Sounds like an oxymoron, seeing as how most traditionalists view the emerging church as a threat or, at the least, undesirable. But if you look at the practices of churches claiming to be part of the emerging church movement (I’m not specifically referring to Emergent Village and associations) and compare it to early church practices, you’re likely to find more similarities than in today’s traditional churches. This raises the question of who’s the true traditionalist.
First of all, what constitutes tradition? The American Heritage College Dictionary provides the following definitions.
1 – a mode of thought or behavior followed by a people continuously from generation to generation
2 – a body of unwritten religious practices
3 – a time-honored practice or set of practices
While there are some practices in the church today that were present in the first churches of the New Testament, thus qualifying for the first definition, most of what we do in church today may or may not (since no one has unearthed ancient church bulletins). Buzz words among the emerging like lifestyle evangelism, missional purpose/ministry, and even the concept of house churches are rooted in the New Testament.
One church in particular could be the model for the emerging church today – the church at Antioch. While the church in Jerusalem was the authoritative head of Christianity, it was Antioch that seemed to understand what Jesus wanted the church to be.
Antioch was a leader in love by helping fellow churches even if its membership was of a different ethnic background. Perhaps that was easy for them because they were also very accepting of the gentiles and didn’t try to force them into traditional practices like circumcision. Antioch sent the first missionaries on their way after exercising spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer and being led by the Spirit. They stood for liberty. No wonder large numbers were converted and over time, this pagan city became predominately Christian. No wonder Paul considered it his home church for a season, and Peter spent many of his latter years there.
This is what the emerging church, as I understand it, wants to re-capture – the basics of what the church was founded on. So who’s the real traditionalist here? Does it matter? We’ll look at a few more comparisons next time.