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Monday, June 4, 2007

emerging thoughts

i know the topic of the emergent church has been discussed ad nauseum, and yet i have some thoughts.

since my new (old) car came equipped only with a tape deck, i've been forced to listen to the radio if i feel the need to listen to something other than the noise my kids make. here in south florida the musical pickings are slim, so i've been listening to christian talk radio. some of it is admittedly cheesy, but there are interesting discussions that dampen the effect of the uncoolness. the other day several pastors were discussing the emergent church. i didn't get to hear the whole thing, but i did hear a quote that got me thinking. on the subject of the ecclectic use of symbolism in the emergent church one pastor stated that some people feel that christians don't use enough symbolism, or that we don't really care all that much about visual representation of the things we hold dear.

so i started thinking. last fall i did a study on the tabernacle, and afterwards i read into the designing and building of solomon's temple. symbolism abounds for those of you who don't know. cherubim above the seat of God, brass to symbolise judgement, gold to signify royalty, etc. i started to compare that environment, the specifications of which were given by God to His people, to the appearance of the modern-day church. i don't know about the more old-fashioned church buildings, because i haven't really been in many, so i'll use the typical Calvary Chapel as an example. warehouses decorated with fake plants. sterile greeting desks. white walls with perhaps another neutral color (for "contrast"). not an environment to inspire a person, that's for sure. certainly nothing to indicate the grandeur of the God we worship. it is, in a word, boring.

but then, who ever said the building the church meets in is supposed to be lavish, or interesting, or high tech? it's a building.

as opposed to the tabernacle, the "meeting place" where the select few were allowed to be in the presence of God, the church building is just a building. God doesn't dwell there behind any curtains. nowhere in the new testament is there a plan or layout given as to what the buildings we meet in are to look like. we have no ark of the covenant, no altars, no symbols but those we invent. rather we are the tabernacle, the temple, the place where God Most High dwells. the new testament gives us pretty clear directions as to what purpose the new temple serves, how it should act, what it should look like.

which leaves me with the feeling that perhaps the focus of many emergent churches has gotten somewhat off-track. yes, we are to "be all things to all men," but i don't believe that means that we need to employ so many different props in an attempt to relate to post-modern culture. the gospel has been and will be relavent to all men no matter what time or culture they live in. so why the need to excite people? the gospel is revolutionary without props or symbolism. it's mystical without the need for candlelight or incense. it's irritating foolishness to some, and life to others. it needs no spicing up. no dumbing-down. people don't need to come to an exciting place that appeals to their senses and emotions, they need to come to Christ.

feelings are important, but we aren't to be ruled by them. we should worship God because of who He is, not because of how warm and fuzzy we feel when we sing our favorite song to some nice candlelight while glancing around at all the pretty icons. but i do need to put a disclaimer here: i don't think candlelight or symbols or paintings of biblical events are inherently bad. in fact, i like them. i enjoy having communion with my husband by candlelight. it's more the emphasis on using a sensory experience to relate to people that bothers me, because it's so easy for a new or shallow christian to get caught up in emotion and lose their focus on what really matters.

anyway, those are my thoughts. i am admittedly not an emergent church expert, so try not to get too mad at me if you are.


Steve said...

The whole "Emergant Church" discussion has tired me out, which is why I invented a new defintion for the word "emergency." It's definately true that the Message of Jesus is totally relevant to the culture without the church having to "keep up", but when society has a culture that sees the church as irrelevant, then how will they get the Message?

Personally, I think the whole debate is a waste of time and energy that could be better spent drawing closer to God and people. OK, I'm leaving before this comment gets all touchy-feely and junk.

Awesomely written. Keep it shiny!

mumpers said...

Check out this website for signs that the EC is not for you.

Ilya & Ira said...

i am not too familiar with this whole thing but I totally agree about people missing the point. The church is not a building and can never replace the temple although people try very hard. Even if you look at Israel - the temple was grand and special but people met every saturday in sinagouges - sometimes very simple and plain places. So which church do we pick to be the main temple if we really want to follow the example :)?

on another note - if the modern society views the church as irrelevant may be it's time to get out of our buildings instead of decorating them so people like it and come? I just can't remember apostles to evangelize in specially designated places - that's where they ministered to believers but the main ministry of spreading the good news was done outside.

Jonathan said...

I have to agree with everything you said. I'd also like to add a point. ALL, and I mean ALL, of the symbols in the Old Testament point to the glorious hope that we have in Jesus. The first verse of the book of Hebrews sums this up nicely. It's nice to engage our physical senses, but we no longer need outward stimuli. Our hope lies inward, living in our hearts. Paul and Silas praised God while in chains; a less than stimulating environment I'm sure. Anyway, I'd better stop before I type too much. Amber and I are praying for you and your family. Love always.