Opening Church Windows

John XXIIIHere 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.


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  1. #1 by Jim Goodman on September 27, 2007 - 11:19 am

    Great post – I too like the ‘fresh air’ comment. Between theological OCD and corpses in the pews, I would say it may need to be a big window to air out the smell of rot.

    I am not ready to throw the church under the bus as some are, but I will say the Pope’s comments are about right for transformation and to restore the beauty of Christ’s manifest body on earth.

    – Jim

  2. #2 by Jason on September 28, 2007 - 2:02 pm

    Hiya Christian,

    I would ask the “minister” to cite his biblical source for, “Hey, there’s a whole wide world out there, that isn’t so bad.”

    No discernment at all.

  3. #3 by Christian on September 28, 2007 - 2:32 pm

    Jason, I see you placed minister in quotes. I referred to this gentleman as a minister because his list of activities included: Director of Faith Formation at Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church, Belmont, NC; Instructor in Theology and Philosophy at Belmont Abbey College, Belmont, NC; and Instructor in Religion at Gaston College, Dallas, NC.

    I don’t hold to the idea that ministers are ordained or selected by the church but there are chosen by God instead. Doesn’t require a collar. a big hat or any paperwork. 🙂 I think most clergy would actually agree.

    I can’t ask him but I might suggest Psalm 19., though I see your point. I don’t think the gentleman was overlooking the ‘depraved’ aspects of the world but was focusing on instead those people whom we often say make up Christ’s church. Prior to Vatican II the Catholics and the Protestants didn’t seem to have much to say to each other. What a pity.

  4. #4 by Jason on September 28, 2007 - 3:27 pm

    Hiya Christian,

    I sure he doesn’t say Psalm 19. I agree that Vatican 2 says something much like that, but that way in which it says it is to make Christ, once again, (is there a theme in my critiiques?) peripheral.

    One of the chief authors of Vatican 2 was Karl Rahner, and the portion which we wrote actually says, and I am paraphrasing, that an atheist can enter the Kingdom of God and not renounce his atheism, that is, take no interest in God, just in doing stuff which he feels to be “good”, not unlike the relativistic “authentic” worship in the post about the samaritan woman.

    This is not a step forward. This is us “judging” (in the Matthew 7:1 sense, who’s in and who’s out, neither of which we cannot do. It is also, in order to enable this idea, necessary to throw out a majority of God’s word.

    Can you tell me how you see this idea represented in Psalm 19. Aren’t the effects intimated in the first 6 verses also intimated in Romans 1, (and they are by no means postive)? And aren’t the effects in the first 8 verses also highlighted in Pslam 119 in great detail?

  5. #5 by Christian on September 28, 2007 - 3:55 pm

    I may be wrong but I think you have mis-paraphrased Rahner. He postulated the idea of Anonymous Christianity. He believed that salvation was only through Jesus but did not accept the idea that someone who never had heard the Gospel or of Jesus (nor been baptized) would be punished for this by God. His philosophy reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 2:14-16.

    There is nothing relativistic about authenticity. Quite the contrary. I think it is very relativistic to profess beliefs, recite creeds and engage in rituals if they are meaningless to you. If I choose to leave a denomination because I believe that their traditions and rituals are not biblical (and I am talking about mainline Protestantism as well as Roman Catholicism here) then from their perspective I am being relativistic, picking and choosing what I ‘like’. Of course, I firmly believe that I am being quite authentic and not in the least bit relativistic. Like it or not, this is how most of us respond to religion.

    I think Matt 7 is pretty clear and in fact I think that both this post and the one on the woman in the well are related to this chapter. So you have lost me here. How are you interpreting this verse?

    As far as Ps 119 and Romans I goes; you lost me here as well. I only chose Ps 19 because it is uplifting and celebratory of the the world.

  6. #6 by Christian on September 28, 2007 - 4:06 pm

    From Vatican II:

    “Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion” (GS 19)

    From the essay “What Does Vatican II Teach About Atheism,” by Karl Rahner, S.J

    “a man, even a ‘Christian’, can accept God objectively in his understanding and his freedom, declare that he is a ‘theist’ and think that he observes the moral norms of God, and yet deny God in his heart either morally or as a believer.”

    I don’t have any problems with that.

  7. #7 by Jason on September 28, 2007 - 5:00 pm

    Yes, I know, Christian. You make that clear quite often.

    But God does.

  8. #8 by Christian on September 28, 2007 - 5:18 pm


    Care to back that up? In what way does God specifially object to those two statements?

