Generous (evangelical) Orthodoxy: Community

The community focus of generous orthodoxy begins with a vibrant non-Puritanism. Puritanism was the attempt by some to “purify” the Anglican Church of unbelievers and the unorthodox and questioning and struggling, and has been one of the many movements in the history of the Church that has sought to raise the standard for who could be and who could not be “in the church.” I happen to read a handful of Puritans, but on this there is a tendency (which is putting it kindly) to walk away from the very practice of Jesus. Any community that roots itself in Jesus’ Kingdom missional focus will find the Puritan way unacceptable. Its purpose is not to exclude but to embrace; some may refuse that embrace but the community offers the embrace. Jesus’ sense of community is found in his praxis of table fellowship and in his tipping over tables in the Temple that barracaded some from the presence of God.


An orthodox understanding of community begins with the line in the creeds: I believe in the communion of the saints. Any understanding that does not begin here is unfair to the story of the Church. This communion is in Word, Sacrament, and Missional focus. What this line declares is that there is a Spiritual connection of all the followers of Jesus, living and dead, that extends from God to the world through the community. Which means it is affirming the Church as the Body of Christ.

The community is the place where the people of God will find communion with one another and be led into union with God. As such, this community becomes a beachhead to create a Kingdom society.

An orthodox understanding of community promotes healing — of all sorts of people, in all sorts of ways, both suddenly and over the long haul.

An orthodox understanding of community creates what I am now calling a “Six Day Church.” Far too often “church” is something that happens on Sunday (or Saturday night). It is a place into which people assemble, hear good sermons, sing uplifting songs, partake of the Eucharist, etc., and then are off to their homes and weeks. The Emerging movement wants an abrupt hault to this sort of “church doing” and wants it to be clear that “church” is what happens on the “six days” and not just the seventh day.


Orthodoxy believes the Church is catholic: it is universal. Generous orthodoxy takes that belief and acts upon it: it engages in fellowship with all Christians, not just those we prefer from our tradition.

Because we are concerned where with a generous orthodoxy, we understand that the Church’s focus is to be missional, incarnational, and a “Six Day Church” in its local community: it is to look, listen, learn, and link locally.

It is generous with its resources, its time, and its love. It is a community of faith that is for the world and others, and not a conventicle from the world or a Puritan establishment against any who don’t meet the standards. The only standard needed to be recipients of God’s grace and the community’s love is being made in the Image of God and finding oneself in this world — locally.

It is generous in that a genuine community is one that focuses on being known as those to whom others in the community can turn and it is generous because it will become a community that seeks “not to be looked over” when the larger community has issues and concerns and wants to make plans.

It is generous because when it gathers it edifies and exhorts and encourages — it accepts people for who they are, it lets people tell their stories, and it comes alongside all such people to help them to become who God made them to be.

It is generous because its entire grounding is the perichoretic love of the Triune God: God’s mutual interpenetration and indwelling of the persons of the Trinity. This is the grounding for community and hence it becomes a generous extension of that love to others for the good of the world.

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  • Amen.Very striking in Luke’s account of sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet, wetting them with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Jesus versus Simon, who was all taken up with what kind of woman she was and that Jesus ought to know better. I could not agree more.

  • I appreciate how you have been helping me to better understand the Emerging movement. I have been doing as much reading as I can recently.I am finding much that I can agree with, but I do have several concerns, only a couple of which I will mention here as they relate to your post. Perhaps you have addressed these elsewhere, so forgive me if I am stepping on well-traveled ground.I also don’t expect you to answer each of these, but am just posting a rolling train of thought. I also think some of the concerns may be related to the nature of a young movement, which I consider to be an ongoing group conversion experience.With regards to being generous – You write: “Orthodoxy believes the Church is catholic: it is universal. Generous orthodoxy takes that belief and acts upon it: it engages in fellowship with all Christians, not just those we prefer from our tradition.”–At what point does generosity lapse into a lack of or respect for discernment?–What is the nature of “fellowship”I don’t think I am sitting at the same table with Bishop Spong, for example (which I concede may be an extreme example but which also pushes the idea of generosity).–Although they consider themselves part of a movement, I get a strong sense of every congregation for themself in a way that might make Luther shudder. –Are these congregations in some loose sense like “base communities,” in which theology is developed through the local community deriving from a group wisdom and experience.–I often feel as if people in the movement are saying they are in “fellowship with all Christians,” except those of the Religious Right. Perhaps that is part of any movement or conversion experience, in which people are leaving a past. It seems for the most part, that is a past from which most Emergents are escaping. It is exactly those within “our tradition” with whom they don’t want to fellowship.Escaping is a word I use deliberately with all its positive and negative connotations.I frequently feel when listening to Emergents that I am hearing the parable in which the Pharisee says Thank God I’m not like them. Of course the joke is on the reader who is saying, I’m glad I’m not like that Pharisee.It reminds me of the early days of the charismatic/non-charismatic debate in which the charismatics – a tradition through which I became a Christian – were almost dismissive of those not like them.It will be interesting to see over the coming years whether the Emerging movement profoundly alters the way Christianity is done or whether it will go the way of the Jesus Movement which was coopted into many ways of doing church that Emergents now find terribly lacking.In the meantime, I am thankful for the push to keep the church always reforming. Thanks for letting me ramble.

