Posts Tagged ‘House Church’

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:20

If a few followers of Jesus are gathered together in His name and He is there as He promised, doesn’t that mean by definition that you have “The Church”? If the church is the ekklesia, the Greek word for those who are called, then whenever we have a few followers called out by Jesus and gathered with Him, then we have Church. Church is not about where you meet. It doesn’t matter if you are in a cathedral or a cottage, and huge auditorium or a humble home, a public community room or under a tree. The location is not church. The church is those who have been called by Jesus and gather in His name. So not only are you in church when you gather with any other believers you ARE the church when you are with another follower of Jesus.

So what does it mean of you are in church whenever you are together with other believers? It means at least a few things that come to mind. First of all it means that you are to always be about worshiping God. We usually think that we “go to church” in order to worship God. Well if you are “in church” whenever you are with one or more followers, then your actions should be worshipful. Paul tells us that when we come together, 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:19-20). Gathering together, no matter the place or occasion,  should always be an act of worship in which our gratitude and love for the Lord comes through.

Secondly it means that we should be demonstrating the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17:21,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. One of the most common excuses people use to not be a Christian is that we can’t even get along with each other. Romans 12:18 says, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”. Being the church together means that we must, absolutely must, defer to one another, submit to one another, bless one another, guard one anothers back, and serve with and for one another.

Thirdly, if we are the church whenever we gather then we must each fulfill our part in the church. Paul speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. HE makes it clear that each person in the Body has an important part to play. Just as the hand, eye, ear, mouth, foot and, nose all have a part to play, so every follower of Jesus has a part to play. There is no room in the Body of Christ for an appendix that can be removed without being missed. When you gather with other followers of Jesus, you are needed. Your prayers are needed. Your experiences are needed. Your song is needed. Your testimony of what God is doing in your life is needed. If you fail to bless the rest of he Body with what God is doing in you then the whole body suffers.

One way of thinking about this issue of church is this. We are not about doing church or going to church. We are about being church. Being those “called out” by Jesus to follow him everywhere, everyday. You don’t go to church any more than you go to family. You are church just as you are family.

A few days ago I had breakfast with Frank Viola. No he is not the Cy Young winning pitcher who played for the Minnesota Twins, although that would be a great breakfast also. This Frank Viola is the author of “Pagan Christianity”, a book that calls the church to consider the ways in which we have gotten off mission by adopting structures and values from outside the Bible. To say the least the book is controversial and challenging. For example the quote, “The traditional church has neither the biblical nor historical right to exist as it does”, is bound to stir up some serious response. Unfortunately what people focus on is the structural issues related to church that Frank talks about. He is a huge proponent of churches meeting in homes. So you can understand why some people get a bit touchy.

What people need to focus on, and what I had the privilege of exploring at breakfast, is the heart Frank has for followers of Jesus living in community with one another and doing so in a way that brings glory to Jesus. Far too many churches function as large groups of passive people watching a small group of people do all the ministry. They are often filled with people who have not had the blessing of being grabbed by the awesome power of living in real community with Christ and His people. They are people who have not been confronted with the amazing miracle of being used by God to lead another person to faith in Jesus. Far too often our churches are filled with people who have had a very limited and a very diluted experience of Jesus and the power of being fully devoted to Him.

As a result of our diluted and passive Christian experience most people never have an impact on the world around them. Most Christian lives are just not provocative. We don’t provoke questions from others. Part of the motivation behind Provocative Christian is that our lives are too much like those of people who are not following Jesus. As a result nobody sees any difference in our lives as Christians, at least not a difference that they want in their lives. Frank wants to help Christians live in such a strong biblical community that our lives will be different and those lives will draw people to Jesus. I couldn’t agree with Frank more.

One of the best parts of our discussion was on how much of American Christianity is focused on the individual follower. It focuses on how to be a better Christian who does all the right things. What gets left out is that we can never be the kind of followers Jesus wants us to be if we are not in community with other Christians. It is impossible to become more like Jesus if you are not living out your faith in community with others. A basic theological reason for that is our understanding of God as trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit exist as one God yet in the marvelous relationship that we call the Trinity. If God is such a relationship of unity and we are created in His image, then in some way we must demonstrate godly relationships.