    The first one says that all too often it is the “Christian” that must take some responsibility for encouraging an atheistic mindset because of the way he may misrepresent God and his message.

    The second statment says that it is possible for that same someone to say “lord, lord’ and for Jesus to say that he never knew them.

  9. #9 by Jason on September 29, 2007 - 11:10 am



    In what bizarre Christian world does the first Three Commandments become optional?

    Doesn’t Satan follw this belief structure:

    “To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion”

    I guess think through what Rahner wrote, read what Satan says to Eve and Jesus, in Gen 3 and Matt 4 Luke 3, repectively, and then read through the difference in Eve’s human reasoning based on her own philosophical viewpoint, and not what God had said, and then look at Christ’s example of total reliance on texts from Deuteronomy to refute, according to Colossians, a being that through Him was created.

    It is certainly true that no human teacher apart from Scripture gets it all right. But what Rahner’s statement does is teach, to those who don’t know as many facts as he does about scripture, that it is OK, don’t worry about teaching the wrong thing, yer still a believer. That attitude, that a person does not need to worry about teaching that those things outside the gospels are up for grabs, and whatever those books teach doesn’t carry as much weight as the words of Christ, is to tell a person that, for instance Galaians 1:6 is just hyperbole, not to be taken as truth.

    I have never, and will never get it all right. Ever. I expect to, when I fall flat before the Lord, to be quite surprised at the number of things I got wrong.

    But to, from a human perspective to give people a pass for it, is to say that their perspective is ok, even if it hides the face fo God or leads people to the high places of whatever age. And to, for one second, think that those in the first paragraph do not belong in the second is to give people a pass on any sense of responsibility to the first three commandments.

    This whole thing makes me very sad, Christian.

    I’m sorry, and I am certainly not avoiding conflict (Lord knows that’s not my problem, but I don’t think that there is anything left for me to say here.

    Please, Christian be sacntified in the truth. Do not for one second lose that sense of necessary obligation to our fellow humans; I think that is a hugely valuable correction which postmodern Christianity has effected in popular, mainline groups.

    But, please, listen to the word.

    Do not take (carry, maintain) the name of the Lord in vain. Do not take the name of the Lord if he’s not.

  10. #10 by Christian on September 29, 2007 - 11:50 am

    I don’t think we are giving anyone a pass here. (Who has that authority?) If anything, there is a suggestion that many Christians have been taking a pass, feeling protected by their allegiance to the church and their oath of loyalty to doctrine and dogma. This pass has allowed them to judge themselves as being saved and others as being unsaved.

    People like Rahner and those who are part of this ’emerging church’ are trying to engage the church in some self evaluation. They (we) are not talking to atheists or non-Christians, but to other Christians about how we might consider each other as well as those not of the ‘fold’. Are we serving Jesus or the Bible? (the first commandment addresses this, doesn’t it?)

    The scriptures outside of the Gospel are not ‘up for grabs’ but they need to be filtered through the Gospels. Why is it that we do not have four different versions of Exodus, or Genesis or Leviticus ? There are duplication of thought and words, of course, but not four versions. This underlines the importance that the early fathers held for the teachings of Jesus. And though there may be differences among them the essence of the Good News is underscored four times.

    It is not that the extra-Gospel scriptures are irrelevant but that they should be interpreted in relation to the Good News. For example, to have no qualms over capital punishment or warfare or slavery because it is believed to be ordained by God is to ignore Jesus’ thoughts on anger, violence and justice.

    I seriously doubt that any atheists would breath a sigh of relief after reading the articles of Vatican II or the writings of Rahner or Borg. Refusing to believe in God, they would not take seriously much that a believer would say on this subject. To think that this internal discussion is leading people astray is to exhibit a certain lack of trust in God. Besides, at the risk of contradicting myself, this is precisely the argument that I am trying to make. We may be pushing people away from the church by the way we misrepresent Christ.

    Jason, you may be right. If you insist on a literal interpretation of all Scripture then you will interpret things differently than I do. But make no mistake, you are interpreting what you have read just as I am. Or (to us your word) sadly accepting the interpretations of men who have come before us as being biblically sound.

    I don’t understand your reference to a alleged disregard of the first three commandments as it pertains to this argument. I could just as easily ask how it is that much of the spirit of Jesus’ teachings on acceptance, tolerance and compassion can be ignored by some as they try to adhere to the letter of scripture. I am, of course, pointing the finger at myself as well.

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