Sunday, June 14

Why are we so afraid of NT house churches?

I have been thrilled to see the growing interest for house churches in the North American context and especially amongst my Southern Baptist brethren. As IMB-SBC missionaries, most of us are engaged in training, teaching, and planting NT house churches much like the one described below.

A while back on sbcImpact! blogging friend, Geoff Baggett, asked his readers (mostly Southern Baptist) House Churches: Will They Really Work In North America?

The following phrases were lifted from the 67 comments generated from that post. To be fair to those commenting, I would encourage you to read their complete thoughts in context. Most are fairly common objections about house churches heard quite often...

...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...

Rather than spend time refuting each of the above concerns, I would rather share what DOES take place in a house church gathering (at least in our Guayaquil, Ecuador context.)

After reading, you can judge for yourself if any of the above are relevant concerns.


1) At 6:30 pm we began with 15-20 adults and several children, meeting in the home of the church planter, which also doubles as a beauty parlor during the week. All the hair dressing equipment had been moved to another room to make space for the plastic chairs that were set up in a circle. It was very hot and crowded, but nobody seemed to mind (except the visiting missionaries!)

2) We sang a cappella 2 hymns, 1 psalm, and 1 praise chorus, all chosen at random by those present from tattered song books and a few xeroxed copies. No instruments--nobody there could play--no praise band, no over-head projected screens, no PowerPoint presentations, no choir, no microphones, pulpit, or any of the other "essentials" that many consider necessary in order to have "church." The singing was off-key, but it was a loud, heartfelt joyful sound!

3) Several people shared testimonies of how God is working in their lives and what God had been teaching them this past week from His Word. There was an open time of prayer with several people praying for one another as they were led of the Spirit.

4) The church planter led in a participatory inductive Bible study of Matthew 10. The focus was on persecution and how we are to confront it as Christians. There were no theologians quoted, books referenced, Greek word studies--just pure Bible, verse by verse. The illustrations were all from their own personal life experiences. Lots of participation, questions, and dialogue. The visual aid was a piece of newspaper print with the main points handwritten and taped to the wall.

5) We next observed the Lord's Supper as commanded by Jesus...1 Cor.11:23ff was read, followed by several moments of silent confession of sins. 3-4 people shared testimonies of what Christ meant to them and how grateful we all were for what Jesus had done for us. While partaking of the elements we sang a love song to Jesus. [NOTE: Here one might have reason to raise an eye brow--they used Ritz crackers and grape Kool Aid instead of unleavened bread and wine--but nevertheless, what was done, was done in remembrance of Jesus.]

6) An invited guest was introduced and it was quickly ascertained she was not a believer. At that point 2-3 shared with her their stories of how Christ had turned their lives around. A couple of others shared relevant scripture verses with her. The lady asked us to pray for her sick husband. Several people gathered around her, and did just that. The woman appeared very moved by the prayer and concern.

7) The offering was then collected with nearly everyone putting something in the small basket. I was one of the last to give. It appeared like there was less than $5 in total. All the proceeds of the offering were to go for #8 below.

8) Several minutes were spent going over details for next Sunday's evangelistic blitz of the whole neighborhood. This little church is dead set on winning their whole community to Christ. The offering collected tonight would be added to the previous weeks offerings and help buy needed tracts, Bibles, and EvangeCubes for the outreach event. If any money was left over, they planned on using it to buy cool drinks for all those who would be out sharing in the hot sun.

9) As they continued to talk about the planned door-to-door evangelistic blitz, refreshments were brought out. Each of us was served on a saucer a half slice of white bread, an empanada (fried meat pie), a spoonful of tuna fish (straight out of the can), one tiny cookie, and a small glass of soda pop. There were only eight glasses for 20+ people so most had to share a glass (we guests got our own glass and didn't have to share.) We sat around visiting, laughing, and sharing for about a half hour. I noticed that while we ate, several continued to gather around the visitor and were making her feel at home in the group as they chatted with her.

10) As the clean-up proceeded, the other IMB missionary, who was also visiting, was asked to share about her work with the Chinese. She taught us a song in Chinese, and we prayed for the Chinese in our city. Many questions were asked of her to better understand these odd "Samaritans" that live among us. Everyone was moved that there are so many Chinese in Guayaquil who do not know the Lord, and are actually Buddhists rather than Catholics.

11) A little after 9pm the meeting came to a natural close. Everyone hugged, kissed one another on the cheek and we all went home happy that we had been together in the "house of the Lord."

