Sunday, October 7

House Churches or Church Houses?

This painting has hung in our home for close to twenty years. It is the work of the daughter of a dear sister in Christ here in Guayaquil. At the time it was given to us I would have never dreamed it would be such a prophetic statement of the church planting efforts currently going on in Ecuador.

This is truly an accurate visual representation of the Ecuador House Church Movement. The juxtaposition of a common indigenous house with a traditional church facade symbolizes the way church planting has developed over the past dozen years in this country.

To some it might seem strange that I would chose to represent the church as a structure rather than people. Of course, I would agree and affirm church as the Body of Christ, people, family of God, brothers and sisters joined together under the Lordship of Christ. In that sense this piece might be better entitled, "The Structure of the Ecuador House Church Movement."

The incongruity of an indigenous house with such an unnatural entrance has bothered me since the day this painting was given to us. Either gather as a church in a home, or build a building according to historical traditions, but don't mix the two!

And yet I believe this painting accurately represents the true Ecuadorian reality of what Christ is doing to "I will build my church" in our context. It is not what I personally believe Scripture teaches about the church, nor is it what we have sought to teach. Yet, after 12+ years of  "painting" this is the reality of what we see emerging. Whether good or bad, THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE!

Some observations.

The house is small.  She is built with natural, indigenous materials like the thatched roof. Electronics might be inside, but they are not part of the visible structure of the house. Between 10-15 people can fit comfortably inside the house.

The facade on the house seeks to imitate the inherited traditional church structures. There isn't money to build a complete stone temple, but the two columns with the cross on top let everyone know this is a church. There is a strong desire for outsiders to know that this is not only a house, but a place where the living church of Christ gathers.

The awkward stone teams and pillars which support the roof are in the shape of a cross. This cross is below the wooden cross representing Christ on the roof, but the stone cross is actually bigger. While Christ is certainly acknowledged as "over" and "above" his church, the visible stone cross at the top of the stone facade is not only bigger in size, but stands on top of the other stones that make up the stone entryway into the church.

I have long noted that church leaders/pastors/shepherds in Ecuador (and Latin America in general) tend to take a hierarchical position above the other common church stones. There is a strong tendency for two mediators between God and men--Christ AND the pastor. Petitions, requests, permissions must first be cleared through the pastor or local church leaders before making their way to Christ.

In my opinion, this is the main obstacle as to why we have yet to see this nation come to Christ. By the high position of authority that is given to pastor/leaders, Christ's will and voice are often supplanted by those very leaders standing at the foot of His cross.

Some have rightly called this Latin American phenomenon church houses rather than house churches. For me this painting depcits the strong influence tradtional church structures continue to have on the overall house church movement taking place in Latin America.

What do you see in the painting? A house church or a church house?


Darrell said...

That is really interesting Guy. It's good to be reading your stuff again.

I observed the same problem in Rwanda this year. They are so concerned about titles and positions of authority that I believe it is a major hindrance to the expansion of God's kingdom not just in numbers but also in their heart and lives.

The longer I am on this journey to make disciples who make disciples the more I see how wrong it is for anyone to have "Titles" like "Pastor". It is not what Jesus taught and titles create so many problems. Since when is a gift to be taken as a title anyways? The only titles Jesus gave us was brother and sisters. If it was good enough for Him it ought to be enough for us.

Stephen M. Young II said...

Welcome back to blogging! Missed reading you for the past year. I see a church house in the picture, but also a simple reminder that any house could become one.

J. Guy Muse said...

Stephen and Darrell,

While believing that churches must have leadership, there is a fine line between leading and governing. The idea that leaders control what the church does has been a hindrance to the advancement of the Kingdom in this country.

Thanks to both of you for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

David Schäfer said...

Hi Guy,
somehow my comment was not published yesterday. Here I go again:
Welcome back! I missed you too. Was glad to see you responding to my last comment so soon. :-)
About the picture: I wasn't sure: Does it show how a church-house-church really looks like in Ecuador?
I wasn't sure if people would actually build a building for 10-15 people.

J. Guy Muse said...


No, this is just a painting. They don't build anything looking like this! To me, the painting is symbolic of what has developed in the merging between what I understand the NT teaches about the church, and the traditional influences inhertited down through the years. When these two are mixed you end up with the strange picture depicted in the painting.

David Rogers said...

When I was in seminary in Fort Worth, my wife and I were invited to a "house church meeting." When we arrived, we were surprised to find chairs lined up in rows in the living room of the house, a pulpit at the head of the rows, and a sign on the wall indicating the numbers of the hymns we would sing. The "order of service" was no different from a typical "traditional" church. In the group of about 15 people present, approximately 7 or 8 of them were identified as "church staff members." At this meeting, I was also invited to become a "staff member."

It turned out the "church planter" was a retired FMB missionary, and this was his understanding of "house church." Mind you, this was years before the CPM emphasis caught wind.

J. Guy Muse said...


There are still plenty of these kinds of "house churches" around today in Latin America. Their goal is to grow up to become "real" churches complete with paid staff and building. What we are seeing is a broad mix of traditions and practices as house churches are finally being looked upon as accepted alternatives to traditional church practice. As someone has said, "you can physically leave Egypt, but Egypt goes with you."