  • Stan,These are good questions, too many and involved to answer here. If generous orthodoxy is truly orthodox, it has boundaries right there: Spong does not affirm orthodoxy.Generosity is not genuine loving if it lacks discernment.Generous orthodoxy is Protestant, too, which means it will embrace Luther and Calvin — not always, not in everything, but it will accept them for who God called them to be in their time. We are not 16th Century though.I agree, some of the Emerging folks are particularly hard on the right — sign of immaturity. Any brother or sister is the only way to be generous.Time will tell; I am asking for that time.

  • Hey ScotA few thoughts on first reading. One of the significant changes that the missional church is engendering is a shift in the function of the church within the larger community. The primary function is no longer to be a voice of prophetic condemnation (against homosexuality, against abortion, against evolution) but rather to be a voice of advocacy (for the urban poor, for sustainable stewardship of the environment, for positive covenantal relationships, for artistic expression).I am encouraged by this; this breaks down significant barriers to building community within local cultures. The political expression of the church as a community of condemnation has meant that whole swaths of people would never consider joining the community. Making the “Table Ministry” open to them has to be a good thing. The intuition that making a broad range of people welcome means more than just having a coffee time and pleasant greeters is also, I think, a good thing.My concern is this: in spite of their best efforts to remain a-political, the role of advocacy seems to have adopted issues that are drawn very heavily from the progressive side of the political spectrum. I worry that the emerging church movement is becoming more strongly identified as “progressive evangelicalism” in alternative to the “conservative evangelicalism” of public prominence.Second, I wonder about this comment:”The only standard needed to be recipients of God’s grace and the community’s love is being made in the Image of God and finding oneself in this world — locally.”This is certainly an appropriate statement in regards to the general grace that flows out of being part of a transformation community, and the emphasis on a whorish excess of love flowing out of the community is fantastic. I wonder though if the emphasis on common brokenness, the common grace of transformational community, and pervious community boundaries has erased the ontological distinctions inherent in being a Christian. These ontological distinctions seem to resonate throughout scripture, they seem to be real and substantive, and maybe most significantly for the idea of church community, there seem to be different obligations for the community toward the individual on the basis of that distinction (I’m thinking of church discipline, sacraments, etc.). How do these community functions operate in a missional or emergent church?so, a bit scattershot, but any thoughts?

  • Bob

    Scot,I’m not so sure about this one. Maybe it is semantics (my understanding of a lot of these words isn’t as fine as yours) but some of these phrases seem to have the order of things mixed up. These quotes:I believe in the communion of the saints. Any understanding that does not begin here is unfair to the story of the Church.Agree.What this line declares is that there is a Spiritual connection of all the followers of Jesus, living and dead, that extends from God to the world through the communityAgree.These two statements indicate that there is a communion of the saints first. A tie that binds. And out of this, community is formed. But then:The community is the place where the people of God will find communion with one another and be led into union with God. As such, this community becomes a beachhead to create a Kingdom societyDisagree.This last quote, and subsequently the tone of the rest of the piece, puts the community first. The out of this community spring communion and ultimately society (or the restoration thereof). As if the community (or church) is the active agent here.Somehow this got reversed. It is the work of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to draw the elect from the earth and into citizenship of the Kingdom. In the society of Kingdom, we find unity, acceptance, and communion with others. Out of this communion springs a community where this “new life” is incarnated.It is not my community that works in the world “but Christ who works in me to will and to do according to His good pleasure.”Am I reading this wrong?

  • Bob, when I read the comment of Scot’s that you disagree with I whispered a strong “amen” in agreement. To the degree that we believe in a truly incarnational presence of Christ, to that degree we will keep the order that Scot suggests. You seem to disembody Christ from his body–the church. I think we trip over this kind of thinking: we think the individual meets and responds to a disembodied Christ and then becomes part of the community. I think the individual enters the community where Christ resides and is led to a crisis of faith. Jesus said of his followers, “The one who receives YOU receives ME and whoever receives ME receives the One who sent me.” This is a graphic and real union of Christ and the Father with God’s people.

  • Mike,Yes, I do think there is a progressive side to the Emerging movement, and it is in part a reaction to the co-opting of the Evangelical Church by the Republicans, but it is also a healthy wondering of how Jesus would do things in our world with his concern for the marginalized. On the ontology bit, you’ll have to see what I say in Embracing Grace.

