This Is Me

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

House Churching

This is in response to a question that was posed to me about why I am part of a house church. I have enclosed remarks regarding spritual dependence upon leaders that I have previously posted on here in case anyone doesn't remember every word I've ever written here! :-)

About house-churching, I think it's correct that some, maybe many, join house churches because they've been hurt by a conventional church, but that was not why I chose to do it.

I also attend a conventional church on Sunday mornings, help out with its youth group, go to Sunday school, I have taught Sunday school there etc. I'm pretty involved in that church as well. However, what attracts me to house churches is that I believe that they more closely approach the structure God intends for His church. Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks that if we set up the church the exact way it was in the New Testament that everything will be idyllic. Looking at the New Testament, one thing that is very obvious to me is that those congregations weren't IDEAL! (in terms of morality):-) But I do believe that the way the early church was set up, as shown in the New Testament, more closely resembles God's intention for His church than the model of the modern American conventional church. I was convinced of this through my own reading of scripture and by persuasive discussions with those who had come to similar conclusions to mine. I do not think conventional churches cannot be used by God, but I do believe that there is a sort of cultural bias and assumptions that are inherently made by those attending and leading conventional churches that can block God's work, or His intentions for a community of believers.

In a nutshell, I think house churches give more opportunity for:

-more community
-less consumer mentality
-more use of God-given gifts/talents
-proper authority

If you look at 1 Corinthians 14, starting at the 26th verse it says:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

When Paul sets up guidelines for orderly worship in this passage he assumes "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." This passage clearly displays a church completely opposite from the modern American church where one, or a few, pastors speak and most of the people sit "consuming" the message. The conventional church tends to give people in the congregations a "consumer", instead of participator, mentality. (the modern church model where 20% of the people do 80% of the work) Instead it is clear that ALL participate. I believe that the modern American church strips people of their God-given gifts, authority, etc and are instead set up like businesses where a few people have taken far more authority and power than God ever meant them to have and put people into the ministry slots they feel need to be filled. Now, usually this usually works okay, because most pastors aren't bent on power, yet even when they are humble and servant leaders with good intentions, they often take more upon them than was originally intended and thereby stunt the spiritual growth of the individuals in their congregations.

The term "pastor" in the New Testament is totally unrecognizable from the role we put pastors into today. John Stott (an Anglican!) puts it well when he says,

"Paul and Barnabas also *appointed elders for them in each church* (Acts 14:23). This arrangement was made from the first missionary journey onwards, and became universal. Although no fixed ministerial order is laid down in the New Testament, some form of pastoral oversight (*episkope*), doubtless adapted to local needs, is regarded as indispensable to the welfare of the church. We notice that it was both local and plural - local in that elders were chosen from within the congregation, not imposed from without, and plural in that the familiar modern pattern of 'one pastor one church' was simply unknown. Instead, there was a pastoral team, which is likely to have included (depending on the size of the church) full-time and part-time ministers, paid and voluntary workers, presbyters, deacons and deaconesses. Their qualifications Paul laid down in writing later (1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1). These were mostly matters of moral integrity, but loyalty to the apostles' teaching and a gift for teaching it were also essential (Tit. 1:9; 1 Tim.3:2). Thus the shepherds would end Christ's sheep by feeding them, in other words care for them by teaching them. Such was Paul's double - and only - human provision for these young churches: on the one hand a standard of doctrinal and ethical instruction, safeguarded by the Old Testament and the apostles' letters, and on the other pastors to teach the people out of these written resources and to care for them in the name of the Lord. Just the Scriptures and the pastorate; that as all. Yet there was a third - and divine - provision."

