Here is an excerpt from a letter by a minister of the Roman Catholic faith, Dennis Teall-Fleming. It was sent to Tony Jones, the National Coordinator for Emergent Village and he included it in today’s newsletter. It’s a pretty obvious analogy and helps someone like me, having been raised Roman Catholic, to put the Emerging Church idea into a better perspective.
The Second Vatican Council took place in the Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965. Called by Pope John XXIII, finished by Pope Paul VI, it was the first time in over four centuries that the Catholic Church really took a look around and said, “Hey, there’s a whole wide world out there, that isn’t so bad….maybe we oughta find out what’s going on in it, and see if it has anything to do with our community of faith”. The opening lines of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (in Latin, Gaudium et Spes) set the tone for this new way of being church: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”. No longer would, or could, Catholics remain isolated, insular, or reactionary to the world, or others in it. The Catholic Church’s new mission became the world itself, and its transformation would transform the Church as well.
That seems to be what’s happening in Emergent. The people involved seem to all of a sudden see that there’s a big, wide world out there that we all live in- and most of it isn’t even considered “Christian”!- and somehow they have to do everything they can to learn more about it. Somehow everything they’ve learned up to this point – about being a Christian, about being part of the Church – has to change, so that they can truly be a follower of Christ every day of the week. Emergent seems to be a kind of Evangelical Vatican II, for many Christians that got their institutional start a hundred years ago- and maybe not even that long for others!
Pope John XXIII’s legendary quip about Vatican II was that he convened the Council because he wanted to let a little fresh air into the Church by opening up a few windows. I hope the Emergent conversation can do the same for my Evangelical friends, and I look forward to being a part of it for those in my own neighborhood.
I particularly like that line of Pope John’s about fresh air. With all the attention, both positive and negative, that has been given some of the leaders in the Emerging Church as well as some of the hysterical fears of the “movement” itself (I am now officially declaring ‘conversation’ as being too vague of a description – take note) I think that it is prudent to remember the impact that Pope John’s Vatican council had on the Church. To this day there are elements within the Roman church that think of John XXIII as a pawn of Satan, yet most Catholics and Protestants would fervently disagree. Perhaps the Emerging movement is just picking up where Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli left off ; opening up windows and doors for a church that suffers from the symptoms of long term theological OCD.