Submerging Church

by maggi dawn

It’s a scary thing sometimes to walk the line in Holy Orders, to remain committed to the institution while being fully aware of its faults as well as its gifts, and in the growing recognition that Christianity (or Christendom, at any rate) is on a downward slide. It’s intoxicating to imagine that the great Emerging vision can reverse the trend. But in reality, the Gospel has never, ever been a populist vision. Dreaming up a new way of living the gospel, a new way of “doing church” or expressing worship, is never going to change the fact that if we live out the gospel in authenticity, we are likely not to emerge at all, but to submerge, as John Davies has put it. (See his excellent and moving post Submergent church.)

Emerging/Emergent is all very well if it’s about growing into deeper authenticity with the gospel. But a good deal of Emerging/Emergent conversation has lapsed into a kind of us-and-them thing about the institution and the cool, groovy emergers who have the “real” vision of the gospel. (Yes, I know I’m overstating it. But you know what I mean?)

Emergent is surely not going to kid itself that if we reshape the gospel into postmodern culture, we will have a new and successful church? The truth is that the world is no more or less interested in the Gospel than it ever was. Our preacher reminded us last night that even Jesus put off his own followers, who left him in droves because the gospel was too hard. (see John Chapter 6.)

And in any case, postmodernism is going out of fashion so rapidly we’d be wasting our time trying to get postmodern. Isn’t that what the Church repeatedly does – catching up with fashion just as the fashion has moved on?

I think it’s time to burst the bubble just a little. We aren’t called to create another big wave of optimism. The Gospel – the real one – is a glorious, challenging, fascinating and completely absorbing way to live, and I recommend it unreservedly everyone. But it does cost pretty much everything you have and everything you are, so if you want to follow Jesus, whether that’s with a missional, incarnational, emerging, alternative or institutional coat on, you need to do it with your eyes open. If you want to follow Jesus, remember that he only had a few true friends, and even then one or two of them betrayed him in varying degrees. And in the end, he lost his life over his own message. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it – quite the reverse; once you’ve tasted the fruit, you won’t go anywhere else. But don’t imagine that you can make it so culturally relevant that the whole world will follow. Sold-out discipleship has always been a minority interest.

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