On a more concrete level, any reading of the Book of Acts shows how incredible that first century community was. They loved, served, cared, challenged and died for one another. If anyone was in need then they met that need. If anyone was sick, the visited and prayed for them. If anyone was straying from the faith they went to them in love and urged them back. Living in such community made it possible for them to grow in Christ like character. It also caused the world to take notice of the difference in those followers of Jesus. Some people were in repulsed by those differences. People always will hate some aspect of the Christian life. But many were attracted by it. It was a compelling witness to how life could be different and so they asked why these Christians lived as they did, why they loved one another so deeply. Eventually the world was turned on it’s collective ear because of that community of believers.

Frank Viola is coming at this from the direction of the House Church or Simple Church. I come at it from the direction of discipleship and the need for each follower to give it all for Jesus. Yet in a very real way we are both coming at it from the same starting point. That starting point is the questions “What needs to happen for Christians to live a life so united to Jesus that they change the world for His glory”. There are lots of details that Frank and I would think differently about or at least have a different perspective. But when the bottom line for both is bringing glory to Jesus through changed lives then we stand on a pretty solid piece of common ground.

Sitting talking to my friend Brian about Simple Church/House Church theory and why a mega-church like Northland is getting involved in helping start Simple Churches. Suddenly Brian says to me, “A good Simple Church is like the unicorn. I have heard that there is such a thing and it sounds cool, but I have never seen one. Have you?” “Yes Brian” I replied, “I have seen the Unicorn and it is a beautiful site”. His face lit up in anticipation of hearing about this mythical church creature.

My most recent sighting of the Unicorn came a few months ago in Orange County California. Don’t let the fact that this was in LA throw you off. There are actually some really great things happening in the Christian community there. On this particular Sunday morning I was in the home of my friends Ken and Ali Eastburn. It was time for the church to gather at their house. What I experienced was first century Christianity in a 21st century living room.

At the Eastburns, like most simple churches, the gathered church means there is a meal that includes communion. Since it was Sunday morning that meant breakfast. I got to cook which was fine with me since I love to cook. Pretty soon people began arriving until we had more 14 adults, including a woman visiting from China, and 7 or 8 kids. At one point Ali was greeting folks at the door when she saw her neighbor across the street working in her yard. Ali has been trying to build a relationship with this woman for months and took the opportunity to go speak with her.

Breakfast was ready so Ken prayed to give thanks to God and people began to dig in, finding places to sit around the family room and at the breakfast bar. As the meal was winding down Ken picked up a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. He reminded us of what Jesus did for us on the cross. God was thanked. The Bread was broken. The cup was given. We had a meal and communion just like the church of the New Testament. Someone pulled out a guitar and along with the kids we sang and prayed and honored the Lord.

After we finished singing and praying, the kids went and did a little Bible study with some handouts that they colored then went outside and played. Ken led the adults in a study of God’s Word. Maybe I should say that Ken got us started. He raised a question about something he had read recently and before I knew it we were off. People were digging into their Bibles, flipping pages back and forth, talking about things God was teaching them, verses they read that week that made an impact, asking questions about things they did not understand. There was no “answer man”. I fought the temptation for be that guy because no one want to be “that guy”. It was thrilling to see people seek God’s truth and share what God was doing. It seemed very much like what Paul had in mind when he wrote Colossians chapter 3 verses 14-16.

14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

The whole time this was going on, Ali was still across the street talking to the neighbor and Ming, the woman visiting from China had joined her. As it turned out this neighbor was going through a major crisis in life and Ali was encouraging her and letting her know how much Jesus loved her. They prayed with her right there in the front yard. We knew what was going on and prayed for them and the ministry taking place outside. eventually Ali and Ming returned and shared with us what God was doing across the street.

We spent some more time in prayer and getting to know Ming and what the Lord was doing in among the brothers and sisters in China. After a total of about two hours from the start of the gathering, people began to take their leave and head home. I found myself inspired by the simplicity of this whole thing and the way that God made Himself known. It was also incredible to see everyone involved and engaged. It was much like the experience I had early in my Christian life when I was part of a fellowship of about 60 to 80 people who met as a group on Sunday nights but in several House Churches during the week. It was much like what I picture the first century church was like when they met from house to house.

