Monday, October 8

Weddings, funerals, baptisms, in house churches

If simple churches are led by non-professional "lay" leaders, who performs all of the traditional church ceremonies? Who does the baptizing, serving of the Lord's Supper, funerals, weddings, and all the other duties traditional churches are used to having done by ordained ministers? Who do you call when there is a death in the family? Can anyone baptize (women?) Who presides over the Lord's Supper? Can any believer marry a couple?

I have no problem answering these questions, but as part of my answer, I like to inquire of the person asking, where in the NT do we get the idea that only the clergy class were the ones carrying out these functions? Can any of us point to a single instance in the NT where any of these functions is designated as exclusive terrain of a chosen few? Is it a commandment or an ordinance that only trained, seminary educated, ordained ministers be the ones to baptize, serve the Lord's Supper, wed, and bury? There is nothing wrong with them doing so, but are we not ALL Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a Chosen Race?

So, to the practical outworking of how this is carried out...

The short version is that we deal with each situation as it comes up. In other words we don't worry about these things until in the natural flow of things they need to be dealt with. When the need arises, those in the house church leadership will come to us and we will talk about it seeking to help them understand what God wants them to do in this situation. Sometimes they come right out and ask us to lead the ceremony. Often I will agree to do so this first occasion, but next time it is their responsibility. I view these opportunities to further train and orient the servant leaders by their watching me do it.

Baptism. We don't make a big deal over who does the baptizing. Any disciple can baptize. In fact disciples are commanded to do so in Matthew 28:18-20. Usually the way this works is that the house church leader will do so themselves with one or two assistants from the church. If for whatever reason they are not able, or do not wish to do so, they find somebody else to do the baptizing. It's not so much WHO does the baptizing, as in WHOSE NAME they are baptized.

Communion. The Lord's Supper is observed regularly by most of our house churches. It is carried out in any number of different ways. One way is to model for them. Many times when a group of new believers is ready for their first Lord's Supper, they will invite one of the missionaries or team members to come preside. We gladly do so as a means of modeling a way of how it can be done. What is scary is that however we choose to lead during this time is often copied from there on out as "the way" to do the Lord's Supper! Over the years, though, I have seen a lot of creative and meaningful ways to celebrate this memorial.

Weddings. We have had many house church weddings over the past few years. Each has been special and meaningful to not only those getting married, but a blessing to the church as a whole. Sometimes I have been asked to perform the wedding, and have done so gladly. Usually though I will only perform the first wedding in a house church, but expect them to do any subsequent weddings. Sometimes the couple getting married will specifically ask their house church leader to do the ceremony. In these cases--and there have been several--the leader will come asking for help. We will sit down and step by step go over what needs to be done. We practice until they are fairly confident. It is important that the servant leaders be seen as empowered to carry out ALL the necessary tasks involved in church life. If we somehow leave the impression that only pastors & missionaries can fill certain roles, we will harm the church's natural development. The last thing we want to do is create dependency upon the missionary.

Funerals. Again, we will go over with the house church leaders a basic outline of the kinds of things to say and do at a funeral. We stress comforting the family, sharing passages that will edify, and allowing those present to share in the time. I remember one house church leader being asked to preside over a wake. She had absolutely no experience or background to do so. In a panic she called several people to come to the rescue. None were available so she prayed to the Lord for guidance and went on to the wake. There, she was able to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, and was a great blessing to the family. She related that it wasn't that hard. It was just a matter of allowing the Spirit of God freedom to minister through her. She related they sang a few songs, she shared a passage of Scripture and a few words of comfort, the family shared their memories of the loved one, prays were said, and then she visited with the family.

The list really extends to many other natural church life functions as well. Praying for the sick, dealing with demons, counseling, baby dedications, home visits, anniversaries, birthday parties, etc. NONE of these are the exclusive domain of professional clergy. ALL are matters which normally should be carried out by Spirit-filled disciples. It is not about us and how highly trained we are, but about HIM and what He wants to do in and through us.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Guido,
It is always a joy to see true disciples of Jesus Christ begin to put into the practice the priest of the believers.
Esteban

Anonymous said...