In fact, if you look at the New Testament try to find a church set up with the model we think of, usually one pastor, (unless it is a mega-church), you just can't find it. There was oversight, but it was by a group, not one person. More importantly, there wasn't just one person speaking, there were many. "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said" People were allowed to speak as they got revelation, and the others weighed what was said. This is completely different from a conventional church. Imagine giving the microphone to any who have revelation of a message from God (or a word or a hymn), even to the extent that the pastor wouldn't get a chance to talk because there have already been 2 or 3 who have spoken! The people in the early church had more responsibility, more "authority". They had to listen carefully to see if God had given them revelation and then speak if He had, and they also had to weigh what was said to see if it aligned with what they knew as truth and what the Holy Spirit was telling them about its truthfulness! But because of this, the elders had less authority and responsibility in a way. They weren't the only ones sharing during a service, they weren't the only ones speaking. They didn't control the course of worship, the Holy Spirit did.

I think often people put their pastors on pedestals and expect them to be morally perfect (or at least almost perfect), or they look to their pastor and his teachings as they would to a father leading them by the hand. I think these types of thoughts stunt spiritual growth and I think that the modern American church is set up in a way that makes these thoughts commonplace.

I have written on spiritual dependence on leaders before and will include a discussion at the end of this email (which is way more than you bargained for I'm sure!) The discussion is with some friends of mine who are very "high church" :-)

There is so much more, but it would take a veeeeeeeeeeeeeery long time to talk it out:-) However, I suggest you read the New Testament trying to see how the church was set up and see if you think a conventional church today would fit that mould. Now, because many of the people setting up house churches have been scorched, often by domineering pastors, I would agree that most aren't set up like the early church. Instead, they've gone the other way with no leadership whatsoever. I remember reading in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis where he said that Satan works in opposites.

"I feel a strong desire to tell you-and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me-which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs-pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them."

I'm not a person who believes that having a church building is wrong, or that having leadership is wrong. I believe there should be leadership, but that it should be a large team of non-professional elders, some who "pastor" people. It seems that elders who spoke well were paid, (1 Tim 5:17&18) but it also seems that they were not professional leaders like we have in the church today. There weren't a few, or one, person at the top who did all the "pastoring", all the speaking, all the visiting the sick, etc. I think this makes really lop-sided Christians, both leaders and all within the community of church-goers. I think we're seeing more and more that Christians will go to church and consume, but not really participate in community and community is one of the most important things the church is for! My vision is for many house churches within a city, with a "council of elders" as leadership over the city. Each church would have its own leadership, but for more serious issues the council of elders (elders from each house church) could be convened. House churches could work together to help the poor, evangelize, etc, and have larger meetings too, but the kernel would be a smaller group of people, closely linked in community. To me, this seems most closely to what scripture says. This also seems to be a type of church that would hold up better under persecution that may occur in the future. Obviously, in places like China, the only opportunity Christians really have for church is house churches.

Thoughts on False Independence

"The Pharisees loved to be given deferential titles. It flattered them. It gave them a sense of superiority over other people. In contrast to them, Jesus said that there were three titles his disciples were not to assume or be given, 'Rabbi' (that is, teacher), 'father' and 'master'. What did Jesus mean by it?

Well, the father exercises authority over his children by reason of the fact that they depend on him. I suggest that what Jesus is saying is that we are never to adopt towards a fellow man in the church the attitude of dependence which a child has towards his father, nor are we to require others to be or become spiritually dependent upon us. [bold added] That this is what Jesus intended is confirmed by the reason he gives, namely 'for you have one Father, who is in heaven'". - John R.W. Stott

I would add to that since Christ is the head of the church, we should not have any other head over us. We are the body, and there is supposed to be leadership in the elders, but there should be no "spiritual dependance" upon another man.

I think the crux of the matter is that I believe respect, guidance, and even obedience are all very different from spiritual dependence.

Mr. Gugg says, “It is interesting to me to note that, as my wife pointed out, Christ does not, throughout this entire diatribe against the Pharisees, attack their authority to teach, but rather their abuse of that authority. The problem is not the existence of spiritual authority within the Church, but rather the usurpation of that authority for self-aggrandizement rather than service.