Yes Brian. The unicorn is real and it is a beautiful creature in God’s garden.

I am not a big fan of the WWJD bracelets, simply for the reason that a very good question, “What Would Jesus Do” quickly became a cliche’ and not a way of life. But with that said I have to ask the question about the current economic crisis, “What Would Jesus Do?” It is an important question, especially considering the current human response to it all. Politicians are posturing to get money funneled to pet projects that serve more to win them votes at home than to actually help the economy. Then they express outrage over things like AIG bonuses, only to find that one of their own put that loophole in the bill and they all voted for it. In the meantime people who have their jobs and have no hope that the government will ever really got to helping them, are left frightened and desperate.

Jesus gave His followers some very clear instructions about how to live and how to take care of one another. He said things like,  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34. And just how did Jesus love us? That is simple. He sacrificed whatever was necessary so that we would have all we needed to be in relationship with Him. He died so we could live. As Philippians 2:5-8 puts it,

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The early church figured out how to do this in very practical ways. The Book of Acts tells us that no one in that first gathering of Christians in Jerusalem ever went without having the basic needs of life provided for them.

44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Acts 2:44-45

This was not government forced socialism or communism. This was Holy Spirit led generosity and sacrifice for the sake of family. Those first Christians understood that they were family in Christ. They were brothers and sisters in the Lord. As family they took care of one another no matter what the sacrifice entailed. People have done things like that for family through out the history of mankind. But usually it was for family by blood. This was for family by Spirit. They didn’t just take care of family. They took care of anyone God put across their path, but they especially made sure that they took care of family. Paul said to “Do good to all men, especially to the household of faith”.

In that first church, if someone was out of work, they would be inviting into someones business to help out. If that was not possible the the people who had food would provide for those who did not. If someone lost their home then others would open their home and give them a place to live. No one was concerned with protecting his own little material bubble. Because they interacted with each other on a regular basis they refused to turn a blind eye to a brothers need. People like Barnabas sold property and had the money used to feed people.

Whether we want to admit it or not, Christians today are as infected by the virus of materialism as the rest of the world. Think of your gut response to the idea of opening your home to give people a place to live. Did you immediately go to the impact on your comfort. Did the very idea of it make you uncomfortable. Did you quickly come up with reasons why your life situation would not allow for that? Okay, what if it was your parents, or your child, or your twin sister who was homeless? Would that change the equation? I would hope so. Now, what about your father in the faith, or your brother in Christ, or your sister in the Lord? They are family too. The response should be no different.

What if you are faced with a need that is beyond you ability to meet. Maybe you have a spare room that someone can move into but you do not have the ability to provide food for them and you. You can’t provide transportation for them or medicine or clothing, then what. In the early church that was simple. They gathered together as the church, house to house. The typical church gathering would have been between 20 and 40 people who where the church at someones house. From time to time the various “House Churches” would come together for bigger meetings, but almost daily they would gather in their neighborhood in a House Church. So the person who was homeless, or out of a job, or sick, would be provided for by a couple of dozen people who shared the load. You might open your house, three other families would take turns providing groceries, someone else would make clothing, someone else would watch the children, someone else would you get their friend who was a physician to come and check on them. It was the people of God being led by the Holy Spirit to meet the needs of the family of God.

Those early Christians were so good at caring for their own that they quickly branched out and started doing the same for the non-Christians who lived near them. Eventually the Roman world noticed this as was put to shame by the sacrificial love of the Christians. Through that sacrificial lifestyle the Roman empire was turned on it’s ear as millions came to Jesus because of the love that we had for one another. Oh to see that happen again!

P.S. Props to Scotty Alderman for suggesting this topic and the next few that will follow the Church in Acts 2

I find it very interesting to consider “worst-case scenarios”. A few years ago I even bought a board game by that name. (By the way, don’t bother getting it. It became the fulfillment of it’s own name) But thinking about the worst-case scenario recently I thought, what would the typical church going American do if attending worship at a church building with lots of other people was no longer an option? What would you do if for some reason it was no longer legal or possible to do so? What if it was still legal to be a Christian, you just could never gather in a group of more than a few people at a time? What if terrorist threat levels meant there were no longer any large group gatherings, not just churches, but sporting events, schools and theme parks and concerts. Sound crazy? Often worst-case scenarios seem to be crazy until they actually happen. Think, The Black Death, The Titanic, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina.

