Whether we talk of the “emerging church” church or “the “emergent church,” the root word is the same- “merge,” syn.= “combine, coalesce, unite, join, amalgamate, consolidate, blend, mix, mingle, fuse, conflate, commingle pool.” Add the prefix “e-” = “out of” = “to (Fill in your favorite synonym from the preceding list) out of the previous state of being.”
However we define what is happening in this current re-formation of the church, it is about change. The Holy Spirit, as we affirm when we talk of “the church reformed and always being reformed,” is at work in the world pushing us out of what we have been to become something else through a process of coming together with others.
If we have forgotten something important it may be this: God called a community out of bondage through Moses, then they learned what God wanted them to know about faith and life. Jesus gathered the “First Church, Disciples” without first asking them what they believed. Paul shaped communities out of people of widely disparate beliefs- on purpose! Forming community before forming confession is the rule of Scripture.
Taken together, the whole witness of Scripture is God’s invitation to come belong to the Kingdom, then to learn the Way.
Following this model, the call is for the identity of the local congregation in its context to shift from maintaining distinctions between “what we believe” to demonstrations of “who we are.” This will touch on every facet of congregational life: re-focusing the mission; re-structuring the organization; re-presenting Christ.
Ask the question: How did the gospel move and grow from a tiny group of frightened people in a backwater province of the Roman Empire to become a bold proclamation right under the nose of Caesar in Rome in one short lifetime, and this without an evangelism budget? Answer: People were attracted to what they saw in the lives of “belongers” and wanted to experience it before they ever became “believers.” Goodness knows, they didn’t all believe the same things!
“Go…make disciples…baptize…teach” are the verbs in the order our Lord gave them. We will attract others by doing what we do and by being who we are because “Jesus is Lord.” We can explain what that means all in good time. They will be more open to believing if they already belong.
Meanwhile, first things first, in the order of Scripture: an emerging/emergent congregation will look like a place where people are eager to belong without demanding that they first believe certain things.