Guido,

Now what I really meant to say is...

It is always a joy to see true disciples of Jesus Christ begin to put into practice the priesthood of the believer.
Esteban

Mark said...

thanks Guy, I've been thinking about these "marry and bury" issues in house churches for awhile. We too had a simple church wedding, and it was meaningful, but then the couple's parents felt they needed a "real" wedding in a building. i'm excited to see how creative followers of Christ create meaningful "liturgy" and "symbol" over time. sounds like the Christians in your network are already discovering new meaning and new practices! praise God.

GuyMuse said...

Esteban,

If we say we are all "priests" (to use your term) then we have to be consistent with that understanding and follow through with its logical outworkings in church life.

Mark,

I don't mean to imply we haven't had our own share of issues as well. One marriage in particular turned into a mess due to word getting out that a non-ordained, house church leader had married a couple who were living together. Word spread and soon he was ostracized by the whole evangelical community in his section of town. It took over a year of patient dialogging with local pastors before he was accepted back into the fold for having committed a "heresy."

Chadd said...

Guy - Just a note to say I really appreciate your blog and the resources you provide here. My family and I are US missionaries living in Guadalajara Mexico. For the last few years we've been trying to live into a more simple vision of following Jesus (simple church, Luke 10 plantings, etc.). We are connected to many others in North America with a similar vision (DAWN, House2house, CMAResources)--but I am especially interested in your work among Latinos. Just wanted you to know I am "listening" in. Blessings.

GuyMuse said...

Chadd,

Thanks so much for stopping by and for the encouraging words. We too have been helped and blessed by the DAWN, H2H, and CMA folks. We have adapted many concepts and principles we use from these folks. Do you know Ken Sorrell? I believe he also lives there in Guadalajara and would be a great resource person for you as well.

Cahleen 何凱琳 said...

Interesting look into the way house churches work. Thanks!

GuyMuse said...

Cahleen,

We're learning a lot of this from the Chinese who have been at it a lot longer than we have! Have you guys ever visited or been part of a house church?

WTJeff said...

Guy,

Have you heard of anyone who has a goal of reproducing house churches in the bible belt? God has lead us to start a house church. Our first meeting will be Oct. 28. All who plan on participating are Christians who have either fallen away or become disenfranchised with the traditional church. I'm curious to see how this works in a bible belt community. I was just wondering if God has called anyone else to be as crazy as me and my friends.

Grace,

Jeff Parsons
Amarillo, TX

GuyMuse said...

Hi Jeff,

That's great about starting a hc there in Amarillo, TX! My only caution has to do with those coming disillusioned with traditional church. They will come in to the new church with all their baggage. The danger is that the new church start will be inward focused, doing church the "right way" and forever trying to get it right. My suggestion is that from the very beginning, the focus be not on the mechanics of doing church "right", but on making disciples. Disciples who will go, make other disciples, baptize, and teach. An inward-looking bunch who spend all their time complaining about how bad their previous church was will only self-destruct over the course of a few months.

Just my 2-cents. Again, this is great about starting fresh, but be aware of the dangers of starting with disenfranchised believers as the nucleus. I look forward to hearing your progress reports! :)

Chris L said...

Hey Guy,

I have been reading your blog for a few weeks and have really enjoyed it. I am from the U.S. and part of a church planting team among indigenous peoples in southern Mexico. We are just getting started planting house churches, and this post raised some good issues we'll need to be thinking about. Thanks for sharing!

Chris Leake

GuyMuse said...

Chris,

Thanks for stopping by. That's great about your team working there in S. Mexico. Let us know how it goes. A lot of what we have learned, we learned by doing it as it came up. Just take things a day at a time.