Saturday, January 5

Are house churches unhealthy? You decide!

I have been thrilled to see the growing interest for house churches in the North American context and especially in the Southern Baptist Convention. As IMB-SBC missionaries, most of us are heavily involved in training, teaching, and planting house churches around the world.

Recently at sbc Impact! Geoff Baggett did a good job introducing some of the concepts with his post House Churches: Will They Really Work In North America?

What follows are a few phrases from the 61 comments shared on that post. I would encourage you to read the complete thoughts in context of those expressing concerns. Most of these are fairly common objections about house churches that we hear all the time...
...accountability and proper doctrine would be my two red flags

...the rise of house churches is more of mark of unhealthiness

...house churches are dominated by people who do not want to submit themselves to the leadership of the church

...the lack of biblically trained leadership would often create an environment rich in heresy

...early churches meeting in homes, is that descriptive or prescriptive?

...I tend to think of this as more a reaction against the mega church and mega-wannabe

...I think that house churches work better in some cultures than in other cultures

...To me, the key biblical point is not where the church meets. The key point is whether the pastor meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

...House churches work well in places where there is persecution and a need for secret meeting places.

...I don't think it would work in my context

My own observation about the above is that most of the comments are coming from people who have not experienced first hand life as part of a local ekklesia (house church). Rather than spend my time individually refuting each of the above concerns, I would rather share what DOES take place in a house church meeting (at least in our Guayaquil, Ecuador context.) After reading, you can judge for yourself if any of the above expressed concerns are relevant to what actually takes place when a church meets under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, her founder and head.

The believers started arriving around 9am on a hot, bright Sunday morning.

Chairs and furniture had been rearranged into a large circle in what was a spacious living room of one of the house church members. We sat around and caught up on one another's week. There were about 20 adults and youth present along with several small children.

A new couple arrived and were introduced, giving them ample time to share who they were, where they were from, and to make them feel welcome.

Songbooks were handed out and we began a time of singing hymns and praise songs to Jesus.

Impromptu testimonies were interspersed between songs of how those sharing had come to know the Lord.

Three people shared words of exhortation/encouragement from the Scriptures. I remember one of them being 2 Cor. 12 where Paul asks that the thorns in his flesh be removed. God seemed pleased to allow the thorns to remain. The comment was made that wasn't it true that most of us in the room carried thorns in our flesh? Isn't at least part of the reason God allows his servants to bear thorns to keep us humble and operating in the power of the grace of God, rather than our own strength?

We then entered a lengthy time of prayer. Every month a prayer list is distributed throughout the Guayaquil house church network. We feel it is important that we all be praying in a united, continuous way about the things we want to see Christ doing in our city. A few of the ongoing items that we continuously petition the Lord are:
  • laborers for the harvest...
  • asking God for 500,000 new souls in the coming five years...
  • to give each of us passion for Jesus, perseverance in the work, and power in the Spirit...
  • that the Lord would keep us from Satan's tactics to discourage, distract, and divide us from the tasks He has given us to do...
  • individual and specific prayer for each of the missionaries we support as a house church network...and many more.
Praying through each of these in a meaningful way took around 40-minutes with everyone present participating in the prayers.

A loud floor fan was turned on for 30-seconds to help move the air around before being turned off again so that we could hear one another.

A young woman had been asked beforehand to prepare and share the week's Bible lesson. Several passages out of Matthew and Mark were assigned to various ones present. To her credit, she didn't try to tell everyone what the passages meant, but simply asked questions of the passages. There were several awkward moments of silence as people struggled to come up with a clear understanding of what Jesus is saying to us today. Usually someone would come up with at least the beginnings of an answer. Others would then join in with their thoughts. After a few minutes a really good biblical discussion would ensue as the entire church wrestled with the implications of the text. Not once was I consulted as visiting missionary to correct any "wrong interpretations." To be honest, there wasn't anything shared that wouldn't have gotten an A+ in my book. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of leading, guiding, and teaching truth to His Body.

A prayer was said and the weekly offering was taken up. We sang a few more songs as the monies were counted.

A quick impromptu huddle was held to decide what to do with the week's offering. It was decided by consensus to give the ENTIRE OFFERING to the visiting couple to help them with upcoming medical costs for the birth of their first child! We then gathered around the couple to minister to them, laying hands on them. Several believers prayed for the safe delivery of their baby, and for blessings upon their marriage and family. Needless to say the couple was overwhelmed by the love and concern expressed for them.

As sandwiches and drinks were being served (it was then about noon) several shared about the people they were evangelizing and discipling. The brother to my left has started his own house church. His wife began talking to me about the new group she was about to start and askee me how to get hold of some materials. Nearly everyone in the room during the week have people they are visiting, witnessing to, or discipling. It is considered something embarrassing to not actually be doing what Jesus said to do! Another impromptu group discussion took place about the upcoming training center they are inaugurating to train believers from other churches to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach others to do what Jesus said to do.

