From the Revelation to John of Patmos:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Revelation 3:14-17 (NRSV) – January 12, 2013.)
Well! Here we are . . . just a few days ago I mentioned this text in regard to another lectionary reading. I am attending a conference on “emerging Christianity” this week and this text (having come up in that meditation) has been on my mind. There are many among the participants in this conversation who are quite passionate about the “emerging church” movement; they are definitely not “lukewarm”.
How, I wonder, can this passion enliven the “inherited church” (as Phyllis Tickle calls the institutional church)? Can what is happening among the emergents inspire those of us who still value the traditional church? I hope so.
But there is much about the emergent experience about which I am lukewarm! During the “tweet” conversations that accompanied the presentations there was much dismissiveness expressed. There were comments about the “irrelevancy” of holy orders and of the Holy Sacraments. There is a participant who describes himself as “post-theist” and a panel presenter who suggested that the emergent church needed to abandon Christianity! There are inconsistencies such as following a speaker who argued for a new understanding of the atonement (abandoning the substitutionary penal theory) with a congregational song about Jesus “shedding his precious blood for my sins,” or the movement’s infatuation with ancient spiritual practices (chant, incense, candles) coupled with rejection of the ancient creeds. None of these things are true of emergents across the board (anymore than any particular practice of the inherited church is true across the board of all traditions) but encountering them in this conference leaves me . . . lukewarm.
There is much in this conference of value and there is much about the emergent church that gives me hope, but I am firmly convinced that there is just as much if not more of value in the traditions of the faith and in the treasure of the institutional church. Our task is not to abandon the past, but to turn up the heat in the present. We must be more than lukewarm. I hope the experiments of the emerging church can show us one way to do that.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.
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