by Tim Baker.
Much has been said or written over the years about the emerging church.
Perhaps the Biblical image that most clearly comes to mind when we hear the word ‘emerging’ is that of the flood in Genesis 11. In that flood, Noah, his family and his ark emerge from the floodwaters, floating on an ark. These few people are then tasked with a rebuild, with reimagining a new world, a new-normal.
What is emerging from the floodwaters of coronavirus in 2020? We have seen our way of life, our societies, infrastructure, and our whole world submerged under this pandemic flood. And perhaps it is shocking to us that our church was not granted an ark to float above the waters of the pandemic, but rather we found ourselves submerged with the rest of the world.
Many of us have lost friends, family, or are left grieving. Everything is changed and we have found these new circumstances immensely challenging and difficult. Perhaps too, we have learned that all is not well with our world and our church. In this time of coronavirus, as a virus has swept the globe, we have had brought home to us the injustices that underlay much of our society, and indeed our world. There are many cushions and barriers that I have been able to put up against the virus: a comfortable, safe house with a decent WiFi connection, supermarket deliveries, Amazon Prime (I’d like to say other next-day-delivery superstores were available, but they are not really are they?!) and the reassurance that the amazing NHS will be available if I or my family do fall ill. Many in our society, and all around the globe, do not have the same luxury. The very fact that death rates have been higher amongst black communities – alongside the structural and violent racism that has been revealed by the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement – demonstrates just how far we are from an equal society.
In my lockdown-experience, one of the things that emerged from the waters has been a much more online, digitally savvy church. Yes, there have been mistakes, plenty of cringe-moments and lots of things we’ll chalk up to ‘learning on the job’. But, alongside that has come a whole host of remarkable experiences. The miles have disappeared as I’ve joined prayer meetings in Dubai and shared with a congregations in Exeter, Glasgow and the Isle of Man without leaving my study. The boundaries of self preservation have been submerged by the flood waters (in some places!) and we’ve seen collaboration across circuits, districts, regions and nations. Change begins in a crisis.
What will emerge?
What will be submerged?
What do we need to preserve, protect and promote?
What do we need to grieve well and let go of?
What – like structural racism – do we need to find ways to banish altogether?
These are not questions with easy answers, and the rebuilding will be messy. The chapters of Genesis that follow the Great Flood are not smooth. There is shame, there are family feuds, there are power-struggles. We have to expect all of that too, in the days and weeks to come.
In this new world, may a new church emerge, as its has kept emerging for 2,000 years – a new church for a new normal.
2 thoughts on “Emergence”
Noah and his family and the animals emerged out if the flood of lock-down having kept social distancing from others. And life went on — eventually.
I was quite taken with this interesting idea of emergence, in particular about the future role of the church. Where I start from is that for me God’s love for all humanity, and life itself, is unconditional. Nothing can separate us from such love. However, the traditional Christian creedal theology that is often presented to congregations implies salvation for an exclusive group that have, presumably, done a deal with God. Besides the fact that I don’t think God makes deals, there can be no justification for a theology that is in any way exclusive or judgmental. It makes God’s love for us conditional.
The question arises – how have we ended up with two versions of God! The answer is in the bible. I am no biblical scholar, but there are surely two creation stories in Genesis; for two gods called Elohim and Jahweh. As you probably know Elohim is the masculine plural name for gods in Hebrew, so probably it referred to pagan gods initially. (Moses and Aaron had there staffs turned to serpents and isn’t Golden Calf worship mentioned somewhere?). It is likely that El or Elohim was the the chief deity in the Canaanite pantheon. It is know that he was worshipped throughout the Levant at that time. He may have been a pagan god, but the words that blow my mind are that he looked on creation and said that it was good, very good! The Israelites of Abrahams time probably adopted El or Elohim rather than Jahweh. If they hadn’t their name would have been Israyahu rather than Israel.
That raises the question as to why they ended up with Jahweh who supposedly decided that this was a big mistake and needed a flood to wipe out creation and start again! Could it be that Jahweh was more useful to priests and prophets who could then use judgement and sin as a means of maintaining the hierarchy of their theocracy and maintaining power over their people?
In my opinion the unconditional love of Elohim is evident throughout the bible; in Amos, Hosea and Isaiah. Also of course in the life of Christ and then in Paul’s letters, particularly, 1 Cor 1:25, 27-28. I might add that events where unconditional love arises occur throughout history, (the Black Lives Matter movement comes to mind) and the really marvellous thing is that I/we see unconditional love arising in human relationships every day.
We could say that “God” is both Elohim and Jahweh! However I think it worthwhile to recognise the distinction between Elohim and Jahweh because in my reading of Genesis, in my prayer life, if you like, and in my experience, Elohim makes more sense: God as the God of Love – absolute unconditional love, inclusive, affirmative, and never judgemental. And these are absolute values: we cannot be half inclusive!
We could try affirming that God’s love can be conditional in certain circumstances. I googled something the other day on a site called christianity.com that made me think – “God’s love is unconditional according to His grace and mercy, but also conditional in His holiness and sovereignty”. There is no way I can get my head around that!
We could say that the love of God must include judgement for wrongdoings otherwise anything goes and there is no reason to behave ethically. The counter to that is in Jeremiah and throughout the bible where it is affirmed that God’s law is written on our hearts – “our” here refers to all people, so it is part of the human condition to understand, if not comply, with the ethical demand on our souls.
We could then say that Elohim provides the motivation, but in practice we have to make judgments and even exclude rapists and murderers. I am not sure that Jesus would have followed that practice, but we need to be more cautious. I would even assert that it is our duty to take responsibility for others and this may mean we have to be exclusive in some circumstances, but this does not diminish our motivation or spirituality. (Safeguarding).
In emerging from this epidemic I hope the church deals with it’s own “viruses”. Jahweh has been rebranded as Lord God Almighty, god of power, condemnation and retribution ignoring kenosis and the weakness of God referred to by Paul. I suggest the theology Jahweh has engendered needs to be dumped. This means dealing with fundamentalism and biblical inerrancy, and taking on board the unconditional nature of God’s love – inclusive and non-judgemental.