*********************

THREE QUESTIONS: What part of the above is not New Testament? What would be objectionable, even by Baptist standards? Do not these kind of gatherings closer resemble what we find in the pages of Acts and the Epistles than today's churches?

Again, go through the above list of house church concerns/objections and see if any are really relevant to what actually took place in 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 help us reach an unreached/under-reached county of our province. Maybe by coming down and helping plant a church will dispel any remaining doubts about house churches being New Testament churches.

27 comments:

Michelle Ann said...

Guy,
I love this post, and I love your enthusiasm about the ministry God has called you to. Lately, God has been bringing to my mind these very questions... questions about how the modern-day church does things, whether or not we are being "religious" or being real, how Jesus would have "done church," etc. I often times think back to how I saw you and the other workers ministering in the house churches. It brings me to tears to think of the simplicity that encompassed those environments and meetings. We complicate the gospel too much, often times to the point that people consequently don't want anything to do with our Jesus. It breaks my heart, yet God is working in my heart to teach me where that balance is. This post helps.
In regards to your post... I think the people of Guayaquil worshipping in your church get something that so many of us do not. Their faith is real, and their passion and hearts to minister is so genuine. They would never leave a brother or sister in need if they could do anything to help them... I have seen this with my very eyes... through them, I saw a brief picture of what we are given in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35.
Guy, looking back, I can honestly say that the people of Guayaquil taught me more about faith than most churches have. Keep fulfilling the Great Commission... and maybe someday I would be blessed to join you all!
Shelly

GuyMuse said...

Shelley,

We would love to have you come join us! Your life was such a blessing the few months you were amongst us. My faith too has grown much by the faith and passion of the hermanos here in Guayaquil. It is a joy to work alongside them in making Christ known to this city and province.

On another note, keep up the good job you are doing on your own blog. I love what you write. It is so transparent and real--like the house churches of Guayaquil!

Les Puryear said...

Guy,

I think the reason why American pastors are afraid of house churches is an issue of control. They feel like they won't be able to control what goes on in house churches.

Also, house churches are too different from our traditional church model.

Personally, I like the concept and believe it is a more biblical church model than that which we have in America.

Les

Goblin said...

Guy
Thanks for this little snapshot of what appears to me to be a church living out exactly what is described in the NT. Now, as for the comments you listed at the start of your article, i'm afraid they would take a whole lot of explaining...
As has already been alluded to in other comments, the key issues as to why people object to this type of church are about leaders wanting to maintain their control and about consumerist attenders wanting to have a 'church experience' without having to engage in 'one anothering' too much.
House church works here in the UK. Only possible excuse for it not working in the US is Americans!

With much love in the Lord

GuyMuse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GuyMuse said...

Les and Goblin,

You both point out key issues of wanting to maintain control.

Several ideas we have found useful for helping tradtional churches deal with their fears over losing control:

1) pastors and churches need to pray about having families, asking the Lord of the Harvest to send out/call laborers from within the church,

2) as the Lord responds, the pastor and church publicly endorse and even BLESS those being sent out to start the new churches (like Paul and Barnabas in the Antioch church),

3) start new churches ONLY with un-churched or unbelievers, NOT with other existing church members,

4) make sure everyone understands that you aren't dividing the church, but multiplying the church by reproducing (eg. instead of one church, you are now a 5 congregation church family...some of the family meet in homes, others at the building on Main and 5th St.),

5) have an understanding that this reproduction is "bearing children" and that all these new "kid churches" are part of the family...everyone knows "kids" do things differently from "parents", and allow them that freedom to grow and make their mistakes. In CPM language: MAWL (model, assist, watch, leave.)

I say all this because it is too difficult to transition from traditional to a more simple/house church model. Better to start with fresh new church plants with God called laborers.

christianityreboot said...

Guy, thanks for the post. I am past the point of trying to explain it to those who don't get it. I can't.

Instead I simply tell others who are frustrated with what is happening in traditional churches what we experience in our simple church gatherings. They are free to inquire more if they like.

I am not part of a denomination, though some of our simple church network are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. That probably makes it easier for me to ignore the opinion of those in the institutional church.

As for heresy. I've heard more heresy spouted from America's pulpits than I've heard in any house or simple church setting. Why? Because the leader in a simple or house church can be challenged immediately if he is off base. In the simple/house church gatherings I've attended...teachings are participatory and if something is said that is wrong, it can be addressed, cleared up, challenged immediately. Heresy is not an issue in most simple/house church sttings.

