The emerging church represents the new or enhanced forms of church practice and structure made possible due to advanced technology. For instance, mega-churches came about in large part due to the availability of sophisticated sound systems and television screens within auditoriums. However, the sheer size of the churches then created in new ways the nature of the spiritual environments, how members interacted with each other, and how programs were developed.
The house church was one of the first movements in recent times in which it became common to use the term emerging. At first, this usage occurred just in the natural sense of the word. However, it was the internet that really propelled the house church movement forward. All of sudden, with the use of computers, people with the house church perspective easily could communicate with each other, effectively set out their points of view, set up interactions and networks. Thus, in its present day form, the house church mostly is the product of modern technology.
No particular ideology or theology necessarily is associated with the emerging church. The real change is in forms of practice and structure. No new theology has been introduced with the emerging church. However, new technology is affecting how church is carried on with people of all beliefs –- whether liberal or conservative.
However, these new forms of practice have been misunderstood by many people in the traditional church; and it must be admitted, there actually has been misrepresentation from many congregational churches on what the emerging church is, in part due to the apprehension created by a sense of a loss of status. In essence, what has come about is an attempt to define the emerging church, according to what the traditional church finds most convenient in maintaining their central position. To give credibility to how they want the emerging church to be perceived, their viewpoint is packaged in scholarship, set out by professors in academic settings. They can cite examples of liberal theology in the emerging church, which they uphold as representing entirely the essence of what the new concept means. And then, the media picks up on what the academics say, to add to the impression of where the Christian church is now going. However, the liberal viewpoints referenced actually are very old -– there is nothing new or emerging about them, but they have been around for a hundred years, except for the parts that came about even a long time before then.
In literature, academically the term emerging has been associated with the concept of Post-Modern, which also has well defined expressions in art and architecture. Then, it became natural to ask intellectually, is the emerging church Post-Modern. In truth, Post-Modernism cannot be defined in any concrete manner to apply to the church. The day may come when the emerging church will take on a character that in some particular way could make the concept relevant -– but that has not happened yet.
However, the conversation on Post-Modernism was exactly what many opponents to the emerging church from academia were waiting for, in order to set out a systematic logic on why this new form of Christian community had to be held as liberal. If this part of the church was emerging, by definition, it had to be Post-Modern. And Modernism theologically is well known as being liberal. Therefore, Post-Modernism as a sheer matter of definition has to be more liberal. However, unfortunately, the academics cannot set out a specific definition of Post-Modern theology that in reality is any different than Modernism. And by definition, Post-Modernism cannot be Modernism, or if it is, then it has already been established, and it is not emerging.
Modernism came about due to the belief that humankind can triumph over all its problems through reason, that the suffering and hardship found in life are only the result of ignorance and a lack of knowledge and education. The French Revolution was supposed to represent all that the human potential could achieve and usher in a marvelous new age. However, the Revolution went on to the Napoleonic Wars, and even after their resolution, as reason was applied to society, not much really improved, but increased knowledge brought on a destructiveness never before known in the form of World War I. A new perspective had to be developed. And Modernism had already displaced religion as having relevance in life. Thus, a concentration arose in intellectual circles on the concept of Post-Modernism, although it was difficult to define. In general, in non-theological academic disciplines, Post-Modernism at times is associated with the collapse of reason, the inability to know with certainty, the rejection of life having meaning, the questioning of all traditional authority, the focus on the individual.
The emerging church is a grass roots movement. The people who are a part of it will decide for themselves who they are and what they represent. Academia and the media very much desire to dictate and control what the movement means, and they will be able temporarily to negatively impact the perception of what is occurring, but in reality, their bias against the emerging church will become known and will add fuel to its true growth. The status quo never learns the truth regarding how to respond to change.
However, although it presently is not possible to concretely apply a concept of Post-Modernism to the emerging church, there are some interesting observations in considering the issue that apply to the house church. These groups of believers in striving to return to a more precise biblical model have a greater focus on the individual and an inclusive concept of authority, which is more a process than a submission to a traditional ruling body or figure. The house church is a new but ancient structure for modern society, with greater flexibility for interaction between members, and more intimacy, which leads to a sense of freedom and well being, and which transforms the believer’s awareness of belonging and the spiritual. It is possible that these unique characteristics of the house church could be considered a type of Post-Modernism, even though this turning from the traditional church structure actually means going back to what the church was 2,000 years ago.
M. Paul Webb