In recent news, we behold again extraordinary events in Iran, as we did eight years ago during the Green Revolution that protested election results and presaged the Arab Spring. In their grassroots nature and spontaneous beginnings these are classic cases of movements as opposed to programs promoted by institutions. In our culture, though we have relatively strong institutions, with its trend to distrust institutions, such movements are particularly admired.
Our ecclesial context is very, very different, but we would like to recast ourselves as a movement, so as to benefit from this popular perception. This gains some credence from studies of early Christianity as a movement, though we need to be somewhat leery of the desire to leapfrog backwards to that early period.
My goal here is simply to reflect on this recasting. I suspect it is trying to finesse several things. First some want to emphasize the salvation-related claims about Jesus, while others would emphasize his prophetic teaching mainly. “Movement” talk is meant to appeal to both by a certain ambiguity. Given our Presiding Bishop's strong statements about reclaiming salvation and resurrection language, I do not think he wishes to put the traditional claims on the back- burner, but others well might.
Secondly, as I mentioned above, is the discomfort with institutions particularly among the young. “Movement” talk soft pedals the dimension of being a shrinking mainline denomination. No one confesses faith in an institution and so is saved - agreed! But behind our talk is also anxiety about the institution on the part of us who are responsible for it. Self-knowledge and candor are good New Year's resolutions.
The important thing is to make sure the communal, personal, experiential, and hence ephemeral are connected to the concrete and the on-going. That's a big reason we have a Church, “until He returns.” Perhaps the key word to contrast with “institution,” in addition to “movement,” is “practice.” It implies ordered acts we do together as a community over time, laden with doctrinal claims, and invested with our own pious and personal meanings. Their renewal, their rediscovery, their implications, are their own kind of revolution.