As for not wanting to be under leadership. There's a lot of truth to that. When you think leadership is messed up and going the wrong direction... look at the latest numbers concerning the church in America...even the Southern Baptist seem to be in decline, there's good reason to not want to be under that leadership.

Our simple/small churches baptise and disciple more believers per year than many churches that are many times our combined numbers.

I am not interested in following a leader who simply wants to bring in what Willow Creek or Saddleback is doing.

John Lunt

Alan Knox said...

Guy,

I think this kind of post is very important. It helps alot of people see "inside" a simple church gathering.

As has already been mentioned, I think that control is a big issue. I also think that for many pastors/elder, the loss of income is a big problem.

-Alan

mic said...

Guy,

I actually do not think many churches are as afraid of house church as what people would think. One thing I am happy to see around here is that more churches are canceling at least one serve a week to meet in homes. So, the concept is actually here and maybe it is better that way, to have corporate type worship and a house setting...then again maybe not.

Which leads in to John's comment about heresy, I think it is a little to far stretched to say that there is more heresy in the pulpit as quoting a stat like that would be high unverifiable. I am aware of a church that started out as a house church that was and still is a little corrupted. I think the important point missed in this is Biblical fellowship that happens in the house church. We do not see much of this out of the majority of members in physical churches.

Regards,
Michael

Ed Franklin said...

The fact that the example cited seems Biblical and thriving does not obviate the questions and comments you quoted from the other blog. Not all house churches are like your example. The Biblical call for qualified elders and proper structure is undiminished. And the fact is, many house churches lack this. And, there are those started exactly as stated in one "complaint"...by those disgruntled with and/or disobedient to the authority of their previous congregation. In small groups it's easy to start cutting corners. "Well, we don't have enough men, so we'll appoint women deacons (elders)" and so forth.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, yes...but let's not deny there's some dirty bathwater.

I'd love to be a part of the congregation you described there in Ecuador. Thank God for them!

(As to the elements in the Lord's Supper...some of our prison congregations use water and soda crackers...all they have. God is glorified in those meetings)

GuyMuse said...

John,

You write, Heresy is not an issue in most simple/house church sttings. This has been true for us as well. Over a nine year period I have heard heresy (or call it baloney) spoken in HC meeings, but in EVERY case it came out of the mouth of an invited guest--not from the believers themselves. The natural 'checks and balances' taking place in an open gathering is powerful. Plus most of the teaching I have heard is more about putting into practice what Scripture says, rather than arguing about what it means.

Also, I too, have given up trying to convince through words, or defend what we see happening. Any time there are questions/doubts, I respect the person and give them the benefit of their doubt. But I also invite them to come along and "see for themselves". Seeing, often, is believing!

GuyMuse said...

Alan,

Loss of income is an issue if one has always had it coming in--like we M's have--and then suddenly it stops or slows down. But when it gets into people's heads and hearts that doing what Christ said is not about how much I will get paid, but about obedience and being ON MISSION with Jesus, and the joy of serving the Lord, a lot of exciting things begin to happen.

GuyMuse said...

Ed,

Water and soda for the Lord's Supper? :) Well, I guess we shouldn't feel too bad about our Ritz crackers and Kool Aid!

I think you have stated wisely about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I guess what bugs me is that too many brothers DO throw out the simple/house church "baby", rather than deal with any dirty bathwater that might be there. I do see many churches experimenting with simple/organic/house church but so far, most see it more like another church program to get people involved in real church.

Thanks for the comment, and you'd be welcome to come down and join us!

Ed Franklin said...

Really, Guy, I have no problem with house churches with respect to the fact that they meet in other than $25 million palaces. That part is commendable. I guess I have the same problem with them as I have with "traditional churches"...corrupted doctrine....plus the fact I have seen too many starts born out of disobedience and disputes within a local body....where the grumblers go off and "start their own church"....and, indeed, many of them are "their" church, not His church.

I certainly agree with your sentiment that trashing the house churches because of their simplicity, lack of palatial real estate and corporate mogul pastors is reprehensible.

GuyMuse said...

Ed,

As I stated to John above, over a nine year period I have heard heresy (or call it baloney!) spoken in HC meetings, but in EVERY case it came out of the mouth of an invited guest--not from the gathered believers themselves. The natural 'checks and balances' taking place in an open gathering is powerful.

