The Nature of House Churches: A Philosophical Transformation and the Deathbed of Egotism
This month I wanted to share a few important things with you before we get into the actual article. I now have a new Blog (http://www.GreatCommissionAtHome.com) that you might be interested in where I am sharing all of the research I am doing for my Doctoral dissertation. Currently I’m posting book reviews as I read as well as particular other points of interest that relate to the overall theme of the blog.
My initial research was focused on age-segregation in the church, but this has led me to examine the entire motive and theology behind the way we “do church” in general, both in traditional churches and in modern Messianic/Hebraic Roots churches. Ultimately, the goal is to discover and empower every believer to fulfill the Great Commission right where they are, in their own homes. If you’re ready to get up off the pew and onto the playing field where disciples are made and multiplied, this information is for you.
Secondly, I just finished a new 7 week study workbook called Living Faith: A Journey Into The Nature of Faith. Go to http://foritiswritten.com/livingfaith.html for more details or to purchase your copy. This is a great resource for individual, age-integrated, or small group study.
The following is an excerpt from a recent book review on my Blog www.GreatCommissionAtHome.com. The book is called: The House Church Book by Wolfgang Simson
Chapter 3: The Nature of House Churches
House churches are the way that disciples of Messiah lived communally, meeting regularly in ordinary homes and sharing their lives together as they walked out their faith. The most important difference between house churches and traditional churches and church models (even those that use cell groups), is that these believers engage each other’s lives in such a way that they recognize they “no longer belong to themselves. They adopt a corporate—rather than private and individualistic—lifestyle. House churches emerge when truly converted people stop living their own lives for their own ends, and living a community life according to the values of the Kingdom of God, sharing their lives and resources with those Christians and not-yet-Christians around them.”
Total Philosophical Transformation
Simson makes a profound statement when he says, “House churches are born of the conviction that we do not experience Jesus Christ and His Spirit only in sacred rooms dedicated for that express purpose, but we experience Him in the midst of life. In that sense, the organic house church is the deathbed of egoism and therefore, the birthplace of the church. True community starts where individualism ends.”
Art Katz, a Messianic Jew who lived in community much of his life said. “Community life pulverizes your old ego in the power of the Spirit of God, and rescues you from just living a miserable ‘private life'”….
Simson goes on to note how house churches are really like extended families: relational, spontaneous, and organic. They engage in everyday Christian life and need no higher level of organization, bureaucracy, or ceremony than the normal extended family.
5-Fold Ministry Resurrected
House churches are able to form their own support structure naturally from within in what is nick-named from Scripture the five-fold ministry. The house church provides direct opportunity to utilize people’s spiritual gifts in a healthy, noncompetitive environment full of opportunities to practice loving, forgiving, and living with people outside of your immediate family. That is where true spiritual development takes place. People in a very tangible sense are able to laugh together, mourn together, serve each other, and experience trials together.
Simson makes an important point when he says, “As humans we are always in danger of taking blueprints and simply copying them” (he notes he is not suggesting making an exact copy of the New Testament church). “This is much more a process of incarnation than contextualization, of allowing God to become flesh in your context, rather than making cheap photocopies of existing models somewhere else.”
5 Transferable Elements of a First Century Home Church
- “Meating” – i.e. Christians who meet to eat. Teaching in Yeshua’s time often occurred around the table while eating a meal surrounded by children and visitors. Likewise, the house church is a “table” community. “The Lord’s Supper was a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, not a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning.”
- Teaching Obedience – traditionally teaching was directed toward showing how to do something and explaining the reason behind things. The goal of teaching then is not simply to increase head knowledge, but to help people specifically obey and serve God and His purposes. Of course in Hebrew culture the father was responsible to teach his family in his house, usually this occurred at mealtimes. Elders of house churches assume the role of a ‘father’ and together with charismatically gifted teachers they share responsibility of teaching “house to house” (Acts 20:20). House church “teaching” time need not be a sermon, but can be a short talk, illustration, story, and lots of dialogue that engages everyone at all ages.
