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An Emerging Practical Ecclesiology: An Overview

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discussed the ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement (ECM). I’ve discussed ECM’s understanding of postmodernity, evangelicalism, missional theology, and the kingdom of God. But the real passion of ECM is not orthodoxy (right thinking), but orthopraxy (right living). So, what is ECM’s practical ecclesiology? How does ECM apply this philosophy and theology to the local church? This is the first of several posts outlining ECM’s practical ecclesiology.

First, and most important, is the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. For a large portion of evangelicalism, orthodoxy rules the day. It is primarily about what we think and what we believe. As Scot McKnight correctly observes, “many will immediately claim that we need both or that orthopraxy flows from orthodoxy.” But ECM turns this on its head. Consider these quotes:

“We do not possess truth or seek to correct the truths of others, but we seek to live faithfully in light of the truth of God in Jesus Christ” (Karen Ward, 179).

“We work things out through praxis. Our theology is not static – a stone tablet that informs what we do. Rather, what we do informs our theology through a process of exploration” (Kester Brewer, 95).

Second, as usual, ECM describes its proposed practical ecclesiology in contrast to modern evangelicalism. According to ECM, modern evangelicalism has become market-driven rather than mission-driven. That is, many seeker-sensitive churches base their practice on how to attract a customer rather than on how to accomplish a mission.

Another aspect of the market-driven church that ECM denounces is the common “how-to” approach to practical ecclesiology. Many within ECM, such as Brian McLaren, believe that pastors like Willow Creek’s Bill Hybels are true visionaries. However, the problem comes about when other churches merely imitate Willow Creek’s style but do not possess Willow Creek’s revolutionary vision or leadership.

Therefore, ECM seeks a practical ecclesiology that overcomes this consumeristic, branding, competitive approach to church. ECM seeks a practical ecclesiology that transcends the “copy and paste” approach to church. ECM seeks a practical ecclesiology that is missional in its context. As a result, ECM claims “the emerging church is more of a mindset than a model” (Kimball, 14). ECM claims “there is no single model for the emerging church” but “hundreds and thousands” of methods” (Kimball, 14).

Let me stop right here and submit an editorial comment: I agree with Alan Hirsch when he says that consumerism is the main paganism of our day. And while I may not agree completely with the manner in which ECM relates orthodoxy to orthopraxy, I think ECM is exactly right in attempting to overcome this market-driven, consumeristic ecclesiology. Kudos to ECM!

Fortunately for us, the literature ECM has produced outlines many of the proposed emerging methods for church leadership, evangelism, worship, preaching and teaching. I’ll discuss these in future posts.

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