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Loving Critique?

23 September, 2003 3:11 PM

Lately I've been hearing an increasing among of criticism of some of the newer forms of Church that are popping up around the place. At first it was nothing direct but were under the breath comments, remarks that could be interpreted different ways or 'knowing looks' between people at meetings. But lately some of the criticisms are beginning to surface in more tangible ways. (which I actually think is a healthy thing and welcome)

A lot of this criticism is that those in the 'Emerging Church' are too negative and cynical about the 'mainline' Church. Some have even gone so far as to say that the EC is actively setting themselves up against and working in opposition to what most churches are doing having written them off as being irrelevant.

I've sat on this argument for a while now and spent some time asking if there is some element of truth to it.

To be honest I can think of a few times when I have heard negative remarks made about the mainline church in conferences or in conversation - there are times when I've wondered if those speaking have gone too far with their critiques. I've witnessed on a few occasions bridges being burnt and relationships being broken over such comments. This saddens me as in my reading of the words of Jesus in John 17 - we are called to unity and love as we interact with one another as his disciples.

However I wonder if there is a place for evaluation and critique when it comes to thinking about the state of the church today. Without it does the church run the risk of becoming somewhat stagnant? It strikes me that throughout history the church has often made great leaps forward in times when those within (and particularly those on the fringes of it) have had the courage to ask questions, make stands and argue against those in the centre. We see this throughout history, going right back as far as Paul in making a stand over the Gentile issue.

Unfortunately as we trace these instances back through history we also see that these can be times of pain and even of splitting within the body. In nature we often see that its in such painful circumstances (even to the point of death) that change and new growth comes.

Perhaps we find ourselves with somewhat of a paradoxical calling?

We are called as the Body of Christ to love one another. By this love the world will know of our discipleship. However we are also called to be a dynamic organism that is willing and able to change and become renewed as we worship and reach out to our world. There is some tension here - yet I do not see a problem with these two callings working themselves out together.

I've got more to say - but have to run. Thoughts anyone?



Not surprising that there can be division over these things. I'm remembering the scripture about new wine in old wineskins, and how they burst. We are called to unity, but sometimes we hold fast to our traditions and things we call comfortable. But as cultures change, the way we need to meet people changes as well.

Phisch » 23 September, 2003 3:53 PM

The earliest problem the church faced was how to adapt to changing times and cultures. I think you're bang on. I hope that those of us who are part of this new form (or whatever you want to call it) won't think we're above criticism.

Darryl » 23 September, 2003 9:08 PM

It's just inevitable.
I have been both a minister and an active member in "seeker churches." That movement is probably 20 years old, yet I still hear criticism about doing something "new."
Truth be told, I think it is the fear traditionalists have of anything different. In this sense, they raise methodology over theology and even ecclesiology itself.
Of course, those of us in nontraditional movements or churches can be guilty of the same thing, so I think it's important to listen to the criticism, evaluate it in a non-knee-jerk way, and then decide whether it is valid or not.

Jared » 23 September, 2003 10:55 PM

I think you may have something there Jared by saying fear is often behind the bad feeling between one group and another.

However the ironic thing is that in my experience its not just the 'traditionalists' that seem to be criticising the EC. In fact in our context its often the traditional church that is most behind what we're doing - rather its some of the more recent 'models' of church/worship that seem to be our harshest critics.

Darren Rowse » 23 September, 2003 11:25 PM

Good thoughts Darren. These issues are far huger than many think. The shaping of the church for the coming years is happening under many people's noses and they don't even realize it. I was saying something similar to this just last week I think it was on The Ooze blog in a comment. I think to squelch the voices of those who are calling for revolution in the church is dangerous. It is to possibly squelch some of what God is doing to re-orient His people so that they are then properly formed.

I think what needs not to happen is simply people getting pissed off and railing on everyone and everything merely because it is "the old way." Now, another story is when "the old way" is actually retarding spiritual formation and hurting people - this needs to be spoken and acted against. It should not be tolerated. And I think that very likely many of the things people do not want us to critique, thinking they are just fine, are those things which have been holding God's children down for so long. So, it's a little bit of a hard road. In these times, everything will not be, probably cannot be, all nice and peaceful between these arenas. There will be conflict and it is good because there needs to be in order for people to wake up.

I hope that made sense. I agree that simply being an "angry young man" will not do it. But an "angry" young man or woman with a purpose, a solid theology of what it means to BE the church, and a great desire to see people formed into what they were created to be - this is a great force - one which needs to be unleashed. I think it is happening, but there is still much fear and holding back. I hope this wasn't too long. Good relevant topic of conversation.

+ Alan » 24 September, 2003 12:14 AM

I find myself walking the line every day.

While I no longer align myself ideologically with the established church neither do I want to severe relationships because then I am powerless to influence for change.

It is a difficult line trying to speak courageously into a place where you are usually misunderstood, patronised or seen as opinionated. I agree with Jared that fear is a real issue.

Its real for me today as I have just come home from the denominational 'church planting' meeting where the church growth flag (in the form of 'Paul Borde') was unfurled larger than ever as the answer to all of our woes

Borden says some good stuff, but he also says some stuff that makes me ill. I never enjoy voicing my objections to the great hope people have!

I agree that unity is a key, so long as we can see that diveristy of expression is not counter to that.

I am rambling!

hamo » 24 September, 2003 12:59 AM

rather its some of the more recent 'models' of church/worship that seem to be our harshest critics.

