12 October 2006

Orthodoxy and the emerging/missional church

There has recently been quite a lot of talk in Western Christian circles about the "emerging church", or the "missional church", or the Emerging-missional Church.

Most of the discussion seems to have emerged in the blogosphere, and not in many other places. One of the more useful sites I found was Friend of Missional, which gives a description of what a missional church is, and what it is not.

I wondered how any of this linked with Orthodox Christianity, and here are some preliminary thoughts. I think that some of the things that distinguish missional from non-missional churches are covered in an article I wrote on the difference between evangelism and proselytism.

I discovered the "emerging church" phenomenon soon after I started this blog, and searched for other bloggers who were interested in missiology, which is one of my interests. I discovered that a large number of them had also listed "emerging church" among their interests.

There is a sense in which the Orthodox Church is emerging, or re-emerging. Most Orthodox Christians live in the former Second World, and in those places the church is still emerging or reemerging from 40-70 years of Bolshevik persecution. I visited some of the places where Orthodoxy has been emerging: Russia, Bulgaria and Albania, and something different seemed to be emerging in each of those places. I saw only a tiny fraction of it, of course.

I gather from my reading in the blogosphere that the Western "emerging church" is concerned about Christianity in the postmodern world.

In Africa, where I live, Orthodoxy is faced with a society in which modernity, premodernity and postmodernity are mingled together in swirling ever-changing patterns like paints of different colours being poured into a pot and stirred. What eventually emerges may be a dull beige-grey, but for the moment they are not yet all mixed up, and the mixing is still taking place.

A similar process seems to be taking place in Albania, where much of the premodern world survives. Albania was a tribal society until well into the 20th century, and that was the dominant loyalty, above religion or political affiliations. Enver Hoxha tried to stamp out religion, but he didn't manage to eliminate tribalism. And where else do you see farm labourers cutting hay with scythes and loading it onto a horse-drawn wagon, and taking it back to a farmstead with a TV satellite dish on the roof?

Orthodox Christianity and Western Christianity encountered modernity in different ways, and so perhaps the approach to post-modernity may be different. In the 19th and early 20th centuries Western Christianity was fairly thoroughly contextualised into modernity. For Orthodoxy modernity remained something external, something that the Bolsheviks tried to impose on society, but that the Church resisted.

As for how Orthodoxy will end up relating to the postmodern world, well, not enough has emerged yet.

But I'd welcome thoughts from others to help clarify my own thinking.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

I've just spent a three month sabbathical looking at mission and ecumenism, and concluding that they are very closely related. I have also found myself reading around some of the EC literature, and concluding that some of that brings mission and ecumenism much closer together. My other impression has been that Orthodox spirituality has a lot to teach us, and that some of the EC is more Orthodox than anything else. Interesting.

Steve Hayes said...

I suspect that Orthodox missiology might have a very different take on the relation between mission and ecumenism, though a lot would depend on how you see it working out in practice.

Priest Raphael said...

Hey, you posted on my blog, and I followed the link over here.

I post regularly on "theooze.com," a high profile "emerging site." I find that many of these people are hungry for what Orthodoxy has to offer. It is frustrating though as you deal with people who are toying with Universalism, free-love, feminism and egalitarianism among other philosophies. But I think in the Free Market of ideas, Orthodoxy can only benefit in the long run....

Anonymous said...
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Steve Hayes said...

To fdr:

One of the things I'm trying to do is get a clearer picture of what Orthodoxy has to offer in the postmodern world. One of the things that makes it different from Western Christianity in this respect is that Orthodoxy did not really experience modernity, or at least that it experienced them in a different way from the West, and in someways bypassed modernity, and can almost jump directly from premodernity to postmodernity.

On the other hand, since postmodernity is a reaction to modernity, it is perhaps debatable whether one can appreciate it without having passed through modernity first. But nevertheless, there are also quite a few refugees from modernity who have been attracted by Orthodoxy.

To John from Melbourne:

Your comment has been deleted, as it did not seem to have anything to do with either this posting or any of the comments on it.

Anonymous said...

Rodney Neill

Hello Steve,

Part of the emerging church angst in the West is - How can we cope with being a church on the margins of society? Can we survive? How do we negotiate the revelatism postmodern society? what is our relationship to other faiths? I think Orhodoxy has the attraction of being an ancient sacramental church tradition with deep roots which can offer a home for the rootlessness and lostness of EC Christians. The physicality of the Orthodox rituals and liturgy is also very attractive to many Protestants as this has been lost in their tradition.

a few random thoughts,



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