The emerging church has something to learn from dead white guys.
I used to think of myself as a rebel. Having proudly embraced myself as the female James Dean, I boasted a glare and a slouch that dared anyone to tell me what to do. I even went to an “anti-church” where we ate Hawaiian bread for communion and covered the stage with candles. It was cool. I named it “Rock ‘N’ Roll” church and each week had the same reckless abandon during worship as a crowd surfer in front of their favorite rock band.
I can’t go to Rock ‘N’ Roll church anymore.
As far as I know, they’re still holding services with lots of candles and loud music. I wasn’t kicked out or run off, I just can’t attend.
In 2 Chronicles 10, just after the death of Solomon, the Hebrew people split. In a political uprising, Jeroboam led a rebellion against Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) because the current establishment was taxing the people too severely. Several dead bodies later, Israel split from Judah. Until recently, this seemed like an incidental history lesson, important for Bible timelines but little else. Then I read 2 Chronicles 10:19: “So Israel has remained in rebellion against the house of David to this day.”
It struck me, not because I had a particular problem with rebellion at the time, but because of the way the story continues. Once Israel and Judah split, in came a whole mountain of problems. Even though Rehoboam was an unjust king, he was still anointed by God. The country of Israel, born out of rebellion was never blessed, despite all their efforts to do what was right. It was then that I realized that my church was born out of rebellion. We were so concerned with being different and in doing things that normal churches wouldn’t do that we had allowed rebellion to define us.
Our church wasn’t unique. As I see emerging churches sweeping the nation, I am really excited. Even the New York Times can’t ignore that there is a whole generation that doesn’t fit into the mega-church cheesy praise band model. Websites and magazines are popping up all over the place and it seems that you can’t find a major city without at least one “cool church.” The emerging church is different, we worship God differently and we experience his world with a different set of eyes. I’m part of this generation and don’t see myself running back to my parent’s church anytime soon. But one thing we must realize is that God calls the church His bride and that if we rebel against her, we rebel against Him.
This isn’t to say that we should give up trying to be edgy or interesting, only that we should remember the people who have gone before us. The Bible says that there is a cloud of witnesses, saints who served God long before electric guitars were ever invented. In Hebrews 11 it lists men and women of amazing faith, stories that many Christians can recite from memory. The chapter ends, though, with a couple of verses that are often forgotten:
These [men and women] were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40).
We can’t run away from the church of our fathers. If we ignore the saints and leaders of the past, we cannot complete their faith and they cannot complete ours. The actions of the “emerging, postmodern, anti-church” augment the faith of some even edgier believers. These men and women sacrificed everything to serve God, but they need us to be made perfect. Suddenly, our responsibility is not just to our generation, but also to all those who went before, preparing the way for us to worship God.
Over thousands of years, God has revealed Himself bit-by-bit, generation-by-generation. If our generation tries to reinvent the wheel in the ways we understand and experience God, we’ll miss out on all the amazing things our forefathers discovered. Tradition and ritual, boring sermon and cheesy music, these things may not seem pertinent to our generation, but we cannot forget the knowledge of God that established churches possess.
As we seek to reach a new generation we can look different than other churches. Rock music, interesting sermons, alternative forms of worship; these are all resources at the emerging church’s disposal. What we must realize, though, is that we continue a long tradition of faith and cannot break the chain. Rebellion can only end in failure and that’s the last thing God wants for this generation.