Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Theology of the Word and the Postmodern Context: #2

Our theology of the Word leads us to study, listen and plan in community.

The Open Door has a weekly bible study called Bible Trialogue where we study the scripture that will be focused on in worship in 1 1/2 weeks. Every one is invited and everyone's voice is heard as we exegete the scripture and listen for the Word which we will proclaim in some way within our community of faith. Theology and sermon writing in the past was done by professionals in their personal studies and libraries where they could read what other professional had written in their studies. The emerging church is discovering the value of every person's voice and understanding of the Word. Under the old paradigm pastors and scholars were believed to be the only ones worthy and educated enough to read, interpret and hear the Word and expect people to listen to them. I think we've developed a very good anthropological reason for denying this kind of thinking, but I'm more excited about the theology behind what we are doing.

I have to admit here that I'm still in the process and struggle of developing my understanding of things like the purpose of ordination and the distinction between clergy and laity. Throughout church history this distinction has been evident so I'm not willing to just through it out. But I don't see much in scripture that leads us toward this kind of theology. Scripture leads me to believe that scripture and the present action of Jesus in the world is accessible to every human being. This is what the reformers pushed for. I see the move in the emerging church to be a move within reformed theology. The reformers printed bibles for all people and read scripture in native languages. Today the emerging church is moving forward with the reformers to say that every person in the community of faith has access to Jesus through scripture and can therefore speak truth in the community.

You may ask, what happens when heresy is preached by a lay person? My answer is simple, the community and the leaders discern that a word from a single person is not the truth to be understood by the community. Look at the dangerous cults that have risen over the past few decades, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and many others, they're all lead by the heresy of a single person, rarely a community. A community tends to find balance and find middle ground. The middle ground is an important road for the Emerging Church. We who place ourselves in this movement are often seeking a middle ground of communal discernment. This middle ground and this communal discernment, we believe, is the way that God most often leads our communities of faith. Theology and the Word are understood communally.

So our proclamation of the Word is developed in community. Not always, and not completely, but as much as possible. We believe our communal understanding of scripture and our communal spiritual ears are more sensitive than when we study, plan and preach in a vacuum.


terrytimm said...

john -

i appreciate your grappling with the clergy/laity thing. here is reference from a journal article that really helped me reshape my thinking on the issue. i think it is interetsing that the author speaks of an apostolic context and setting:

"the New Testament writers thus apply the Old Testament laos terminology to the new covenant community as a whole, with no distinction between the people and their leaders. The New Testament terminology does not support the contemporary division between classes of Christians. In the apostolic church there were different ministries to fulfill, but there was no distinction between a group of clergy and another of laity. Leaders never stand over, independent of or prior to the local congregation as the people of God." (Dean Flemming, “The Clergy/Laity Dichotomy: A New Testament Exegetical and Theological Analysis,” Asian Journal of Theology 8, (October 1994): 236.

perhaps the emerging church is more reformed than the reformed church of today; novel thought.

question, john: why trialogue and not dialogue?

John said...

We call it a trialogue (BJ's wording) to emphasize the thoughts within ourselves, the discussion of others in the group and the with God. Self, God and others.

marlaena said...


i've been reading about ordination in stan grenz's book "theology for the community of God" (pgs 563-570). grenz talks about ordination into pastoral ministry in particular and gives some biblical and theological foundations. from what i gathered it boils down to publicly setting apart leaders for the people of God - "ordination is the act by means of which the community sets gifted persons in leadership for the effective working of the whole membership toward the completion of their common purpose." And he also talks about call - a personal call from God and a confirmation of that call by the faith commmunity.

i'll end with this quote full of fun theological terms:

"As Daniel Migliore noted, 'ordination is properly understood missiologically rather than ontologically." Ordination does not facilitate an ontological change in the clergy, elevating them above other Christians. Instead, the act commissions a person into leadership for the sake of the mission of the entire people of God."


John said...