  • I refuse to delay my gratification …

  • I’m not sure about your comment on the Puritans. (Of course the Puritan movement was very diverse… you know this… I’m just publically acknowledging it) As far as I can tell the Puritans were obsessed with introspection and self doubt. These seem like the hallmarks Puritan spirituality. If anything, these people should have questioned themselves a bit less! Yikes, they could be morbid. Perhaps that’s your point. I interpret the Puritan movement as primarily concerned with reforming Christian worship and communial practice, rather than the purity of the Church (ie. kicking out the bad folks). Purity in terms of communal practice, rather than in terms of individual conduct. (Though often including a renewed emphasis on the manner of each individuals life lived before God) This relates to the issue of authority. They sought freedom from being told by Anglican church heirarchy, with absolute authority, exactly, and with elaborate detail, all the actions necessary for performing a valid baptism, or propperly offering and recieving the Lord’s Supper. I interpret them as desiring a simple catholicity focused upon Scripture, rather than a complex and burdensome Christian practice imposed, absolutely, by church authority. (ie. If you don’t submit to it all, in every detail, you are barred from preaching, having disobeyed God)In this way, I see what you describe as Puritanism, to be Anabaptistic Christian practice. I mean, that’s what usually comes to mind in my thinking. The purification of the local assembly (the ban), no questioning, or struggle – all hallmarks of Anabaptism… so it seems to me. Regardless… I see where you are headed with this and I like it.

  • Puritan,You’ve got a good point: I’m less concerned with the “specific” Puritans but with the notion of Puritanizing of the Church — and I agree that some Anabaptists, perhaps most, were very much along this line.

  • I think Bob is on to something. I’m thinking of Bonhoeffers “Life Together”. I think Bonhoeffer would question how you can BE in community and yet seek to find community. I’m beginning to wonder if the way we use the word “community” is foriegn to the Bible. Is “community” something we are trying to get (seems to be what I hear in the church) or something we have in Christ by nature of our union w/ him? If I’m trying to “get it”, it seems the ideal is to high to ever achieve…leading me to disappointment and anger. If I have it by nature of my relationship to Christ then I simply live out of the reality of what I have…and recieve it with thankfulness.John, I agreed w/ what you were saying, but I failed to see how it addressed Bob’s concern…unless I misread one or both of you…Fr’nklin

  • Fr’nklin,Not sure how your questions relate to my comments.I’m concerned that we recognize that the Church is the Body of Christ and that we not develop a radical individualism.

  • Scot,Maybe I just misread the post. For some reason I was picking up a thought pattern that seemed to indicate the Church IS a community, but then later we can FIND/GET community in the Church. I don’t think you were focusing on that…I just happen to be reading Bonhoeffer and it is fresh on my mind. I reread your post this a.m. and I think I just misread you. In fact, having read you this a.m., I hear you saying the Church IS a community and the call is to live that community out generously (as you so well defined). So, my bad…thanks.Fr’nklin

  • Scot,Please indulge me a follow up comment. After reading Bonhoeffer’s “life together” and then reading your description of Community in a Generous Orthodoxy -one question reverberates in my mind: what do I do if my experience of “community” in my local church is nothing like the “community” you described? What do I do if it is generally “puritanical”, non-missional, promotes the idea of “ONE day church” (not “six day”)and where one senses little “communion”? I don’t know if you have the time or energy to answer this question, but could you point me to a resource or person who could give me some direction?Thanks,Fr’nklin

  • Fr’nklin,Hard to give advice of this sort on a blog comment response!Do everything you can — pray, meet, read — to help your church along; talk to leaders; be a missional person yourself; find others like you and create a beachhead; respect your leaders.Pray more.Don’t start a new church unless you have to.

  • Bob

    Fr’nklin,The community you find is up to you. Not up to your leaders. They cannot develop relationships that are deeper than “how are you?”–“fine” for you. You have to develop the heart and the skills to enter into others’ lives and allow them entrance to yours. Not our natural bent.Too many rely on leaders to do this for them. And blame them when it does not exist. They can only provide an enviroment for it. (And they have.) Dr. McKnight,With all respect, I agree the Church is the Body of Christ. But I see 3 concepts in your post:1) the Kingdom and the Way that defines it’s society as taught by the Law, Prophets, and the Word.2) the communion of the saints–the tie that binds us all together (which I refer to as Church- capital ‘C’) 3) the community-the local, contextualized manifestations of the Church (I refer to this as church-small ‘c’)The Kingdom exists everywhere and encompasses all of creation. The Church is comprised of the elect who are citizens of that society. The community is made up of subgroups of the elect. When taken in this order, there is no separation. One flows from the other, the others flow into the One.But you can have a community that calls themselves “church” that has little of nothing to do with the other two. The sticking point of your post was that the community (church) “is the beachhead to create the Kingdom society”. Is this backwards?

  • Bob,On this last point I agree, though I’m not so sure we can divorce Kingdom from Church that simply. But, still there is a distinction.And, the local community can fall short — just as we fall short. No one ever should claim the local church is perfect. I like the take in John Burke, No Perfect People allowed. One of the things we Christians have to do a better job at is accepting other Christians for who they are, even when we don’t like them.Love is what Jesus calls us to.Here’s a wisdom word: It is easy to love those we like; it is hard to love those we don’t like; Jesus calls us to love both groups.