I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the idea of movement. There have been, throughout Church history, many movements. These movements, being started by people who were sensitive to what was going on in their church and in their world, were revolutionary and necessary. These movements were genuine. They didn’t seek to damage the Church or, in most cases, separate from it. Rather, these movements were to bring reform to the Church and ultimately to serve the Church. One such movement was the famous reformation. Martin Luther had seen that the Church had become stagnant and corrupt. The Church leaders; the bishops, the priests, even the pope were failing in their task of serving the Church. Luther noted that they had become no more “spiritual” than any of the Lay people. The Church was taking advantage of the people and charging them money for the salvation of themselves and their loved ones from purgatory. Luther, saying “The time for silence has past, and the time to speak has come…” became a voice for change, for reformation, to bring to life again a dead faith.
Other movements came up in other places through history to bring reform and change and to serve the Church and the world. Every generation, it seems, was out to bring to life again a dead idea, a dead faith. Another such movement was Pietism. Fathered by Philipp Jakob Spener, the pietist movement took off calling for “a new reformation.” Spener noticed that the Church was becoming so focused on doctrine that church became just high level doctrinal discussions which related very little to the people in the pews. The Church was, again, becoming stuck in a dead idea. Spener understood and suggested that “doctrine is not to serve as a substitute for personal faith.” He wanted the lay people to be called to obedience rather than be bored by listening to how much the preacher knows. He called for preachers to set aside their academic tone. He called for more personal spirituality in the lives of the Pastors. He instituted “Colleges of Piety” which were small devotional groups which sought spiritual growth together because there was no spiritual growth happening in the Church. Spener saw that the Church had become stagnant and needed revival. It was becoming all about doctrine and not about actually following Jesus. But the irony is that the very Church he was reforming was the Lutheran Church; the very same Church which sprung from the reformation, the Church of Martin Luther himself. This Church, which held its roots in revolutionary ideals, was now a dead idea.
When I first heard in a lecture the views of Spener and his revolutionary movement I was astonished by the similarities in theology and even in tone between this pietism and the emerging church. Both call for change, both see the church as being stuck in a dead faith, both call for change in a church which has lost its voice. They were reforming a church that people had stopped listening to, which happened to be the church of the reformation. Later in history pietism would suffer the same fate as this Lutheranism and become dull and legalistic and someone else would have to come along and reform that.
I often hear, in the emerging church movement, the tone that suggests that they are on to something totally new. We think we’re some kind of movement the likes of which the world has never seen. But if we take a look at history we’re no different than the movements which came before us. The things which we want to call into question exist because someone brought them into question a long time ago. We’re no different than our predecessors and one day we will suffer the same fate. Yes, there is freshness in what we’re calling for, a “newness,” something very necessary but one day (if history repeats itself) we will need reforming. We can never stop reforming. This is because the Church is more than an institution. It is beautifully organic in nature and therefore must continue to grow and reshape itself. I think every revolutionary in church history knew this but it was their followers who screwed it up. Luther had it right (and Spener knew this) but Lutheranism got it wrong.
Now what will probably happen is this: the emerging Church will change the face of Church in the world. It will bring about incredible and beautiful change, necessary change. But then, at some point, we’ll arrive. We’ll nail down our “answers,” come up with our doctrines, set them in stone, and as our predecessors we’ll try to protect them and leave them unquestioned. Then someone down the road we’ll see that we’ve stopped and they’ll have to continue in this organic process. Someone will call for reformation again and we, as an institution, will fight back and protect our conclusions.
But here is my idealistic hope: We will never get to a point of such arrogance that we’ll set our doctrines in stone and try to protect them. We’ll reshape and change, not with the introduction of some new philosophy and with the struggle and conflict which comes along with such a thing, but as one Church seeking after God. We’ll be the ones to call out from our own ranks the kind of change which is necessary for such a movement as the Church; an organic movement. We’ll keep the right mind, and cling less to our decided theologies and more to the transcendent yet immanent God; YHWH. We’ll have the readiness and humility to see when our ideals are dying and we will be able to change them without the struggles that come when people desperately cling to their position. I pray that the Church will be one movement heading in the same direction. I’m not talking about getting rid of denominations. I’m talking about ending of the painful pattern of fighting which takes place within the church to bring reform. Instead of this pattern of changing and clinging and changing again may we be forever reforming and forever changing so as not ever to get the notion that we’ve arrived in a comfortable place. Because when we get comfortable that is just when we need to begin moving again.
Is it possible for us to avoid the pattern we’re in? Is there any other way in which the church can stay organic, every reshaping and changing? May we have the proper humility for the task of being the Church. May we never come to the notion that we’ve arrived or that we have all the answers. May we allow the Holy Spirit to be our guidance, not our own egos. And may we pass on this task rightly to the generations which follow so that they may continue in the task of humble reform.
 Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobiity of the German Nation from The Three Treatises, (United States: Fortress Press 1966) 15.
 Ibid, 7.
 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story Of Christianity Vo. II, (New York: Prince Press 1985) 206.
 Gonzalez, 206.