Ironic, isn't it?
Even those of us on the modern side of things -- whatever form that takes -- can be dogmatic about our modernism. I hate it that folks who claim to favor innovation cannot see value in yours, especially since yours seems more ancient-future than what passes for "church" in our Age of Spectacle.
It reminds me of something Dallas Willard wrote in The Divine Conspiracy: "You can be just as proud and fleshly in informal services as you can in traditional and formal ones; perhaps even more so, especially if you are proud of being informal." (That's a terrible paraphrase from a quote dimmed by my bad memory, but I think the point is the same.)

In my particular church efforts, the extreme can be an idolization of numbers. Growth becomes quantifiable by counting heads and isn't necessarily gauged by the church's spiritual health. There is also, in our "contemporary" worship services, a real danger in worshipping the worship experience, rather than the Object of worship Himself.

But, yeah, I think in every instance of criticism -- modern churches of the emerging church, traditional churches of the modern church -- there is a measure of fear involved. Folks are somehow threatened by someone doing it "another way," because even our new ways can become the sacred cows we thought we'd sacrificed to get here.

Jared » 24 September, 2003 6:29 AM

In my experience, it is better to express your personal concerns relative to your positive or negative experiences of the mother church. Even voicing these concerns come across as arrogant enough without trying to objectively critique the church (i.e. stating the shortcomings as universal facts). When we do this, we come across as less judgemental. Even if we aren't judgemental in any way, it will still be perceived as such by mainline supporters.

It is more difficult to become defensive when we are speaking out of our experience. When we do this we free the person we're talking to to ask questions of their own. We also might help to open their eyes to things that are happening that they don't see.

As far as relating to the "mainline" churches, I think the EC would be better off to go after the one sheep that falls through the cracks then to try to convert others to a new way of thinking or doing things. This lends itself to unity and love without the judgementalism.

Jer Olson » 24 September, 2003 9:20 AM

Yes, yes, yes.
When I was on a church staff doing a different kind of church (this was about 7 years ago), we started out with several Christian families in our core leadership. These were mature Christians. But they soon grew weary of doing work. The catchphrase du jour? -- "We're not being fed."
We at first mourned losing these folks to churches where they could spectate and "relax." (I call them "Audrey II" churches, because it seems like the churchgoers are the ravenous and slothful "Feed me, Seymour" types.)
But later, we just decided not to sweat it. It wasn't worth getting upset about. Eventually, our philosophy was, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." It sounds cold to say that, but I mean, come on -- you've been a Christian for 20 years. How long do you plan on staying "the weaker brother"?

So, Jer, you hit the nail right on the head from my perspective:
I think the EC would be better off to go after the one sheep that falls through the cracks then to try to convert others to a new way of thinking or doing things
I'm over having to defend myself and my ecclesiology to Christians who just don't get it. I can cite Jesus' ministry til the cows come home, but in the end, I just have to wish them well and not continue seemingly endless debate.

On the Thinklings site today, our Quote of the Day is: "I'm fine if some folks want to guard the sacred cows while the rest of us go looking for the lost sheep. Just don't criticize us for not sucking on the teats with you."

Jared » 24 September, 2003 12:55 PM

Two points - firstly, if we feel the need to criticise part of the Body, perhaps we need to look at our motives for doing so - is it to justify our own stance, or is it out of genuine concern for those we criticise? Perhaps God is 'calling' others to their way of 'doing church' as much as he is calling us to ours? If we suffer criticism, should we forgive and get on with our own walk?

Secondly, there is a place for looking 'inwards' and evaluating what we're doing as 'The Church'. But does this evaluation lead us towards the works of Christ, or simply end in cranial yoga? Are we, by all these blogs, conferences, books, mags, etc. on how to 'do church' renewing our desire to 'do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God' (Micah)?

Penny » 24 September, 2003 7:43 PM

I think Paul's image of the body is a good one for this discussion. Do we look at a part of our body and say "gee that needs more exercise, a doctor or a bandaid"? Ofcourse we do. And so we do with parts of the body of Christ that need questions asking of it. Just like the body we are bombarded with advice - some good and some bad to make judgements and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. But, in asking the questions I think we learn something that we wouldnt if we didnt ask at all.

phil » 24 September, 2003 9:24 PM

"relating to the "mainline" churches, the EC would be better off to go after the one sheep that falls through the cracks then to try to convert others to a new way of thinking or doing things."
As I continue in the "mainline" church, having an emerging church personal approach, it is difficult! Is there a way that those of us still in the mainlines/traditionals to go after the sheep that have fallen and begin to bring the church alive? I have no answers, just frustrations most of the time.

Barry » 25 September, 2003 1:44 PM

I live in a very traditional place. VERY. We have been trying to launch an EC here, and its difficult finding those who will jump on board to help. I mean, we only have one "contemporary" church here, if that gives you an idea, as opposed to about 70 traditional, 1970 style churches.
After a year, we have a group of about 14 of us, enough to get started.
How do you sell something no one has seen or even thought of?
I dont think you can in our context. We are just going to concentrate on the lost sheep, and that way, when they come into the pen, they will think that all churches are this way.
You guys are right. It is virtually impossible to convert others to our way of thinking. I guess a good question would be "Is it our job to convert the church to our way of thinking?"
In church planting there is an old saying, "It's easier to give birth than to raise the dead."

Scott » 30 September, 2003 12:26 AM

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