Brian Turner, from Dothan, Alabama has an interesting OOZE piece on what happens when â€˜being realâ€™ in our identification with culture is actually an excuse for indulging in, well letâ€™s face it, SIN. His basic point is simple â€“ however important it is for Christians to engage more fully with the (postmodern) culture of which they are part, that does not mean that issues of sin, right and wrong behaviour are not important.
OK â€“ Iâ€™m against sin too, so Amen to that. But does this discussion need to go a bit further perhaps? To step outside existing well-established social patterns of being Church and move into new ways of being a missional community inevitably brings with it a challenge to the moral, ethical narrative inherited (or not) from older established church forms.
To take an obvious example (because itâ€™s about sex!): in a society which has largely forgotten the biblical reason for marrying and has adopted, instead, a consumerist model, what do we say to people who have been living a faithful, sexual shared life without taking on the razzmatazz and cost of a wedding? And at what point in their missional/formative journey would the question be raised? And who by? The Pastor? The community ethical council? A reformed perspective would be looking for a discipline structure within emerging churches as a keynote of their authenticity. But how many groups have developed ethical structures in a contextualised way, rather than falling back on existing models from the previous culture?
Once Church life moves outside the social boxes of existing forms, these ethical questions are neither posed nor answered in exactly the way that they were in the previous context. One would hope that an emerging community would go back to the Bible and work out what its values of faithfulness, love and total union mean in practical terms for contemporary sexual lifestyles. Somewhere in the background to their search would be the existing example of more usual forms of Church, but should we assume that these would be modelled identically by the new community?
Another question arising from Brian Turnerâ€™s article is the way we engage with sin once weâ€™ve named it as such. Like many churches, his article seems to be concerned with there â€˜not being sinâ€™ around in the community. But in fact, the presence of sin in all Christians is a given. Sometimes, itâ€™s not merely a case of saying sorry to God and trying not to make the same mistake again. Often, repentance involves learning to love our sinful self as much as God does. (ie. a reflexive form of â€˜loving the sinner and hating the sinâ€™). Instead of running from our sins, they can often teach us things about our inner selves and our relationship with God that too-hasty a turning away and moving on would obscure. Thatâ€™s not to say we should indulge in sin, but we can love ourselves as sinners and through our sin learn more about ourselves in the light of Godâ€™s love. I would hope that emerging communities are providing more scope for this kind of growth than the all-too-superficial engagement with sin provided by many models available in the mainstream.