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.