Dear Dr. Witherington,
I feel as but a mere ant to respond to a man of your caliber, but I was impressed by your recent post in regard to the anti-ecclesial rhetoric within emerging communities. Hopefully my meager efforts will reassure you that you are on point. Furthermore, we might not be so far off in our ecclesiology.
First, your words are very well put and poignant for us to consider in the emerging conversation. While it was not a revelation to me that ekklesia is an anthropological term, I understand the warnings, both historical and practical, that we can miss the Motherhood of the Catholic and Protestant roots from which we have emerged. We will always be indebted to this past from Christ and the apostles through the Early Church, Catholic Church, Protestant Church, etc. The Great Panagia icon reminds us all that we are one body of Christ in the womb of our Mother Mary.
My understanding of the need for another movement is largely a result of institutional frustrations with bureaucratic procedures and inevitable decay that sets into historic Christian movements. Granted people are a part of these institutions, but at some point in the story there has been a mis-prioritization of within institutional structures which has stifled their purpose to care for and to tend for the assembly. Leaders have wounded us and disappointed us by placing their position in the institution above their roles as shepherds of the assembly. If we can regain an anthropological focus, as you have suggested, I believe Emergent folks would welcome restoration and promptly reabsorb into various local congregations. We wait and pray for your warning to become a reality. We long for the people of God to be a primary force in soul care and in pastoral ministries.
We know that we are not the greatest or best stage of this process, but we observe changes in the way the people of God see ourselves in community. I am refreshed to consider your anthropological reminder since we both agree the people are more important in this conversation than the institutions.
I would like to excerpt a few of your words to address our frustrations with the current state of Christendom as well. I believe many of us wholeheartedly agree with your analyses:
What we don’t need is the oh so familiar attempt to blame the structures for the problems of the church, when, after all it is the people of God who set up, maintain, and run those structures.
Nor do we need the arrogance and foolishness that says ‘I can learn all that on my own, thank you very much. I don’t need formal training by experts.’
It is my hope that when the Emerging Church stops Emerging from wherever it has been previously hidden and starts merging with other groups of Christians who are willing to partner with them, that it will be realized that it was after all unprofitable and unhelpful to sass your Mother, to repudiate the womb from which you emerged, by which I mean the ekklesia, the body of Christ, the people of God, which will always need structures and organizations.
These statements are precisely why I am Emergent. It was an Evangelical community that espoused the first two points that wounded me and my wife upon leaving it. The anti-intellectualism and arrogance were not Emergent forces in my journey. It was an Evangelical, even Fundamentalist, mindset which caused me to realize I needed to align myself with others who were taking community seriously. I found a well rounded group of thinkers, dreamers and friends who envision a Christian community that is able to grapple with our rapidly changing world. Granted I would never claim to speak for all, but in my personal experience your words are exactly the root of this desire to emerge from our brokenness and reengage one another as an ekklesia.
With humility and deep regard,
Michael D. Bobo