I was a church orphan; that is, I was left out of the whole church and faith trip in my youth. My parents were mad at our church, and I never got connected with another one. I accepted Christ as my savior in college, but nobody really told me how to do this Christian thing. NOBODY ever invited me to church, to see how they did it, or to be part of their way of being Christian. Deanne and I found our way in by ourselves.
The upshot was that when I went off to seminary, there were huge holes in my spiritual formation. I was largely self-taught and self-discipled -- which means I was really good at the stuff I was naturally good at and didn't have a clue about stuff you'd think I should've been exposed to, but never had been. And there, I first became aware that there were sub-cultures in the Church.
I attended Asbury Theological Seminary, the spiritual home of Methodist Evangelicals. I didn't know what an "evangelical" WAS when I went there. I was just a Christian. I brought what I had, and then discovered that there were huge cultural gaps between me and my fellow students -- not just gaps in discipleship, though some of them were light-years ahead of me in piety, but they had all come out of a similar experience of the church that I just hadn't been exposed to much.
And when I met other people from other religious sub-cultures, they were all much of a muchness. I wondered why we fought over silly things and ignored metaphysical non-negotiables.
Well, I've come a long way in the past 34 years since God called me, and I've served Christ and the Church in many venues, including many of the standard Evangelical venues: I've taken kids to the Ichthus Music Festival; I've served on the Executive Committee of a Leighton Ford Crusade; I've spent years in leadership of Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis; I support the Confessing Movement; and so on. But I am not an Evangelical.
Oh, I believe more or less what they believe, but I speak their code as a second language. It's not the language of my heart. I don't hear "their" music and get a little thrill, I don't naturally pray in the patterns they use. I am small-o orthodox, for lack of a better label. I really believe all that stuff in the Creed, you know? And I teach it. Whether I do so in alb and stole or suit and tie is not essential to me.
And to finally get to the point of this post, I find the Emergent Church boring and pompous because they don't get this. They think they are past all that cultural stuff, when in fact, they are mired in culture. They're just making their sub-culture up as they go along, and most of it is about not being like those folks. It's like kids wearing their hats backward and their pants falling off their butts: it's a uniform that gives them a sense of belonging and which annoys their parents. The Emergent types think they can string together a bunch of stuff that they like and get to the Core of Things.
What I know is that the Core of Things is not reached through a sub-culture -- mine, yours, or anybody's. The Core of Things is a super-culture, an overarching catholicity that embraces all the ways there are to be Christian. When I dress as I'm expected to dress, to fill my role -- alb and stole on Sunday, suit and tie at a funeral, Scout uniform at a camp chapel -- I'm doing so in order to serve the people of God, whose connection to God is made easier by the fact that I'm not saying, "Look at me! Look at me! Aren't I being so authentic!" by my personally distinctive dress.
When Paul talked about doing things as a Gentile among the Gentiles and as a Jew among the Jews, I understand that. When I'm laboring among the Evangelicals, I don't stop being me, but I adopt what's comfortable to the people I'm working with. As a pastor, I don't just do what makes me feel close to God; they have a tradition, too, you know, and I want them to not feel like aliens in the church they've grown up in. I become like all people, said Paul, that I might by all means save some of them.
The Emergent Church people need to realize that lots of people have been down this path before. There is an arrogance there, a refusal to honor others' way of being Christian. Indeed, there is a hint of belief that the true way of being Christian has been lost -- that the Church has largely fallen away -- and needs to be reclaimed. And we've been down that road before, too.