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October 2012

Emergence, Part 1

Years ago I had the opportunity to listen to an author and conference speaker named Judy Reamer. One of Judy's teachings was on reading the Bible. She had met someone who read the Bible completely through once each day. He had read the Bible around 12,000 times. Basically, he had become so familiar with the version of the Bible he was reading that he could look at each page and remember everything on it. So he could go through the entire Bible once a day. A benefit of this was to get a big picture of all that God had done and is doing with men.

Judy would describe it using the ecology of a mountain range. People often develop an internal picture of Christianity based on the scriptures they are familiar with and their experiences. It is kind of like someone living high up on a mountain and thinking life is often cold and rocky; while someone living lower in a valley may think life is warm and bountiful. But someone standing far enough to see the whole mountain range will see all of the different parts of the range and how they work together. In a sense, they will see the ecology of the mountain range. They may see how the cold, rocky, snowy areas affect the valleys, depending on the seasons. How some sides of the range may receive more rain than other sides, depending on the winds.

Judy has a set of CDs or DVDs of her teaching on "Breaking the Bible Barrier." You can get more information at She also has some additional PDF information you can download on the products page. These PDFs include information on the benefits of reading the whole Bible and suggestions on how to physically prepare a Bible for reading in this manner. We did this and it was an interesting experience. Basically, we took a large print, paperback Bible, ripped the cover off, tore it into four different "books", and then rebound each "book." So the first book ended up being Genesis through 2 Samuel, etc. The smaller bound books make it easier to feel like you can finish reading the book. I didn't end up reading the Bible as Judy does, but I did end up reading more than I had read before.

So . . . emergence. To me emergence is a quality of the ecology of Christianity. It's a "step back and see the big picture" kind of thing. Snowflakes are an example of emergence in the physical world. You can't create a specific snowflake. Instead, under the right conditions, snowflakes occur, each one different from the other. The snowflakes, in a sense, emerge. There is a lot of philosophy around the concept of emergence but I'm not getting into that. I use it as a fairly simple concept.

Let's look at some scripture.

Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Here we have a picture of how the early church lived. I've heard some take this and use it as a template to describe what the church should look like. In the process, teachings get started on how to live communally, which is fine. But I don't think the early church operated as it did because of teachings on being communal. I think it was a living pattern that emerged.

Acts 5:1-4
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

To me, it is obvious from Peter's response that there was nothing in the teachings of the Apostles to make people feel like they had to sell their property and give the proceeds to the church. There was nothing in the teachings to make Ananias and Sapphira feel like they were "lesser" Christians if they didn't give everything. What they taught was all about Jesus, grace, mercy, compassion, love for God, love for each other, the Holy Spirit, etc. The sense of community was an emergent quality, and continues to be a pattern that emerges when God is expressing himself in a group of people, and in particular when he expresses himself powerfully through the Holy Spirit and in a way that causes his people to be seen as "set apart."

1 Timothy 6:17-19
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Again we see, not a teaching of being communal but of being generous. If you have a church full of people who are generous and who love each other then you will see a pattern of community emerge. And, the more a community is mindful of each other and cares for each other, the more defined that pattern of the community will become. It is living, an expression of God, not a "copy." It is okay to copy or to use past patterns as a guide, but the living expression is what is most important.

In the next post I'll talk about another set of emergent patterns; commonly referred to as the Beatitudes.