In our own church planting, we do not "accept" believers coming from existing churches. We only work with unchurched or not-yet-believers. Any disgruntled or people who for, whatever reasons, have left their church, and want to start meeting with us, we will strongly encourage them to 1) talk with their former pastor/leader about what they plan to do, 2) encourage them to start their own HC by discipling those they win to the Lord. There are only rare exceptions to this practice. In this way we avoid what you describe happening in many house churches there in the USA.

Ed Franklin said...

Guy, I appreciate the education I'm gettin' here! This is an aspect of "house church" entirely new to me....and I like it! We'll be praying for your work there.

GuyMuse said...

Ed,

Thanks for praying. We'd love to add you to our PrayerNewsletter prayer partners. If interested in getting monthly updates, click here.

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...

Guy,

Good question about HC. Two of the positives: greater intimacy and more personal involvement on the part of the believers. Two negatives: when the owner of the house is ill, or takes vacation (in our context down here), the church has no meeting place. Second, the survivability rate of house churches is low; only about 25% of house churches in most parts of the world continue after 2years. Of the 6 traditional churches we planted in the beginning of our ministries 20 years ago, 5 are still meeting. Of the several simple churches we planted in Lima in the past 5 years, only 3 are still meeting; but those three are struggling to stay open.

In this case, contextualization of church does not facilitate the survivability of the HC in my part of the world.

Thanks for a good post.

KDS

A. Amos Love said...

Guy - You ask some fun questions.

“Why are we so afraid of NT house churches?”

Loved your account of your gatherings.
I have experienced a similar joy often.
The liberty is wonderful.

“Now the Lord is that spirit and
where the spirit of the Lord is
there is liberty.”

Most of the time
you have to force yourself to leave
because you have to get up early for work.
True fellowship is priceless.

The Jesus in me likes to be with
the Jesus in you.

Jesus likes himself when He meets himself.

And truly our fellowship
is with the Father and the Son.
1John 1:3

Oh yea, your question.
Could this be one reason why some are afraid?

Ge 3:10 And he said,
I heard thy voice in the garden,
and I was afraid,
because I was naked;
and I hid myself.

Didn’t Adam fail to do
what God had asked Him?
And now he is afraid?

The emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”
wasn’t he naked? But believed he wasn’t?

Did anyone have the courage to tell him?
Oh yes, a child.

Did the emperor stop the parade
when the truth was known?

The story makes a good read.

All therefore
whatsoever they bid you observe,
that observe and do;
but do not ye after their works:
for they say, and do not.
Mt 23:3

Haven’t we been asked to meet this way?

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together,
every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine,
hath a tongue, hath a revelation,
hath an interpretation.
Let all things be done unto edifying.
1Co 14:26

And when “so called leaders”
or “so called defenders of the faith”
don’t meet this way.
could that make them afraid?

When they hear and know the truth
do they continue with the same parade?

sorry - one more question.
they just keep coming...

As far as the objection or observation
about the length of time
a group meets together;

Is there anyplace in the Bible where:

Time limits are put on a "disciple of Christ"
for how long that disciple is supposed to
meet with any one group?

Time limits for a group meeting together
to make that group legitimate?

Can that "disciple of Christ"
go where the Holy Spirit leads him?

Yea, i know, more than one. so sorry.

In His Service. By His Grace.

Tim Patterson said...

Guy,

Thank you for the wonderful description of what the house/simple church looks like in Ecuador.

The only thing I would add to the conversation... We should also acknowledge that God blesses many forms of church, as long as the DNA is healthy and reproducing disciples, leaders and churches. There are large church bodies around the world that God is using to multiply and expand His kingdom. They have the same healthy functions that you observe in house churches (small missional groups), but simply have a different form. Let's be careful not to lump all large churches in with traditional congregations that are no longer reproducing.

GuyMuse said...

Kevin,

Thanks for chiming in on this one. I too have long struggled with so many of our church plants failing. On this same subject, though, I just read an interesting article by Felicity Dale Lifespan of simple churches where she reports studies done showing simple churches last longer than most people imagine.

My own way of dealing with this issue is a growing understanding that the church is not necessarily something solid or fixed (such as a brick building), rather, FLUID, like water, that can run and even penetrate into all the cracks wherever they may be found. Stagnate water dries up quickly, but running water is another story! As long as the church is "running water" she survives, albeit, her form may change many times.

GuyMuse said...

Amos,

Another bunch of good observations, questions, etc. Thanks for your insights.

