Labels & Disillusionment

I’ve never been a big fan of giving people labels, and while I recognize a certain necessity for categorizing people by various criteria in order to facilitate discussion, it’s a practice I tend to shy away from (hence, some people calling me ‘Mr. Technicality’). I have always been one to make statements of broad generalization, all the while recognizing, if not outright stating and identifying, the fact that there are exceptions to every rule. Generalizations and stereotypes have their places and are useful, but they can be relied upon much too heavily at times.

For instance, there is a grand “disillusionment”: in American Christian culture with nearly every major division of thought, philosophy, theology, etc. I won’t say that the disillusionment is necessarily representative of American Christian culture, as a whole. Certainly if it was, there would be no problem at all, since everyone would be of like mind. But part of this disillusionment stems from those who adhere so strictly to a particular way of thought that they become militant about it. These groups become legalistic and extremist to the point where they cannot accept or respect anyone whose viewpoint differs in any way. Or conversely, they become so entrenched in their way of doing things that they become entirely apathetic. Both are extremes, and both inspire disillusionment in those Christians who want more.

From what I can gather from the little bit of research and reading I have done recently, this disullisionment is a major part of the inspiration of the emergent church. I’m not entirely clear on the all aspects of thought within the emergent church movement, but I do get the impression that part of the philosophy is the rejection of traditional church in favor of smaller, more informal gatherings of like-minded believers who want nothing more than to follow their Savior and have a healthy sense of community but who wish to distance themselves from an ideology and way of Christian living that is now commonly viewed in America as intolerant and hateful. The traditional church in America has in many ways and places become dead, content with a lackadaisical lifestyle that requires nothing of its members and reaches out to the community not at all. (I blame it, in large part, on the opulence of our culture. In countries where the people have little and their freedoms are severely restricted, the church is thriving in a way which we can only imagine.) Again, there are exceptions to every rule, and I am pleased that my own church is large and growing larger — a living, vibrant congregation driving it onward to ever greater things. But there are not as many churches that can say that as there were a decade ago. Indeed, many churches are “burning their pastors and staff out”: by requiring too much of them while giving very little back.

I respect and admire the goals of the emergent church, but I fear that the movement is too much of an extreme in the other direction from the traditional church — a reaction, rather than a balanced response. As usual I believe that the ideal solution is to be found in the middle, a “balance”: of both viewpoints and approaches. I have never understood why all _good_ approaches to church and evangelism cannot exist in a single ministry. If the folks from the emergent movement would find their ways back into the traditional church congregation, bringing with them the vibrance of their faith and the passion of their desires to find Christ and worship God, we might begin to see true revival sweep through our nation. At the same time, the traditional church can provide something that the small community model of the emergent church might struggle with — larger community, greater resources, greater ability to reach out to the community and serve God by serving the public. Will this be easy? No, I think not. Perhaps the hardest part of this whole process will be jostling the complacent Christians out of their repose and knocking the cavalier Christians off their high-horses. But I believe it to be a worthy goal, one worth pursuing and dedicating one’s life to. The church in America needs to live again, and there are pockets of life all over the place. If the pockets of life join with the half-living and dying churches, sustaining one another as they go, I believe it possible to bring new life and new vibrance to the church such as we’ve not seen since the Great Awakening. But it will require sacrifice on both sides, the emergents giving up their comfortable communities and the traditionals giving up their carefree attitudes and ways of life.

I am not a fundamental, “evangelical”:, Baptist, or emergent. I am not Calvinist, Arminian, Wesleyan, or Presbyterian. What I am is a follower of Christ, a Christian, a man who wears the name my Lord and who wants to see Christianity awaken to its true purpose again, who wants to see passion for God renewed and restored, who wants to see the Church in America begin to do what Christ intended it to do — reach out to _all_ and bring them to the Kingdom. I want to take the best of all worlds, discard the worst, and build a community of Christ-followers who are passionate about their Lord and who know how to communicate that passion in such a way as to draw others in. We have fallen down on this task, and I think that the only way to pick ourselves back up is by forsaking our differences and joining together to build a community that works together for the greater good.

6 thoughts on “Labels & Disillusionment”

  1. I hope so. Now, granted, I’m sure I’ve not got the whole emergent church thing right in my own head yet. I just know what the traditional church looks like, since that is what I grew up with, and I have a little bit of an idea of what the emergent church is all about. But I also know what the church should look like, and I know that the American church hasn’t got it yet. Hence, the thoughts written out above, and as always, thoughts in progress.

    Crazy though — this article encompasses thoughts that have been sifting through my head for a little while, thoughts that I was going to write about separately, and then today they all come together and I begin to see relationships between them. It’s a heady experience when meta-analysis takes place. I just hope I was able to communicate it clearly enough…

  2. You label me and I usually will try my best and prove you wrong. Not sure why that is but I like to think of myself as a little more unpredictable than that.

    I like to think that God is that way too.

  3. I am not a fundamental, evangelical, Baptist, or emergent. I am not Calvinist, Arminian, Wesleyan, or Presbyterian. What I am is a follower of Christ, a Christian, a man who wears the name my Lord and who wants to see Christianity awaken to its true purpose again, who wants to see passion for God renewed and restored, who wants to see the Church in America begin to do what Christ intended it to do—reach out to all and bring them to the Kingdom.” ”

    Yes, Jim, I’m absolutely onboard with you here. Emerging church stuff is provocative, but let’s not miss the point. And the point is well-articulated here.

    (great to meet ya jim! i bumped into you at grace’s place. see ya around the blogosphere!)

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