Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Emerging Does Not Mean Leaving Behind – From the Daily Office – January 14, 2013

From the Letter to the Ephesians:

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Ephesians 1:11-14 (NRSV) – January 14, 2013.)

Hands Holding SeedlingAt the emergence Christianity conversation I took part in at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee, this past weekend a distinction was made between “emergence Christianity” and “inherited Christianity”. Paul’s thesis that “in Christ we have obtained an inheritance” and that this inheritance is “redemption as God’s own people” has brought this to mind. (For the details of this movement and some of its history, the book to read is Emergence Christianity by Phyllis Tickle, who was the keynoter of this weekend’s conversation.)

The conclusion I have drawn from the Memphis Conversation is that “emergent” and “emerging” are essentially meaningless labels, other than that the former is a brand name for the Emergent Village and the latter might describe anything that can be associated with what contemporary historians are calling “The Great Emergence” (a way to describe the current upheaval in western society). If it’s an edgy praxis that somehow claims to be “Christian” and uses glitzy up-to-date technology, it can call itself “emergent” or “emerging” without regard to theological content. (Nadia Bolz-Weber referred to this when suggesting that a label that could be applied to her and to Mark Driscoll is a meaningless term.) There are so many things that claim to be “emergent” or “emerging” (from post-evangelical neo-pentacostalism to a post-theist deconstructed church that claims to be “Christian” without any of the marks of the church) that there really is no substance in these terms; they signify nothing.

Perhaps helpfully another participant has suggested that “Emergence does not modify Christianity. Emergence describes an era; Christianity describes a movement. Whether or not Christianity as we/I know it is modified in this new era remains to be seen.” That may be as far as we can currently go with defining this thing that is happening.

As for the “inherited church” and Paul’s reference to our heritage (with the Ephesians) as followers of Christ, I am struck again by the wisdom of my own Episcopal/Anglican tradition. In the 1880s the bishops of the Episcopal Church looked at the question of organic reunions of the various streams of post-Reformation Christianity and suggested there are really only four things on which Christians would need to be agree. The fourth was “the historic episcopate” which, being bishops, you can sort of understand them thinking important. I value to apostolic office of bishop, but I’m not sure it’s a necessity. The other three, though, really our what we, the “inherited church” offer as foundation for the experimentation in the faith that the “emergent” group is undertaking. What those bishops produced was called a “quadrilateral” and their four points were later affirmed by the gathered bishops of the Anglican Communion and is now referred to as The Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral. The substantive content of what the American bishops wrote is:

We do hereby affirm that the Christian unity . . .can be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence; which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.

As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

3. The two Sacraments, — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church. (The Book of Common Prayer – 1979, page 877)

I am quite certain that some among the “emergent” or “emerging” church movement would reject this foundational deposit. I am also quite certain that without at least the first three (as I said, I’m not so certain about the necessity of bishops) the movement cannot be considered “Christian” nor would its embodiment be “church”. I think we can talk about these things critically (for instance, noting that the first does not require a belief in the literal factuality or inerrancy of Scripture, or that the third does not set out a specific theology of the Sacraments, but that both leave open the possibility of a wide variety of understandings). But I do not believe that we can abandon them.

I do not believe that “emerging” means “leaving behind.” It does not mean abandoning our inheritance.


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

1 Comment

  1. mary

    I agree that three of the four points in the quadrilateral could certainly provide a firm foundation for all of us moving ahead. Like you, I am unsure about the usefulness of the historic episcopate, BUT I do know that in the best of all possible worlds, the episcopate can be a safety net against the cult of personality that potentially (and easily) arises around charismatic figures who emerge in local gatherings of believers. At its worse, it engenders cults of personality around bishops.

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