Helpful Tidbits for Organic Church Life                                                July 7, 2008
Organic & Institutional: False Dichotomies?
My Reflections
NEW Jesus for President Intro [Claiborne]
NEW The Religious Crisis [McLaren]
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There's a difference between descriptive and prescriptive; whereas descriptive describes, prescriptive prescribes (i.e. "making or giving injunctions, directions, laws, or rules"). For example, the first recorded use of the word "Trinity" (Greek, trias) in Christian theology was penned by Theophilus of Antioch in CE 180. No, Theo wasn't trying to fit God in a box; he was, however, trying to describe a God that was at once three and one.
For all kinds of reasons, Christian leaders in the west have a tendency to look for the next church model: that is, something prescriptive. Most recently, as you're undoubtedly aware, the clamor for new models has come as a result of the perceived challenges of postmodernity.
My suggestion? Don't think model, think What does it mean to press into the way of Jesus?
Although the following excerpt is a bit rough, let's hear what Roxburgh is saying. Then, we'll take a little time to process.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION/TOPIC: Is "organic church" appropriate nomenclature?
Organic & Institutional: False Dichotomies?
Excerpt from preface to The Sky is Falling!?! by Alan Roxburgh
Personally, I am one who cannot easily lay aside the traditions and life of existing congregations, but at the same time my affinities are with many emergent leaders, their instincts, passions, and creativity. I don't share the critiques of many that traditional systems are so hopelessly compromised that they are totally obsolete and must be completely replaced with new methods. I know that much of what is traditional is there for a purpose, and we stand to lose greatly if we so easily reject what was learned along the journey to where we are today. I am disappointed by the false dichotomies between "organized" and "organic" church. This is nonsense. The conviction of this book is: that both the emergent and traditional churches need each other and have much to learn from one another; that in our willingness to struggle together, we will be given an imagination from the Spirit that is bigger than all our assumptions, positions, and strategies; and that if that spirit of working together is compromised, all of us lose.
My Reflections
When my friend Neil Cole published Organic Church, something typical of western culture resulted: a brand was born. It's a catch 22 really; think of it from a publisher's perspective. Either title the book something short, user-friendly, descriptive, or go with a title like, Let's All Start Truly Being Obedient to the Great Commission While Dying to Our Propensity for Establishing Our Own Short-Lived Kingdoms Over and Above God's Eternal Kingdom. Although my alternate title may impede branding or sloganizing, I doubt the folks down at the ISBN office would welcome my business.
To be fair, Roxburgh's preface was written in 2005, before many of the terms we use today were solidified (too strong a word, I know): emerging, emergent, simple, organic, and so on. Now dated, Roxburgh uses terms like "Liminals" to denote conventional church leaders who want to bring about genuine change in the local church and "Emergents" to denote those Christian leaders seeking alternate modes of church life that finds its form in the missio Dei (i.e. form follows function).
On the one hand, Roxburgh is right; there really is no dichotomy in the Church of Jesus Christ, most notably expressed by the Westminster Confession's articulation of the "invisible" church (Chapter XXV). On this point, I recommend those living in the way of Jesus expressed by "organic" forms (pardon the nomenclature) be gracious; we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ. On the other hand, the descriptive term "organic" is not "nonsense" as Roxburgh purports (i.e. unless Roxburgh was thinking in prescriptive terms) because descriptive language, such as Theophilus's trias, allows for a sort of shorthand for a much larger concept: in this case, a prescriptive missional church as described in the Bible.
In the end, I must admit that there's a potential danger in the sloganizing of any concept. God, for example, left the "Trinity" a mystery for a reason; for when we name it, we humans have a tendency to domestic that which should not be domesticated. So, together, let's be cognizant of our language (i.e. avoid sloganizing, be mindful to use words like "organic" appropriately) because the last thing we need is a domesticated God and a domesticated church. After all, catch phrases won't change the world. A missional church empowered by the Spirit, however, will.
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table