Earlier this year, somewhere on this blog, I mentioned the term “emergent church” to refer to a broad movement in global Christendom that started gaining public awareness about 10 years ago. Many of you are aware of this movment, so don’t need an explanation. But it’s a particularly user-friendly expression of church. Emergent church is an expression that refers to communities of Christians “emerging” in unlikely settings, sometimes even within more traditional church communities. You might, for example, have a group of folks in your church who would like to meet outside the building, and find that they connect better at a coffee shop, or a tavern, or an internet cafe, or on-line, for that matter.
The exciting thing about this, for me, is that church happens, and for Lutherans, church happens wherever the people are gathered, the Word proclaimed freshly, and sacraments administered rightly. That’s our definition of church from Article VII of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord. It means that we have a particularly flexible view of church. Here is the original wording in English translation.
” It is also taught among us that one holy Christian Church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by (people), should be observed uniformly in all places. It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, translated by Theodore G. Tappert, 1959, Augsburg Fortress).
One new emerging church, or emergent community, in our Synod is in Marshfield. Called Sanctuary, its pastor spends his time walking the streets of the town, meeting in cafes, and holding an evening supper with worship on Sunday. In some ways, it reminds of me of campus ministry–always an emergent church community, which often meets outside of a church building, in informal settings, and worships in spaces shared with others. It reminds me of mission churches in other parts of the world, of communities of believers who meet under the shelter of trees, or in the open, or who share their spaces with each other. In the early church, if you read Acts, church was a peripatetic enterprise, a moveable feast of people, water, bread and wine, moving from house to house, village to village, communities within communities in cities like Rome and Jerusalem. We didn’t settle down for a long time, and now, it seems we are on the move again.
But back along, even further back, all the way to Genesis times, is a God who met people in gardens and vineyards, on hillsides, in caves, by streams, and trees, in the high places, at wells, in the wilderness under stars at night, a God who led people by fire at night, and a cloud by day, a God who wandered with the people, who sent messengers and prophets to go with the people, a God of accompaniment, who was sometimes experienced as shepherd, king, whirlwind, storm, still small voice, sheer silence.
Sometimes at the edge of a campsite, our ancestors in wandering, set up a tent of meeting, which housed the holy of holies, on the borderland, at the margin, a sacred temporary shelter at the intersection of wild mystery, and human community, under the canopy of grace.
God is always emerging.