Excellent stuff Terry and Marlaena! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I love the way the OD does things. I have always enjoyed trialogue. The insights that come out of that group are always more and deeper than what I believe any of us could have come up with on our own. The thing that bothers me a little bit is your use of the words communal discernment. It is my understanding that discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to some, but not to all.

Maybe I'm just misunderstanding what you're saying, but it seems to me that a heresy being spoken or "preached" by a single person could be avoided if this gift were utilized in the trialogue stage. Perhaps that is exactly what you are saying. Could you clarify?

As far as the ordination question is concerned, it is my belief that the church does need leaders. I also believe that scripture and the present action of Jesus in the world are accessible to every human being, but I don't believe that everyone takes hold of them. In a seeker-sensitive model of church such as the OD, those that enter through our Open Door will not be entering THE Open Door at first. A lot of our culture has an empirical mindset and they base what they believe simply on what they experience. Church doors are not going to keep deceiving spirits from entering and leading people astray through their experiences. Just look at the churches in scripture frought with sexual immorality, gnosticism, et cetera. That is why I believe that leadership is necessary. There need to be those who are dedicated to serving (key word) the Lord and each other in this way. I also believe thay need to fit into the Timothy model of character for such people.

The question is not whether or not to have leaders, it is what does that leadership look like. I think we need to guard against the hierarchical model of church leadership and enter into a more communal one where the leaders serve among the community much as Jesus served within His community while on earth. I also agree wholeheartedly with the comments in Marlaena's post about ordination being a missiological rather than an ontological practice. Being ordained does not change our nature as humans or the Biblical model of how we are to relate to one another as such, but it does change our function within the church. I think the problem is the terms clergy and laity and the connotations they hold. Let's change that.

- Ross Donaldson

John said...

I agree that certain people have the gift of discernment, I know people with that gift. Our gifts are to be used within the body of Christ, communally. Not as single people out there using their gifts without the context, ears and voice of the whole body. Scripture also tells us that we are to seek all the gifts, some we have more fully and some we have to constantly work to have.

Ross, yes, the trialogue is where discernment should be exercised the most. Though we do allow people to speak and share in worship, there is potential for "heresy" to be spoken in worship, so there must be some discernment there too.

I really appreciate what everyone has said about ordination, I think I was just having a doubtful day yesterday! Your thoughts are very good and I appreciate them! I really like the Migliori distinction between a missiological distintion and an not an ontological. And Ross, your are exactly right about the need for leadership. While I wrote about communal hearing and proclaiming of the Word, I did not mean to say there is no leadership.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the trouble with communicating in text only is that there is no vocal inflection or body language to go along with the words, not to mention the fact that there can be no immediate response. The danger of misunderstanding one another is very high. I didn't think that you were saying that there is no need for leadership. I guess I was just laying out my own thoughts and beliefs. I have a tendency to process in writing at times. I should have thought more about that before posting the comments. I apologize if you found them offensive.

Also, to clarify my thoughts about discernment, I was not saying that it is a gift that should be used without the other gifts of the body. I guess that when you said communal discernment, I thought you meant that everyone had that gift. Again, sorry. Perhaps I'm just way out of my league here.

- Ross

marlaena said...

i think there are some in the body who possess a spiritual gift of discernment. but i also think that all of us as Christ followers are to be discerning. there's a difference.

Ruth Barton has an excellent article on leadership discernment and she simply defines discernment as "discernment: the capacity to recognize and respond to God’s will both personally and in community." (here is the full article link -

marlaena said...

here's the larger question for me about ordination - what's the process? and is it a good process?

bj woodworth said...

to bring things back around to Karl Barth... he believed that the Word was always to be discerned, discussed and interpreted within the context of community. the communion of saints is the corrective.

I have never considered ordination from a missiological perspective. Migliore's quite is life-altering and life-affirming for me. Thanks Marlena! the problem with the current system is that ordination is not preparing missiologically trained people rather it is training acedemics. Secondly the model of ordination preparation (yes seminary) is to cumbersome for the postmodern setting. It does not make missioolgiocal sense to remove a person from his/her context for 3+ years. this model does not encourage mission!

bj woodworth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.