“Praxis” is the technical term for how we actually live our theology. We could say “practice” just as well. “Orthopraxy” is to praxis as “orthodoxy” is to doctrine. It’s what we consider standard, proper practice.
At its core, the emerging movement is an attempt to fashion a new ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). Its distinctive emphases can be seen in its worship, its concern with orthopraxy, and its missional orientation.
Some emerging Christians see churches with pulpits in the center of a hall-like room with hard, wooden pews lined up in neat rows, and they wonder if there is another way to express—theologically, aesthetically, and anthropologically—what we do when we gather. They ask these sorts of questions: Is the sermon the most important thing on Sunday morning? If we sat in a circle would we foster a different theology and praxis? If we lit incense, would we practice our prayers differently? If we put the preacher on the same level as the congregation, would we create a clearer sense of the priesthood of all believers? If we acted out what we believe, would we encounter more emphatically the Incarnation?
In my church, we have the good fortune to meet in a gym (a gym with Corinthian columns and a barrel ceiling). We can arrange our chairs as we see fit, and lately we’ve begun meeting in a 270 degree arc, with the pulpit only 6 inches off the floor in the midst of the chairs. I had no idea that we were being “emerging”!
We’ve also offered some seeker services experimentally on Wednesday nights. We tried many of the techniques of emerging churches, with prayer stations and such, and it worked quite well. Well, actually, as a seeker service it was a failure — but the members loved it. Well, not all the members, but nearly all the members age 40 or younger and lots of those older.
We terminated the effort, however, because it failed at bringing in visitors, because the staff struggled to prepare the event at a high enough quality to be consistently effective, and because we found we could incorporate some of the elements into our Sunday morning service — by greatly upgrading our praise team, rearranging the room into a 270 degree arc, and adding more visual elements to the overheads.
Now, most within our church would love to have the Wednesday night program back, but we found it only works at all when done very well indeed, and we never were able to do it well enough often enough to justify the effort. It’s just a matter of what you want your staff to do, and other churches may well have the staff time to commit to it.
The point, however, is that many church members have a hunger for a more experiential worship. Our members are sick and tired of going through the motions. They want a transforming experience — not just a great sermon, or a great song service, but a great worship.
And I realize that many of my readers will not understand what I’m struggling to say. I didn’t understand what people were asking for until I experienced it for myself. Which explains a lot. You see, there is much about God and his church that cannot be contained in words or propositions. Some things are experiential, not propositional. God can be like that, you know.
The classic book is Dan Kimball’s The Emerging Church. This is such a great book that I gave my copy to our missionary to Romania. He was looking for methods that would work in that culture to appeal to the needs of the members to feel God’s presence in worship.
In Churches of Christ, it’s important to realize that what many members are looking for is not instrumental music so much as spiritual experience. Instruments can help (or not help). But the worship that will appeal to the young is about feelings and experience, and there are many ways that this can happen.
Notice further than many churches have had great success by returning to ancient, Christian practices. Rather than insisting on our traditional practices — based largely on 19th Century frontier revivalism — some churches have been effective with a more formal liturgy, with responsive readings, with more time dedicated to prayer or communion — or even by meeting at homes.
The goal isn’t to be emerging or anti-traditional. Or more traditional. You see, the goal isn’t to be different. Or instrumental. Or cutting edge. It’s to help our members truly worship. And if this doesn’t make sense to you, sit a few younger members down and ask them about it.