionary as had I and others in what was now being deemed as ‘the house church movement’. In many of these conversations, culture critique (and church critique) was redirected into culture creation (and church creation)…something I consider infinitly more worthy of time spent.
Over the past while I’ve come to see that the two streams are more connected than disconnected. I found relationship, narrative theology, informality, bottom up distributed leadership, a reappreciation for a more thorough reading of the New Testament, all in house church AND emerging church. I found in both, an honest appraisal of the short comings of modern Christianity and the plight of the Church. And, in both, I found a lot of people who loved Jesus and were attempting to explore the implications of living in His reality.
There are however real differences. I’ve often postulated what they are. For me, and this is based only upon my interpretation of my own experience, as well as my limitted experience of countless groups meeting in homes across the US and several across the world, some of the difference lie in the demographic attracted to both. Take your average house church. According to one well documented source, the average age in the US is over 40. Interesting. Over 40. (That is certainly the case with the group I was a part of. The initial radical birthing of our group, whose thought and aspirations resembled much more of the emerging thinkers of today, was more recently replaced with secure/stable/systematic thinkers…all of whom are typically over 40…nothing bad about that by the way…I love them all)
IT’S ALL ABOUT STEREO TYPES
They are the last hold outs of the boomers. Sociologists say that boomers are the last generation raised in a Modern (philosophically) environment. The boomers then radically changed the landscape didn’t they? But meanwhile they, themselves, are not all that different than their “greatest generation” parents. That’s why the hippie chicks grew up to be hypocrites. Why peacenicks gave birth to war mongers. They created a different society but found it to be too difficult to live with. (I’m speaking in generalities…however, this is hardly original to me…)
WHAT ABOUT GEN X?
Enter Gen X and their children. We are pluralists raised in a pluralistic society. We match our contexts in a way that our parents really didn’t. And so go to your average (if there is such a thing) emergent gathering. There tends to be more of an embrace of culture, more of a nuanced appreciation for symbol and sign, and an ability or at least a desire to live in tension rather than running to fundamentalism (left or right). There is a consideration of form and tradition that the Modern mind cannot grasp. This difference is carefully articulated in the difference between my mother (a boomer) and my wife (a gen x). My mother cannot understand the love of older more distressed furniture that my wife has chosen for our house. The reason…”I want my house to look new…not old” The Modernist Experiment was always forward thinking. The illusion of the Enlightenment was that the present was racing towards a glorious horizon of future completely detached from the old, and should then no respect what the old ways brought. This then is played out over and over in how postmodern worship is characterized as both “future AND ancient” rather than simply searching for the NEXT thing…
As I look at these two experiences I can’t help but wonder if the real difference for me is one of social tendencies. Two different expressions of the church for two different generations or era’s.
To be honest, the house churches I’ve seen seem to be more focussed on deconstruction, even in their constructive forms (as in: “Institutional church says “No!”…I’ll say “Yes!” and so on…this is reactionary even if it’s not deconstructive…and I think it is done at a far deeper level than any one is cognitive of).
SO OFF MY THEORETICAL SOAP BOX
I appreciate that both streams have allowed people who might not otherwise be within the fold of Christianity any more, to inhabit it with a measure of good conscience. I know I hear a lot about radical conversions in both groupings…however, I think as a whole emerging churches and house churches tend to be started by, inspired with, and ministering to the broken and battered children of church; who, filled with Sunday School promises of a deeper life of miracles and mighty wonders, were crushed that those just didn’t come true. For that, both cultural moves should be thanked. They’ve extended the bounds of “orthodoxy”.
In the end…the emerging church conversation enfolds and overtakes the house church movement. The Church truly is emerging. She is growing and maturing. She is reimagining herself and what she was called to be in her birthing moments. Perhaps she always is. A generation ago that reimagining and reaction brought forth the Jesus Movement and thousands of communities meeting in homes for the first time, that gave birth in dream and vision to the house churches of today. Now, younger generations are stumbling along groping for light and life, trying to make sense of the headship of jesus Christ in today’s world. Call it the emergent church, the simple plan, life in the Way of Jesus…whatever…it is changing…the world is different and the Church, both an influencer and influenced by Her culture is changing with it. That change, including the house church exodus of the past, is emerging.
(And all that while realizing there is some debate among emergers about the sustainability of that brand name as such, that being Emerging Church. I get it. I really do. What did we expect when we put thought generators and idea first takers into the same room and then asked them to be content for more than five years with one label? It was inevidable. The word no longers describes the new ideas…though scientifically speaking…I can’t find a better more palatable one)
Filed under: church | Tagged: doug pagit, emerging church, frank viola, gene edwards, house church, james rutz, phyllis tickle, tony dale, Tony Jones, wolfgang simpson, zoecarnate | 5 Comments »