If in the first section of part 3 [see here part 1 and part 2] I talked about the emerging church can act as a hand-me-up to the christian tradition [bringing the new work of the Spirit and Jesus into focus and allowing renewal and reconnection to flow back] then it is also true that the emerging church needs the hand-me-down of the christian tradition that deep church offers to help us grow old grace-fully.
One day that which seems novel, exciting and experiential/experimental of our pioneering in post-modernity will be past and we will have settled into routine - deep church will I think help us not to settle into a rut.
It is this connection and critique of deep church which i wish to focus on in this section and final section of part 3 - deep church for us is far from a fad but a life sustaining inconvenient encounter with the truth of Jesus, as his body in this world and in the age to come...
An inconvenient truth
The very nature of the best of the emerging church conversation makes us ripe to be open to the idea and practice of deep church - for example: a recognition of the ongoing need for a faith that is about more than ourselves, a realisation of how often we have been wrong in the past and that we need each other rather than depend on ourselves to live this life of faith in following Christ.
Deep church opens us up to a both a critique and way of practicing our faith which I think will lead to not only an emphasis on the best of the emerging conversation but also sustain that conversation, of helping us both embrace continuity and discontinuity...
1. Rediscovering our churchianity
deep church allows us to place ourselves in the emerging church as part of the history and tradition of the church. It allows us to see that we are hold the common traditions of the faith, the creeds etc in common - whilst we agree on the content we are then free to give each other permission to have differing forms that reflect these practices.
The history of the church shows us that christians have practiced gathering together as larger community to testify to remember the story as part of the people of God and gathered together in smaller groups to share their life with each other.
It is this practice that deep church helps us to reconnect too, to not get lost so much in the contents but in creating a space in our lives where we are reminded that we belong to someone else. The inconvenience and cost of church helps us re-orientate our lives and creates a space where we can remind ourselves of why we have chosen to gather and in who's name we do.
Deep church allows us to recognise that the church is not our idea but God's. It is Jesus who has instituted the church and the church remained the primary agency of both passing on the christian faith and in helping christians live in that faith.
2. Mission of God as an invitation to and an ongoing way of different orientated life
Whilst it is helpful to emphasise that our life of worship should only be centred on our christian community but in sacramental people, broken for the world around us, we should not fool ourselves that the rhythms of our lives our largely shaped not by our worship of God but out of our convenience/social patterns.
Mission, whilst vital and by default takes place in those other rhythm shaped places, needs to help people understand and explore the practice of setting time aside - in an age where our time is limited, precious and commodified [time is money] it becomes part of the counter cultural christian witness that we choose to set time aside to be with each other and together to worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In an age where Jason Clark has said that it 'would be more of a miracle for someone to change their diary commitments then to be raised from the dead,we must be aware of the danger of a mission that:
- calls people to be join the people/community of God but provides no place to gather;and/or
- does not challenge that people need to believe and belong and lets them continue to order their lives as they choose [or still belong to what they wish and believe in more].
Our understanding of the church as the body of Christ, our learning from church history of the ongoing need for that body to broken for the world, to serve it, love it and express the different reality of God's kingdom - and then invite people to join with us, who are joined with Christ - lets us both experience in both the pain and the glory, the hurt and the honour, the imperfection and brokenness that is being made new.
3. Deep Church remains both deeply offensive and deeply attractive...
offensive... because it asks us to put face and struggle with our own imperfection, our favouritism, our cliques, and ultimately our own consumer choice. Church as a gathering of people who are marked not by their similarity of social standing, theology, age, gender, race but by our choice to love each other. Not out of some altruistic brotherhood of man or some primal fear but because we are ourselves are loved, accepted and equal because of the love of Christ - we are found in Christ, crucified with him so we can live with him - invited through him to dwell in eternal community and union with the one God in three persons. Church therefore is practice, we will offend each other, we will be hurt by each other, we will do crap things in crap ways, our egos will rise to the surface, our fears and suspicions will cause us to doubt ourselves and each other.
attractive... because it offers us hope of discovering who we are, finding our identity even as we're accepted, facing our fears and our shortcomings, challenged and encouraged - the voices not just of our community in the here and now but the cloud of witnesses from across the ages who are cheering us on, sharing their wisdom and experience through practices handed down and infused and informed by the life giving creative Spirit which allows us to hand me up and refresh the wider church.
4. unity in our diversity
our understanding of ourselves as christians who are part of a chain of faith that stretches back to the very early church and beyond us into the future gives us both a perspective and a challenge- a perspective that we have a story, a history and a heritage that is bigger than ourselves and explains why we are who we are with the beliefs and practices that we do - it is in that common tradition that we share far more in common then separates us.
One day we will become old churches and have left our own contribution to the ongoing unfolding tradition - a challenge because we are asked to be faithful witnesses to our generation, to pass the faith forward and in that we are united in a common purpose and cause that transcends our own hobby horses and pet peeves - to know Jesus and make him known.
In the face of that common tradition and common mission we must ask ourselves how we can be for the other? How can we co-operate rather than compete? To give away and to share rather than to take for ourselves and our own success? For instance mission or evangelism becomes not about my church growing at the expense of the church down the street, or as an Elijah style playoff to determine who's theology is really the best - but about how can we co-operate as the church in the town, city, area that we live. How can we a body of Christ in an area not just in a denomination - so that one church brings people, another a venue, another the contacts with people in need - so that no one is greater but in all and through all Christ receives the glory.
5. regaining confidence in the gospel
if the emerging church has a weakness it is that we lack confidence in the gospel - we are uncertain how to communicate the truths of our christian tradition - how do we have both good news about our own lives, how do we talk about sin, how does Jesus save us, how do we get reconnected as image bearers and start living out the God whose image we are formed in? This is particularly problematic in an age of the individual when choosing to submit our lives to any other authority other than our own is deeply unpopular.
It is easier to talk about how we can make the world a better place, how we can consume in more ethical ways, live in a greener way, be more open, just and tolerant and find ourselves engaging in our own current interests [there is after all no need to be a christian to care for the planet, or the poor, or to opt to buy organic or fairly traded - indeed how much of these are just the trappings of our own liberal west middle class mindset - where we have the time, money and education to live in this way?].
Deep church invites us to have confidence in the gospel, to learn from the riches of the different ways the church has expressed it, how church itself is part of the ongoing story - the place where people gather to hear the story, to share the story, to be invited into God's story rather than be God's of our own. It gives us confidence not in our words, language, novelty value but in the work of the Spirit and Jesus in growing his church. Whilst we do need to find new ways of retelling the old old story in our culture and context, deep church lets us learn from the past, to hear different ways and let our own imaginations be infused and inspired.
What do you think?