We had a wonderful 1Cor.14:26 time yesterday with our team. Like you say, there are few things that compare with the preciousness of these kinds of times with the Lord.

My own take on "time limits" is roughly expressed above in my response back to Kevin. The whole "fluid church" vs. "solid church" has given me a lot to churn. Like you say, a disciple must be free to go where the Spirit leads. Jesus said GO, not plant ourselves in one spot. What the implications of this are for being the church are certainly something to ask the HS about!

GuyMuse said...

Tim,

We should also acknowledge that God blesses many forms of church, as long as the DNA is healthy and reproducing disciples, leaders and churches. Thanks for adding this important word to the conversation. You are quite right. Sometimes people get the idea that any time one is talking about simple/house churches, that automatically one is dismissing all other forms of the church. I have begun to work on a blog entitled, "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater" where I hope to address this point as well.

The truth of the matter is that we all need each other. We need to be working together. After all, we are on the same team! I remember Wolfgang Simson writing a great piece several years ago saying this exact thing.

A. Amos Love said...

Guy - Always appreciate your efforts
to reply to comments. Thanks.

Fluid is good, one more.

Let’s see.... We have -
The Traditional Church,
The Institutional Church,
The Religious System Church,
The Steeple Corporation Church,
The 501c3, non profit, tax deductible,
Religious Corporation Church,
The Brick and Mortar Church,
The Pastor Led Church,
The Multiple Elder Led Church,
The Congregational Led Church,
The Pope Led Church,
The Bishop Led Church,
The Chief Executive Apostle Led Church,
There really is a Chief Executive Apostle
No Kidding. Saw it with my own eyes.
The House Church,
The Simple Church,
The Small Group Church,
The Institutional Church,
Oh, i said that one already.
The Baptist Church,
The Lutheran Church,
The Evangelical Church,
The Charis maniacle ism Church,
The Penta it’s going to cost you a lot ism
Church,

The First Church of
The Pleasant Parables
of The Presence of God Church,
and we believe
that Proper
Preparation
Precedes
Powerful
Performance
so we Pray lot.

Yea, That’s MY Church.
Started by my uncle.
He than formed a denomination
and made me, his loving nephew,
second in command and gave me a title.
His Holiness,
The Most Holy Right Reverend,
Father, Superior, Brother Amos.

Yes, My Church,
Oh no,
am I in competition with God?


I will build my church

the Lord added to the church

great fear came upon all the church

great persecution against the church

Saul, he made havock of the church,
entering into every house

they assembled themselves with the church

Herod the king stretched forth his hands
to vex certain of the church

and had gathered the church together

And being brought on their way by the church

they were received of the church

set them to judge who are least esteemed
in the church.

If therefore the whole church
be come together into one place

Christ is the head of the church

Christ also loved the church,
and gave himself for it

feed the church of God,
which he hath purchased
with his own blood

gave him to be the head
over all things to the church

the church is subject unto Christ

he is the head of the body, the church

My Brain hurts....
God loves me and forgives me all my sin.

GuyMuse said...

The Most Holy Right Reverend,
Father, Superior, Brother Amos,

Wow, I love your title! :)

One of the truths that has brought us much relief is to understand that if we will be obedient and make disciples of the nations; He will do his part and "build his church."

We were never asked to plant churches, only to be faithful to make disciples. If we will do our part, He will do his.

incabrain said...

I see issues:

1) Plastic chairs are dangerous, they are weak and can break unexpectedly. I see a potential law suit.

2) Were the Xerox (tm) copies licensed appropriately through CCLI? Did the church file for a CCLI number?... Read More

3) Sharing of testimonies is great, but were they vetted? What happens when the "unstable" lady starts talking?

4) Did the kids understand participatory induction? Can you really hold their attention with the newspaper?

5) Okay, actually this part was Kool. Wine might lead to sharing.

6) Wow, that's a lot of attention for the new person. What if their heart was irrevocably hardened by being made the focus?

7) Tsk, Tsk, tsk... shomeonesh not ti-thing!

8) I don't know what an evangecube is, but with a name like that, can $5 buy one?

9) Uh, like, where do I begin? A) Tuna fish can have a seriously offensive smell. 2) Sharing glasses? (hold on, I think I just threw up a little)

10) Clean up, good.

11) 9pm? Folks missed The Amazing Race!?

GuyMuse said...

incabrain,

LOL! I love it! Thanks for sharing these concerns. I guess the next step would be to share these observations with the church in question for their consideration.