In the introduction and chapter one the authors discuss questioning church practices. In the introduction, George Barna asks, “Does it really matter how we practice our faith, as long as the activities enable people to love God and obey Him?”
He goes on to say:
“Adhering to the principles of the New Testament does not mean re-enacting the events of the first-century church…Just because a practice is picked up from culture does not make it wrong in and of itself.”
George describes the purpose in learning the history of our religious practices:
While we have “great leeway in the methods we use to honor and connect with Him,” we need to “sort out those cultural influences that contribute from those that detract” in order to “determine the core principles and ethos of the early church and to restore those elements to our lives.”
The idea of questioning and considering how we do church is certainly not a new idea to those involved in the emerging conversation. That is why I was somewhat surprised to see the reaction against this book by those that I would consider emerging.
These thoughts from Scot McKnight’s article, Five Streams of the Emerging Church, seem to parallel the ideas presented in this book:
“Emerging Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred. At its core, the emerging movement is an attempt to fashion a new ecclesiology.
Some emerging Christians see churches with pulpits in the center of a hall-like room with hard, wooden pews lined up in neat rows, and they wonder if there is another way to express—theologically, aesthetically, and anthropologically—what we do when we gather. They ask these sorts of questions: Is the sermon the most important thing on Sunday morning? If we sat in a circle would we foster a different theology and praxis? If we lit incense, would we practice our prayers differently? If we put the preacher on the same level as the congregation, would we create a clearer sense of the priesthood of all believers? If we acted out what we believe, would we encounter more emphatically the Incarnation?”
As traditional churches decline and new models and structures are explored, it seems to me it would be helpful to know the history of our practices in determining what core principles and ethos are important to carry forward with us into the future.
Also, as the discussion progresses, I would like to refrain from pitting one model against another. I don’t believe the point of any of this is traditional church versus house church. I would like to see us explore ecclesial mentalities rather than ecclesial models. When we talk about institutionalism versus organism, we should not assume that either of these traits applies to a specific model without exception.
Len at Next Reformation offers an interesting perspective about this in his post institutions and “bad faith.” He defines institutionalization as “the process of moving from personal and shared responsibility for the ongoing life of a community to reliance on mechanisms and means that may no longer relate to the founder’s purpose.”
Len also points out that the issue really isn’t about structure. He said:
The problem is, if you have an unorganized church, you don’t have a church at all. There is no such thing as an unorganized organism. All life is organized, and when it dis-integrates it dies. So, the contrast between IC and organic church is not really a debate about organization.
The core principles and ethos of church should be applicable to a variety of models and cultures rather than limited to one specific ideal of how ecclesia is expressed. I hope that as we look at each of the topics, we can look for the essence of what contributes to church life rather than attempting to prescribe a hard and fast rule that everyone must follow.
As Dan would say, peace out.