Being THEOriginal

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 3, 2004

A professor of mine is fond of telling students that the early church functioned the way it did (in house meetings with decentralized leadership and distributed ministries) for theological reasons, not merely practical reasons. The way they met and ministered was driven by conclusions they had reached about the nature of their relationship with Christ and one another, as mediated by the Holy Spirit. The medium wasn’t divorced from message.

I have theological convictions informing and shaping the vision for Missio Dei. These beliefs are of primary consideration for me when thinking about church structures and style. And because I felt that the examples of the church I saw around me weren’t being as faithful to these sorts of convictions as I felt that they should, I began to ask myself “what should such a church look like?”

It was its openness to new ways of being church that attracted me to the emergent conversation. About 4 or 5 years ago, I started researching the emergent church, and it seemed to hold a great deal of promise. In many ways, there is still promise within the movement. Nevertheless, it seems the movement as a whole has tended to be very narrow in some regards. The movement started out of theological concerns, and as these theological convictions began to take tangible shape–incarnate, if you will–in a number of emergent churches, a culture was formed…a shared ethos and sensibility that in many ways has determined the movement since–placing restrictions upon the emergent movement…creating a sort of homogeneity.

I run into a sort of rigidity often with people who now claim to be a part of the movement–I get the distinct feeling that I’m not cool enough, or that Missio Dei isn’t “digital aboriginal” enough (though I am technosavvy, I’m not really keen on being uber-image based in our worship). I get the distinct impression that the movement, in many ways, hasn’t been about do church in original ways, according to theological convictions imbedded in Scripture (as I initially thought), but more about the latest “upgrade” of church. Sort of the difference between Windows 98 and Windows XP. I guess I was hoping for something more like Linux.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a number of voices in the emergent movement pushing for THEOriginal ways of doing church (a word I’ve concocted, though someone else has probably already thought of it, to express that we should try to do church in original ways, but in ways driven by theology imbedded in the New Testament). It is just that the general force of the movement has lost some of its creative dynamism.

I don’t think it?s worth being original merely for its own sake. However, if we’re going to move away from church-as-institution towards church-as-people-of-God or church-as-missional-family or whatever, then we need to resist the institutionalizing forces that seem to have hijacked the emergent movement and foster both creativity and biblical faithfulness.

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One Response to “Being THEOriginal”

  1. Anonymous on September 8th, 2004 11:32 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. Lots of positives in the emergent church movement, but plenty of focus on practices seemingly for their own sake as well as an increasing dilution of terms like “missional.” Bring on the Linux church.

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