[As noted in previous posts, house churches are the perfect place to learn and engage in Bible “storying” particularly for our ever growing oral preference society.]
The ability to field immediate questions is so powerful in house churches because mental blocks can be removed and spiritual growth can really take off. In house churches there is the possibility to truly disciple people and move them from learning to obey the Word to teaching the Word to others. Most will not think of themselves in such a capacity before they start, but within a short period of time can realize how quickly such a transformation from student to teacher can take place.
Note also that places like Acts 20:7 do not speak of Paul in endless monologue, but engaged in endless dialogue. Our own cultural perspective often predisposes us to think the former when in fact it would have been the later. The model follows the eastern style of kinetic learning where the discussion literally moves around the table until everyone is involved and after “deliberation, a consensus is built, a collective opinion emerges, and corporate action can follow.
- Sharing – when you open your home to others, sharing what God has given you and you keep your hand open to meet the needs in these small groups you restore the sense of community that Messiah spoke of to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:22.
- Praying – Prayer is the heartbeat of a relationship between God and his children. We can really take time to pray for needs with a community when it is small and we are involved in everyday life together.
- Helping each other to lead transparent lives – “In a family whose members share their lives together, misconduct cannot be hidden for very long.
Difference between Traditional churches or Programs and House Churches
- Leadership: elder (and I would add couples) led verses top down approach
- Baptism: less formal than traditional
- Weddings: again less formal than traditional, but can still be done
- Children: in house churches they serve to a. humble adults with their questions, b. break up endless adult discussions, c. bring us down to earth from our pious clouds we walk, and d. act as natural evangelists and bridge-builders for nervous newcomers. They also help engage adults in the fruits of the spirit such as patience, and serve as “heaven sent spies” to spot instantly any trace of religious superstition or hypocrisy
A Different View of Children proposed by Simson
“The current, unhealthy obsession of Western society with ‘keeping the kids entertained at all times’ would place the moods and every-changing feelings of fun-loving children at the center of the agenda, but that is not how God has designed a family to function. Parents model and lead; kids learn to imitate and follow.”
“If we see a house church as a program-driven event with discussion topics, tasks, objectives and an agenda—which of course Jesus never taught—we might feel that children only disturb the grown-ups, and therefore, need to be separated and put into children’s groups with their own programs to keep them ‘entertained and educated.’ Certainly it is a positive and natural thing for children to do things with others of their own age. But it is precisely the times of eating, laughing, and crying in the context of a wider family—young and old together—that show children from an early age how people live in community and what it means to be at home with one another, supporting one another.” Age segregation should be the exception, not the rule, or else children become alienated from the church as they are today. “Again, the church is not a meeting; it is a way of life. If we have children, they are a part of our lives and therefore a part of our house churches.”
Persecution Protection and Benefits
In light of recent events around the world and the increase in persecution of Christians and Jews, Simson’s next words are profound. He states:
First, persecution is normal; peace is the exception. If the Kingdom of God is in conflict at the deepest possible level with the kingdom of this world, disturbances and even war are the necessary outcome.
Persecution “reforms the inner quality and structure of Christianity, and therefore, restores apostolic church patterns…by upsetting the status quo and changing comfortably settled Christians into pilgrims.”
Persecution restores the likeness of Yeshua in the church, but it also has structural consequences because when the church is being persecuted it begins to live out of suitcases, which requires movable, flexible structures that allow for growth and are adaptable to change: the very qualities of house churches.
Persecution “purifies the agenda of the church” drawing the settled church out of self-absorption in value development, priorities, habits, and agendas that often align more with the world than God’s Word or agenda.
Persecution can help prevent corruption since no one wants to be a star of a half-legal society of pretty unimpressive little groups.
**Learn more about this and related topics on my Blog at www.GreatCommissionAtHome.com