The Emerging Church…Fish or Fowl?


One of Ryan Bolger’s observations from the research that he and Eddie Gibbs did of emerging communities of faith, both in the UK and the US, is that many of these communities are morfing toward a contemporary form of monasticism. Some are increasingly taking on the form of orders.

As the emerging movement has picked up momentum from is beginnings in the UK in the 90s and after 2000 in North America, it faces the same dilemma that confronted the Protestent reformers and many other renewal movments throughout the history of the Christian movement. Are emerging churches apostalic structures/entities or are they churches in local form? Are they orders or are they contemporary “parishes?” Are they sodalities or are they modalities? They can’t be both.

In our zeal to live out incarnationally the life of Jesus and be the presence in word and deed of the Kingdom, we can’t ignore the differences in these two structures. They are biblically, historically, sociologically, and missiologically not the same. These two equally valid and essential expressions of the body of Christ have never have been the same in 2000 plus years of the Christian movement and never will be. They are, as missiologist Ralph Winter so aptly calls them, the “two structures of God’s redemptive mission.”

In our hurt and disappointment of what institutional Christianity has become in the West and in our desire for a more pure, missional, expresion of historic Christian community, not understanding the inherent and endemic differences in these two structures will only inhibit what we seek and long for.

Such misunderstanding is what the Protestant reformers did to great peril. They threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater when they rejected monastic structures in their reaction to the abuses of medieval Catholisism. It took almost 300 years for Protestants to recapture the very structures through which renewal and authentic spiritual vitality most often flows and through which most apostolic vision and giftedness is most naturally expressed. It took Protestants from the time of the Reformation when orders were rejected until the time of William Carey in 1792 to recapture the essentiality of an effective apostolic ecclesiology.

More on this to come …

5 Responses to “The Emerging Church…Fish or Fowl?”

  1. A Random Walk » The Blind Beggar Says:

    [...] Sam at UnderTheIceberg in his post, “The Emerging Church…Fish or Fowl?” talks about the “two structures of God’s redemptive mission.” [...]

  2. David Lippert Says:

    Could it possibly be that the expression of a given people might at its core be the living out of either an “apostalic order” or “parish”? If one order lives out the apostalic call while another to shepard a local people, might they both do so in a way that could be labled in an “emergent”? Perhaps “emergent” is more of a posture or foundation from which the living out of a given communal call happens. Whether apostolic orders or local congregations it seems that the way one lives out their faith in wholistic community might really be the heartbeat of what is emerging.

  3. Sam Says:

    From what I am seeing and experiencing, the “emerging church” is a classic renewal movement in our increasingly postmodern era. I think you’re right, David, that some of what is resulting could gravitate toward an apostolic structure and some will gravitate toward a congregational structure while many of the qualitative aspects could be the same and hence, qualify for the “emerging” description.

    Which way they move structurally is probably rooted in giftedness, the nature of leadership, sense of calling, and perhaps context. Both, however, could experience some of the same qualitative characteristics that folks like Bolger and Gibbs attribute to “emerging” churches such as the commitment to wholistic community that you refer to.

  4. Caspian's Friend Says:

    On March 22, 2006 you posted the above article, and ended it with “More on this to come…” The article was very thought provoking to me and I am very interested in how William Carey et al brought back effective appostolic ecclesiology, for all of this is very new to me.

    Hope you add more to the above article soon.

  5. Sam Says:

    There is much more on this topic and you can find numerous posts in the “Apostolic Ecclesiology” category on the blog. Hope that helps.

    If you wnat more, send me an email. We’ve compiled a read on the topic that I’d be glad to send you …it’s a precursor to an eventual editred book on the topic.

Leave a Reply