As I said, here's my response to James. If you're not at all interested in the ongoing conversations between the Emerging Church and the Church that first emerged then this will just bore you silly. If you are...well, I won't make any promises!
[A preliminary comment:
I think that James makes the mistake of thinking that I - or anyone invovled in something like Organic Church - am just concerned with being "relevant." Nothing could be further from the truth. As an anabaptist, I am thoroughly committed to a counter-cultural expression of the life of Christ in our midst. As I've said before, this isn't about being trendy or pandering to the whims and fancies of non-believers, it's about being incarnational.
A BIG mistake that a lot of critics of emerging churches make is failing to distinguish between us and more seeker-sensitive approaches. In fact, there could hardly be a wider gap between the likes of Willow Creek and how or why most of us do church. It's not about being shaped or styled by what is most appealing to outsiders. It's about being shaped by the gospel.]
When Paul spoke of becomming "all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some," he was making a pretty radical statement. He wasn't just talking about learning the lingo and painting his face to fit in! You cannot understand a foreign culture whilst standing outside of it. The very action of standing outside means that you will be judging that culture from where you currently stand. In short, Paul is talking about incarnational mission.
John Stott writes:
The Son of God did not stay in the safe immunity of his heaven, remote from human sin and tragedy. He actually entered our world. He emptied himself of his glory and humbled himself to serve. He took our nature, lived our life, endured our temptations, experienced our sorrows, felt our hurts, bore our sins and died our death. He penetrated deeply into our humanness. He never stayed aloof from the people he might have been expected to avoid. He made friends with the dropouts of society. He even touched untouchables. He could not have become more one with us than he did. It was the total identification of love. (Stott, The Contemporary Christian, p. 357, IVP.)
James suggests instead that Paul might be giving 'a directive for our personal lives...not our corporate lives.' [Emphasis added.] I was actually really surprised to read this from an Eastern Orthodox. How do I live my personal life, if not in community? How can we envision a community of people living incarnational life-styles without that spilling over into their corporate gatherings? More to the point, how can we read this into 1 Cor. 9?
This is an important point to emphasise. The life within our churches can not be divorced from the words of life that we offer out to a watching world or the personal lives that we live in and for that world. How we do church can not be divorced from how we do mission, precisely because our practice of Church is how we do mission! I would suggest that we cannot divorce these realities. This is a point which Paul himself seems painfully aware of, as is clear from his extended discussion of tongues and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12-14; a discussion which climaxes with a point regarding the evangelistic implications of not practicing our spiritual gifts in a loving manner.
There is also a surprising individuality in the definition of culture given by Mr. Schmemann. [I mean no offense, but we do not use honorific titles for church leaders.] Is culture really just the expression of our hearts? Where then do those expressions come from? What gives shape to them? And what is it called when a whole community or society share the same heart on an issue? Culture is far much more than the expression of our hearts. It is the body within which we beat.
James also writes:
Why should be at all concerned with what the unillumined are spouting forth from their hearts...except as a means of bringing them into the truth? And I would say that to do this, we needn't condescend or capitulate our sacred services to fit their "needs."
Why? The gospel. We do all this - become like a Jew, become like one under the law, become like one not having the law, become weak, become all things - for the sake of the gospel, that we might by all means save some. I haven't spoken of condescending or capitulating to fit someone's needs. It goes far deeper than that. Why should we be concerned? Because we are human. Because I am just one beggar helping another begging find bread. I won't leave him in the gutter, complaining that he can't understand me because he's had to much to drink. I'll buy him a bloody coffee! If necessary, I'll get down there with him. But not just to bring him up to my level. But also because I have never been homeless and he might be able to help me. I might have something to learn from him. I don't consider him 'unillumined' because he does not see what I see; for I do not yet know what he can see.
I don't really see what James is getting at when he talks about not differentiating between belief and actions. This is not something that I've raised - and in fact anabaptists have often spoken the same language as the Eastern Orthodox when faced with the Reformer's sola fide.
James states that change in the Orthodox way of life springs from within and not from influences without. I actually find that quite a scary prospect. Makes me think of some ruling power in a Communist state that doesn't see any need for change because it is comfortable enough, thank you very much. And then, funnily enough, that makes me think of the great portion of the history of the Church! If change is to spring from within, then it is no wonder that it is slow or nonexistent. In fact, without any interaction or dialogue with the outside, there simply will not be any change. But what if change was to spring from our constant and unchanging desire and decree to reach outsiders? What if change was directed not from fashion or outsider's preferences, or from within, but from the gospel as it reaches further and further into God's glorious world?
James: "Our job is to show them (in whatever creative and effective way we can) why we do the things we do."
But the unfortunate thing is that 1) we thus cut off any chance of them challenging why we do the things we do. What if we actually do the wrong things or have the wrong reasons? 2) We're not actually gonna know how to do this creatively or effectively if we have not inhabited the world that they live in. Speaking their language is not enough - just ask any kid who cringes when their parents try to act "cool"!
I agree that we have to draw a line in the sand, but I don't actually here you asking the question, "where?" It looks like you're saying, "you know what, just keep off the sand." I'm trying to go through the difficult task of drying lines. And sometimes I'll get it wrong. And maybe sometimes I'll need to move the line backwards or forwards.
As I see it, our two movements - like two ends of a spectrum - desperately need one another. That's all I think Brian was saying. We recognise our need of you. And I feel blessed that I can learn from you. It's just a shame that we're not yet doing this thing of ours together.