I agree with this. The problem as I see it is that very frequently this usurpation of authority DOES happen and that most Christians go along with it and become spiritually dependent upon a person in instances where they should be spiritually dependent upon Christ instead. What is even worse is that often these very people usurping authority think that they ARE serving God and do not even realize that they are doing many a disservice in taking more spiritual authority than God gave them and in making the very people they think they are serving so spiritually dependent upon them that they are stunting their spiritual growth. Another outcome of this is that they begin (or started out) viewing themselves as higher than they ought. Christ remarks:“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-25)

I think something very natural has happened in the church, which is, that we think about leadership the same way the world does. Unfortunately, what is natural is not good and the philosophy of the world in this case is absolutely devastating.I also somehow doubt that John Stott does not agree with respecting people, going to them for guidance, or maybe even obeying church leaders (although that one is more controversial, so I am not certain.) For one, nothing he has written that I have ever read would suggest that and two, he is Anglican, so I think he probably pretty firmly believes in church leadership. I do think you (Tealizzy) are very lucky to have rarely seen Christians spiritually dependent on their pastors, priests, or other church leaders. I have noticed too much how many people unhealthily depend on their pastors and other church leaders to the extent that Christ as their head is replaced by their pastor as their head. This goes varies from extreme to being very subtle, but both are sick. I do not think I am imagining either, because I have held several conversations with others who have noticed this as well.I do know Paul refers to himself as a spiritual father (I don’t remember to which church), but I believe that statement cannot be interpreted apart from Christ himself saying (just a few verses after saying to obey those who sit in the seat of Moses) [paraphrased] "Call no one Rabbi [except Christ] and call no one Father except God." (Matt 23:7-10). I do not remember the specifics of why Paul was calling a church his spiritual children, but I cannot think that it was their spiritual dependency upon him, because it seems pretty clear that Christ alone is our rabbi (teacher) and God the father alone is our father (our head that we are spiritually dependent upon). God gives some to be shepherds (or pastors) of the body, and elders (leaders who make decisions for the body), but I don’t think anyone is supposed to be our head but Christ, or our spiritual father, except God the father. I think it is more likely that Paul was discussing a sort of spiritual “generational transfer” of the gospel. He believed and passed it onto them and they believed, acting as their father in that he was the messenger through which the gospel came, and also because he was then their shepherd, gently (or not so much, knowing Paul):-) showing them the path to being true “followers of the Way.” However, since I cannot find that darn passage, I cannot remark on it overmuch. Only that I am not going to take it to mean something that I see as contradicting what Jesus himself has said.

Again, I would also say that obedience and dependence are two entirely separate things. Paul and Peter both say to be obedient to our government and to the specific people who hold power in our government, but I very much doubt either would say to be dependent (spiritually or otherwise) upon our government. Also, I very much doubt either of us are currently obedient to those who "sit in the seat of Moses", as we do not obey Pharisees and scribes today. I think you might be hard-pressed to tie the seat of Moses to any contemporary church leader. And even then, later in that same passage he says not to call them “rabbi” or “father”, illustrating that obedience to one in authority is quite different from giving him the respect or authority due God alone.In addition to the scripture in Hebrews mentioned by Mr. Gugg, I think either Paul or Peter did write a passage that is about obeying those in authority over you that can be interpreted to mean church as well as government leaders, but I do not think that means that any church leader today sits in the seat of Moses. If you know of another verse that discusses this though, let me know. This does not mean I necessarily believe that we should all be disobedient to our church leaders; I think, depending on the circumstance, that that action would be the equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot. God put those people over us for a reason after all. (The circumstances I can think of if it went against my conscience. Of course, my question is this, “Who IS in spiritual authority over me?” rather than “Should I obey those in spiritual authority over me?”)The verse in Hebrews does talk about obedience and even submission, but all Christians are called to submit to one another (1 Peter 5:5) anyway. I do agree we are supposed to obey those in authority, but again I think this is very different from spiritual dependence.I believe as well as Mr. Gugg that leadership is a position of sacrifice and that only when leadership goes wrong is it bad, but I think it frequently does.Um, I think I answered the questions, but let me know if I did not.


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