All of the above was led by the various members of the house church assembly. One would be hard pressed to identify exactly who the leaders even were (they were there, though, trust me!) Everyone present participated actively throughout the entire meeting, including the children. Time flies by quickly when everyone understands their responsibility to "one another" each other.

Three hours after arriving, I left to take the visiting couple home in our car. All the way back to their house, all they could talk about was how powerfully God had spoken to their lives that day, how much they had learned, and how moved they were by the love of the people.

THREE QUESTIONS: What part of the above is not New Testament? What would even be objectionable by Baptists? Are not these kind of gatherings what we find the church doing in Acts and the Epistles?

Again, go through the above list of house church concerns/objections and see if any apply to what actually took place at what is a typical house church gathering in Guayaquil. Your thoughts and observations are welcome!

Better yet, contact us by email (in our profile) and come help us reach an un/under reached county of our province. Put some of that knowledge and doctrine you have into practice!

11 comments:

Debbie Kaufman said...

The Bible says where 2 or three are gathered in my name there I am in their midst. Matthew 18:20

GuyMuse said...

Debbie,

Indeed it does. But this is hard for us to accept due to our mindset about the church being a place, a building, something we go to. WE are the church, wherever it is we gather in His Name.

Gary Snowden said...

Guy,

Thanks for sharing the snapshot of life in a house church in Guayaquil. For my part, I think you guys are right on target and I find absolutely nothing that isn't consistent with the NT description of life in the early church.

I appreciate once again the link to the COSECHA materials and look forward to sharing an overview of them in the upcoming trip to Guatemala that's just a little over 2 weeks away. I welcome your prayers for our efforts there.

GuyMuse said...

Gary,

De nada! Hope you guys have a fruitful trip to Guatemala. The COSECHA materials are designed as a step by step way to start an outreach group, which will hopefully end in a new church plant. It will work with any church planting model.

GuyMuse said...

NOTE: For all those interested in reading further comments on this same post, please click on House Churches: Revisited as it appears at sbc Impact!.

Les Puryear said...

Guy,

It's a wonder how the church in the first century ever going with all of these objections.

Les

GuyMuse said...

Les,

Your IMB Baptisms Up 28% post is an excellent affirmation of my own post. It ought to at least catch the attention of those with their doubts and concerns to see that God is pouring new wine into new wineskins. To continue to try and pour new wine into old wineskins is producing the kind of results you point out so well in your own post. I plan to post on my blog later this week your post and allow the numbers to speak for themselves.

John Lunt said...

I found the comments you quoted interesting, and I'm pretty sure, most of them have not experienced the true community in a house church or a simple/organic church.

I lead a street church in downtown Dallas. We don't have many problems with orthodoxy. We started out with this foundation. The bible is the Word of God and it is true. If something is inconsistant with the bible, then we will not accept it at truth. We have had things mentioned that would be error. However, there have always been plenty of people who would correct it - with scripture. Not too bad for a group who's never had anyone that went to bible school or seminary.

I was really amused about the lack of biblically trained leadership creating a environment rich in heresy.

Most heresy's the church is having to deal with today were started or propogated by so called biblically trained leaders. The rest of us, not so smart folks, no we're not so smart and we depend on the scriptures as a plumb line.

Since I've been involved in House Churches and simple churches, I've been more open about my weaknesses and struggles. I don't have to keep up appearances. The people I'm in relationship with no my stuff. I'm getting stronger in my faith, I'm closer to Jesus, and I'm beginning to have victories that I never had in all of the years I was in a "traditional" church.

Oh by the way, in our little network of simple churches we were able to serve and minister to over 200 hundred homeless people on Christmas Eve. None of the "traditional" churches I've been a part of ever did that.

I love the traditional church. It's part of the body of Christ. But, I don't see myself ever going back to a traditional church setting.

I'm no longer just a spectator. I'm a participant and I really feel sorry for people who's spiritual walk consists of heading to a church building and spending a couple of hours watching someone else lead worship or someone else pray, or someone else leading the bible study. Thanks - but no thanks.

GuyMuse said...

John,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your good comments. We are looking at possibly furloughing in the DFW area this next summer. Maybe our paths will cross while there! Do you have a blog? I'd love to read more of your thoughts, especially on the work you have going on with the street church. I think it is great that on Christmas Eve you were able to serve and minister to over 200 homeless. That speaks volumes on where your priorities lie as a church.

Burkhalter Ministry said...

Guy,

Good post. When are you going to be in DFW area this summer? What do you have going on in the spring? We're praying about another trip down your way possibly (I had a dream I'm trying to determine if it is from God) Anyways, keep up the Kingdom work!
Travis

GuyMuse said...

Travis,

We are looking at coming sometime in the early summer and staying for several months. Right now we are looking into finding housing and transportation. What kind of dream did you have? Sounds interesting!