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12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church

I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much as you think, but there is certainly a lot of heated discussion, mud-slinging and tabloid criticism. There is even the threat of physical abuse and organizations withdrawing favor, or young people leaving their denominations and starting fresh expressions of church without the blessing of their elders. Not good! The emerging church is called to be a reconciling community and part of that reconciliation must happen in the realm of communication.

Here are 12 tension points. I am sure there are many more, but these came to mind yesterday on a London train. Thankfully we don't have to choose between one or the other. "It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other." (Solomon, Proverbs)
This may be simplistic, but as i see it, the main tension points would include the following (emerging church tends to emphasize the second) :

1. The Statement of Faith and the Rule of Life.
Many emerging churches form and require commitment to a rule of life before they develop a doctrinal statement. This makes it look like doctrinal statements are undervalued and creates a tension point.
More about Rule of Life and new monasticism here or read the story of when I took a vow during my night of absolute terror. I think its really important to read and affirm the historic creeds, as I did recently in responding to some questions.

2. The Pulpit and the Table
The reformation moved the table to the side of the church and the pulpit to the middle. Emerging churches are often restoring the centrality of the Lords Supper - having services that mimic the Love Feast, or at least give prominence to the Eucharist. Good book on the subject called Mass Culture: Eucharist and Mission in a Post-Modern World, edited by Pete Ward.

3. The Sermon and the Story.
This is the tension of the proposition illustrated by narrative and the narrative that highlights a proposition
Preaching is often more narrative based so that the points or propositions can be processed in public, allowing greater accountability and ownership.

4. The Church and the Kingdom
Teaching about the Kingdom of God is emphasized in the emerging church - allowing a bigger picture of how the church fits in to the scheme of God's plan of reconciliation.

5. The Epistles and the Gospels
The gospels inform our missiology as well as the epistles. Emerging church people are insisting on seeing the epistles and the book of Acts through the lens of Jesus teaching and life, instead of the other way around. This is why I teach so much on the gospels and their relevance for church planting.

6. Static Worship and Dynamic Worship
Motion is again a factor in our worship. Worship happens often in navigable space, whether it is station to station, prayer walking, pilgrimage, or labyrinth-like journeys of worship such as the the gate to gate worship in the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles. This creates tension and suspicion with the stage led worship

7. Teaching to Agree and Teaching to Obey
Obedience-based teaching is emphasized and given preference. This does not mean that assentment to a set of beliefs is not important. In fact, I highly recommend the historic Christian creeds and more recent as a global . But Jesus said to make disciples of every nation, baptising them and teaching them to obey. We cannot afford to leave off those last two words.

8. The Scholar/Orator and the Reflective Practitioner
Training for emerging church is producing reflective practitioners who are hands-on leaders of new mission-shaped churches. Knowing how to deal with the demonic, start a church with no budget and knowing how to explain the gospel in the language of the hearer is more valuable than having an academic degree or the ability to give a great sermon. Changes in training methods and content are reflecting this.

9. The Teacher/Pastor and the Apostle/Prophet
Teachers and Pastors have given leadership to the church in a Christian context - where safe-guarding the sheep is the most important thing. But as the church begins to form in a post-Christian context where there are more goats than sheep, those gifted with apostolic and prophetic gifts are more equipped to point the way forward.

10. Theology and Missiology
Related to the previous tension point. As the gospel takes form in a new or post-Christian context, a biblical contextual missiology is given more space. Retired missionaries may become a huge asset to the emerging church.

11. Western and Global
Our global world is impacted by voices from all over the world. Theologians, missionaries and teachers, especially those from Africa, Asia and Latin America, are often suspect under a highly western-dominated educational system. I see this tension point as being one that is only just beginning - much of our future debates will find their root in the clash between west and east.

12. Old Media and New Media
This is still a huge tension point. It came up again yesterday when i was teaching and I am sometimes reluctant to bring it up without a lot of explanation. The emerging church is taking root in a new media world and the gospel is making sense to new media minds. Our communication is increasingly digital and online. I have some thoughts on new media here. Its really important to acknowledge that our new media is just a tool and that the virtual will never replace the actual/physical. As i said yesterday, technology supplements and assists us, and the internet is allowing greater reach, but nobody wants a virtual Christmas dinner.

ok - lets make it a baker's dozen

13. Single Leader and Team Leadership
The tension point is not so much male vs. female leadership (although there is a lot of discussion on it) but in the organic emerging churches there is a shift to a five fold ministry, and churches led by multiple elders rather than a single Senior Pastor.

Anyway - nothing in cement here - just jotting down my thoughts.
I think we all need to avoid extremes, or creating disunity unnecessarily. Much better to create understanding.

Lets hold fast to all things good. Lets be gracious to those who do not see the whole picture or who do not understand the changes, knowing that we also do not see the whole picture clearly. Neither did Job, but Job remained blameless.
Lets endure suffering for righteousness sake, knowing that our Lord suffered under religious rulers who could not see clearly what God was intending for his people. And it was he who sent out his followers like lambs among wolves.

There is one body, the Body of Christ, and we are all member of it. Only together with them will we be complete.