Wednesday, March 30, 2005

some Thoughts on Emergent Church and Orthodoxy

There are various Blogs dealing with the issue of the Emergent Chruch (EC) and their "borrowing" from Roman Catholic (RC) and Orthodox traditions. I have not followed everything in detail nor read all that has been said, since Tripp clued me into the conversation at Blogodoxy. And Clifton has some links here.
I am on the edge of EC, in some sense Reconciler could possibly be pigeon holed there, and Tripp, members of our congregation, and myself have taken part in Up/Rooted the local EC conversation. However, my journey as a Christian has long been in conversation with Roman Catholicsim, and my adult journey has been in conversation with both Roman Cathocism and Orthodoxy. Orthodox and Roman Catholics have and continue to have a deep and profound influence and effect on my faith. I speak to this discussion of whether or not the EC folk should just run straight to Orthodoxy (or Roman Catholicism) and thus return to the ancient faith from the POV of one who is Protestant and has been influenced by Orthodoxy but has remained Protestant.
Ecclesiology is certainly central here. I think it is on this point that any leaving my tradition would require being convinced of either RC or Orthodox ecclesiology. However, there are obstacles: one my experience of the Spirit and that my tradition taught me to love Christ and the Church (note not just my tradition and denomination), and is not incompatible with the seven ecumenical councils (so far as I understand them) and thus I do not see that I am out of communion with nor that I ever have been out of communion with the Chruch. My sense is that this is also the experience of the EC. What I and (I understand) the EC reject in Protestantism is the false claim that Protestantims (in one form or all of its forms) is the Chruch and that some how in the 16th Century the Church was resurected as Protestatism. However, and this was a relization that kept me from becoming Roman Catholic in colege, if you read the reformers carefully they were not saying this, they claimed continuity that they claimed the corrupt papacy of the 16th century lacked.
Then there is also, from the protestant side competing cliams of continuity: the Orthodox and other easter churchs and Roman Catholicism all claiming to be The Church. Historicaly speaking we know that divisions have occured from early and in the case of the Copts and Armenians it is unclear that these divisions were simply due to heresy as much as misunderstanding -- liguistic and cultural. In some sense the division between Rome and Easter Orthodoxy can also be (at least from a Protestant reading) largely chalked up to linguistic an cultural misunderstandings. Rome, Easter Orthodox, Copts, Armenians etc. seemt to all be able to claim in one way or another continuity with the Apostles.
I am not arguing for some ecclesiology nor saying that this historical reality keeps me from responsibly looking into and seeking the truth and to seeking out the fullness of the Church. however, claims of continuity are vague, and it seems to me historically true to say that St. Paul did not use the liturgy of St John Chrysostom, so it isn't even that Orthodoxy is this unchanging monolith, nor that St Peter was Pope in the way Pope John Paul II is Pope (assuming it isn't anachronistic to call St. Peter a pope). This isn't to say that historical change negates claims of continuity but that if you admit historical change as part of the reality of continuity (as seems to me is patently obvious and uncontroversial) then claims and arguments concerning continuity and discontinuity are more nuanced. Claims of continuity are not patently obvious, unless you are already Orthodox or RC. Thus, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to claim that my writing icons is already evidence of my being in communion with and in continuity with the church in its fullness. Now, it is also not necessarily evidence of this, but something is going on beyond simple "borrowing". Borrowing of course assumes that there is absolute discontinuity and lack of connection. Something at this poitn I would deny.
II am just gliding over the surface of some of the historical problems EC folk might have with either an RC or Orthodox call to abandon thier traditions all togther for RC or Orthodoxy. Of course either RC or Orthodox ecclesiology might eventual make sense to me, and some in the EC. So by all means Keep to your guns but also understand there are obsticals and they don't all reside on the Protestant side of things. Let me just say that you wade arround in Orthodoxy long enough and you suddenly find your self confronted with the issue of jurisdictions and the ways in which Orthodoxy is tied to ethnicity (at least in the US) and this seems to contradict its claims to be simply and without complication the Church. From an outside observers POV sometimes Orthodoxy and Roman Catholcism seem to be as much united as Protestants (or equally divided). Granted you might claim theological purity, but isn't that supposed to manifest in conduct? My point is that from where I sit becoming orthodox is simply to take up the same problems of Christianity I have as a Protestant and simply dress them in vestments while speaking Old Chruch slavonic and Greek, instead of Latin or German.
Another point is that evangelicals have been trained in the experience of faith. To say to me that I am a Christian that my faith is true that my baptism is true baptism but to deny that I am part of the Body of Christ seem absurd on the surface. In a way I understand and respect the Orthodox and RC insistance to the contrary. But again given that there are two representatives of the Ancient Chruch available to me again a more ancient division in Christianty than the Protestant produces an obstacle to ecclesiological claims.
It does not seem contradictory for me to claim that I have faith in Christ, that I am filled with the Holy Spirit and that my tradition shows evidence of life of the Spirit, and then to jump to to say that in some sense my tradition and I are part of the Church, and that some continuity remains with the apostles.
Thus it is not contradictory from this POV to take up writing Icons seeking to live into ancient liturgyies to claim St Basi, St Gregory etc. (I could set off a whole list but I will leave these two that came to me off thetop of my head), as compatriots with whom I am in fellowship.
What has not been taken into account is that EC is not simply about disaffection with the status quo but a sense that the Church is larger than this or that movement. That is what I see in the EC is in fact a sense that there is continuity without the need to return to the primitive church, or New Testament Church, in some prestine fashion, but that we are already in continuity with the community that was founded by Jesus and the Apostles and that we should be living into that fulness and in fact to do so is to be relavant in our time and culture. (Now I will also say that there are EC folk who are not thinking in this way).
Lastly, I will say that it may be true that many in the EC may be on a journey to Orthodoxy or RC. I will even admit that at times it does seem that in a few years I will be myself at the doors of Orthodoxy. Yet, I know that I am not there, and on other days my entire being tells me this isn't a journey back but forward, that I am burried and raised with Christ, that the Spirit witnesses to my spirit that I am precisely where I am supposed to be. It may be in fact that both are true.
So, perhaps you are right EC folk and myself are on a journey and we will find ourselves some day at the doors of the True Church realizing that we have been journeying there along even though we believed our journey was other wise. My hunch is that those of you in Orthodoxy could not have taken a short cut to where you are now, perhaps you should stop insisting that those of us who seem to be on the way take your suggested detours.
All I can tell you is that I am not at the doors of Orthodoxy yet, and that your arguments do not yet convince me that I am outside of the Church. Their good arguments don't get me wrong, I simply don't yet share all the presupositions and those presupositions contradict my experience of my faith in Christ and my love for the Church. Thus from my perspective and from the perspective I suspect of many EC, I am not borrowing but simply living into the fullness of the faith I have always had since my baptism at one month old, which I have and continue to grow into. Even so don't stop claiming what you believe to be true, and I wont stop insisting on the truth of how I have come to the faith, by the grace of God, as it has come to me through my Protestant tradition and church. All our ecclesiology's present us with tensions that are not resolved through argument. And so we pray, for each other (I hope), for the world, for the revelation of the spotless Bride of Christ the Chruch, one, holy, cahtolic, and apostolic. Lord have mercy.