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No word is more used among the Emergent folk than the word “missional,” so I’ll use it too. Some of these churches will chuck an occasional Sunday gathering to “do something for others.” In so carrying its missional emphasis, a message is sent to the local community that what the Church is about is a mission for the good of the world.
I’m not sure if NorthBridge Church in Antioch considers itself “emergent” or not, but what I do know is that it takes its missional emphasis very seriously (just as Solomon’s Porch doe), and it begins with a solid sense of evangelism. The number of new believers testifies to this. Mark Albrecht, the pastor, wants to be a part of church community that cannot be “overlooked” when Antioch groans or rejoices or has needs. So, NorthBridge has made itself, intentionally and with great effort, a presence in the community. And it makes it clear that it cares about the community, whether that community comes to NorthBridge or not. I could give details, but helping a school repair its walls, and getting kids to paint fire hydrants, and helping Senior citizens ready their homes for winter are but a few examples of a holistic missional emphasis that does not avoid evangelism.
The point the Emergent folk want to get across is that “church” is not just for Christians to gather, be fed, be charged up, and the like. Church, in fact, is in its essence a body with legs that move in the direction of worship of God and service to the world. So, what we are seeing is a new way of doing “social service.” In the older days, the Feds and the State took care of the poor, but the Emergent movement (and they sometimes suggest they have discovered this, but they haven’t) sees the mission of the gospel in holistic terms and therefore the work of the local church is for the good of the world, for the good of the community and for the good of other Christians. It is to the local community what the missionary station was to 19th Century missionary work. Except there is a significant difference: the local church wants its walls blended with the walls of the community so that passing from one to the other is indistinguishable (at first).
A feature at Solomon’s Porch is that they are committed to service for the shaping of spirituality. Frankly, when I read this statemenet on p. 146 I was annoyed: “Are we,” I asked myself, “to do works of service for our own good?” I got over the syntax because I’m quite convinced that Doug Pagitt is not saying precisely what these words say: yes, service affects our spirituality, but we don’t serve to become more spiritual. We serve for a variety of reasons, including most significantly in order to carry the grace we’ve experienced to others, and one of them is that it is good for us. And his point is important: when mission becomes central, our own identity becomes missional. Instead of being absorbers of grace we become those who absorb and pass on that grace. Behind it all is the desire to avoid the old-fashioned, and sometimes embarrassingly obvious, idea that the Church is called to good deeds as a sort of lure for the gospel rather than seeing good deeds as what God’s loving people do when they love their neighbors as Jesus taught in the Jesus Creed.
This whole sense of being missional at the central level touches again on the ecclesiological epistemology of the Emergent movement, and while I’m not sure I can unpack it all, there is a sense that we are designed by God to be in community and only when we are in community to do we know as we are known, and so it is in mission that we come to know the Lord as he is meant to be known. (I’d like to return here to the perichoresis, about which I earlier blogged, but won’t.)
Well, I’ve come close to an end now: my last blog will be on epistemology. I will introduce that blog with a comment on how to define “emergent” and ask that more theologians pay attention to the whole task.