Thursday, November 30, 2006

Recreating the Church

This is an idea that seems to float about in the emergent conversation. These words get bandied about. For example, Makeesha writes: "Can we create a new and more effective Body of Christ that better glorifies the multifaceted beauty of our Living Lord?"

From an Orthodox perspective, any such question MUST be approached in the forum of personal repentance, I think. I have to ask: Can I become a new and more effective servant of Christ who better glorifies the multifaceted beauty of my Living Lord? And that is why I go to confession. And that I way I engage in the ancient disciplines of the Church. That is why I learn to fast, pray and give alms both in time and money. That is why there are intercessory prayers offered up on behalf of all.

But the idea of recreating the Church...this doesn't sit well with me. Who are we, to take such power into our own hands? Who are we to stand in such judgment on our brothers and sisters? Because the Church is not just the ones I see when I go to a certain place on Sunday morning, or Saturday night, or whenever. It includes those who have already fought the fight and who are interceding for us in heaven. We are one body, and to speak of "recreating" something as holy and precious as the Church of Christ, whom He has made His pure and spotless bride, is presumptuous.

Now, if we want to use different language, and challenge the people of God to works of mercy, to purer lives, to living the gospel in new and deeper ways, this I can wholeheartedly endorse. But missional living is nothing new. It may be a new word to define a certain phenomenon, but I would offer up St. Juliana of Lazarevo, St. John of Kronstadt, St. Xenia of Petersburg, St. Herman of Alaska and espcially St. Maria (you know, the one in Paris) as a examples of missional saints. The list could go on and on. This is nothing new. From where I sit, intentional community is room temperature, and saints such as these are those we strive to immitate.

The Church, then, does not need something new. She needs something ancient. She does not need us to recreate her, but rather WE need to be recreated by the great physician and healer, Christ.

So perhaps we agree in principle, but not in the language being used.

Talk to me.


before i was so rudely interrupted said...

I tend to agree with you that it's presumptuous to think that we could create a better church. I don't believe any man-made institution ever could manage to do what the Church has managed to do anyway. While there is much room for improvement the Church has stood throughout the ages virtually unchanged. Trying to build another church would entail a different foundation without the proper placing of the Cornerstone. I also regret the disparaging of Tradition. Who would we be if it weren't for the Saints of the Church? We wouldn't have a church! So rather than arrogantly saying we can do it better I think we need to acknowledge their struggle and the gains made by them and seek to emulate them.

Meg said...

I often think of what a Catholic said to me on learning that I had left the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy: "You can search and search to find the perfect church, and the moment you join it, it's not perfect anymore." I knew there was a logical disconnect there somewhere, but didn't know what it was until I saw that quote again, attributed to Billy Graham -- and there was my disconnect: If you are a Protestant, your church is basically man-made, so you can reinvent it to your heart's content, and it never will be perfect; it will always be in need of change. But the Orthodox Church *is* perfect, having been founded by our Lord Himself. Its members are certainly not perfect, but His Church is -- and therefore, in no need of change.

Philippa said...

One needs to clarify "church" (little 'c'), with "Church" (big 'C').

How can we recreate the Church when it was Christ who did so? That makes no sense to me.

Thomas Ham said...

Thank you so much for this post! I haven't been able to word anything like this, so it was refreshing to see it written in so little words.

Ruth said...

As I understand the goals of the movement, it's not so much about "recreating the church" as it is about inviting people in who would otherwise pass by. I agree that recreating Christ's body is presumptuous, but I also think that reaching out to others in a way that is likely to attract them is what Christians have always done.

But what would I know, I'm a Protestant.

Theodora said...

If the movement is about seeking and welcoming people, I wonder if it would be better to actually call it that.

In a homily I heard once, the priest talked about "changing the depth of the hook" -- trying to make services that attracted people because they were at the right time, the right place, had the right music, proffered good service opportunities, etc. Having a marketing plan, basically. This was contrasted to using the Net of Love to catch people, will they nill they.

And Ruth, please don't be put off by Orthodox, shall I say...*certainty*...? I often feel that we would benefit by having close relationships not only with non-Orthodox, but non-Christians, so that our assumptions and, er, um, assumptions, get examined on a regular basis!

Ruth said...

Theodora, it's good to know you don't consider "non-Orthodox" and "non-Christian" to be synonyms. From previous conversations, I know that's not universally the case among Orthodox believers! I was a bit taken aback the first time I realized my Orthodox friends didn't consider me part of Christ's church.

For your edification, here's Purgatorio's tongue-in-cheek take on the Emergent church movement.

alana said...

Ruth, that was probably me being stupid several years ago and not communicating well. Please forgive me.

Because of historical continuity, the Orthodox are willing to say where they know the Church is, but they will not say where the Church is not.

Just this weekend I got to hear a talk by my Archbishop who stated that Orthodoxy is merely having the right doctrine of Christ. And that anytime and anyplace a person has the right doctrine of Christ there is cause for rejoicing and gladness.


I do want your input in my blog, in conversations such as this, and in my life, and I do consider you a sister in Christ, my obnoxious "Orthodox confidence" (as Theodora puts it) notwithstanding.

Ruth said...

Alana, sometimes in email conversations things get misunderstood. I could very well have been the one who misunderstood rather than you miscommunicating. You don't need to apologize and I'm glad you consider me a sister! Right back atcha! :-)

I need to learn the spiritual discipline of sitting on my hands sometimes instead of typing the first thing that comes into my head!

And by the way, I'm certainly no expert on the Emergent church. I'm at the place you are, I think, just starting to learn about it. I recently read Blue Like Jazz, which I gather is one of the books the movement claims.