But lets just stick to the church gathering part of this scenario. What would you do? How would you continue to follow Jesus and grow in your faith if you could no longer gather in a “church building” with others? What would you do differently from the way you live your Christian life right now if you had no worship team to lead you, no pastor/teacher to instruct you, no large gathering to make you feel upbeat about your faith? I know that in some cases, maybe even a majority of cases, people would end up with a faith that withers and shrivels beyond recognition. The reason I am sure of that is that for large numbers of people that is the only activity that connects them to their faith.

For those of you who would keep there faith growing and vibrant in such a situation, I suspect that it would look something more like this. First of all you would have a radical commitment to spending a considerable amount of time each day in prayer, worship, and study of God’s Word. That prayer time would be less about giving God updates on you life since He already knows all that, and more about pouring out your love to Him and listening for His voice. The study of His Word would be systematic and not the Bible roulette verse of the day that is forgotten tomorrow. It would probably include writing your thoughts  a journal.

Then there would be the time spent with a couple of other Christians during the week, Maybe you would meet in your home or office or even Starbucks. But it would be consistent and a top priority. That time together would include sharing insights from your time with God, what you learned, what psalm or hymn or spiritual song really grabbed you in your worship time. It might include being honest about areas of struggle in your life and being prayed for, really prayed for, by the others in the group. In between those meeting times you would be on the phone to each other or email one another, urging one another on in love and good deeds.

There would be lots of time in your schedule to meet with that new follower of Christ whom you are mentoring since leading them to the Lord a few months ago. You would be talking with them about what the Lord is teaching them and about the obstacles they are facing recently. You would be encouraging them by letting them know that this is fairly normal after a few months. The early honeymoon of following Jesus, blessing that it is from God, is now winding down and the road is getting a little steeper. But you encourage them with the assurance that you will be with them every step of the way and remind them that the person they led to Jesus last week needs encouraged in the same way when the time comes.

You will head home to get dinner ready for the next door neighbors who you are loving for the sake of the Kingdom. It started when you cut their grass while they were on vacation and then invited them over for dinner once they got back. You thought of loving them that way, because last year when you went on vacation you wished someone had loved you like that. You came home to grass way too high and a refrigerator way too empty. One day while your neighbor was away you remembered Jesus telling us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”.  When they ask why you did that, you are prepared to give a defence for the hope that is within you. You are determined to not say something lame like, “Oh it was nothing” and instead say something like, “Jesus said we are to love our neighbors”.

You would end your day praying for the people in your life who don’t know Jesus. You would pray for open doors to love them with Jesus love and for the chance to answer questions about Jesus that they bring up. You would spend a bit more time reading God’s Word, just as a snack before bedtime since you already ate fully from His Word through out the day.

Does that sound like how you would want to live out your faith if you could no longer go to a building on Sunday with lots of other Christians? Well let me ask the obvious. Why do you need to have a worst-case scenario in order to live out your faith like that, when that is exactly how Jesus wants you to live out your faith, 24/7, no matter what? How provocative would your life for Jesus be if that was the norm and the large gathering was just icing on the cake?

I am used to being different from people whom I connect with. In college I was the lone protestant getting a degree in Theology from a Roman Catholic/Charismatic university. I was one of two non-episcopalians getting a Masters degree from an Episcopal seminary. So being possibly the only mega-church staff member at a national conference for house churches does not freak me out in the least. I am comfortable enough in my own skin and calling to know that God uses the differences to make a more perfect whole. That is evident at this conference in ways I never expected.

This morning I heard Frank Viola speak to this group of house church folks and urge them to not treat the institutional church as the enemy and remember that many people, Frank among them, have come to Jesus through such churches. I also heard a call to make sure that they do not become the elitist, exclusionary kind of movement that often morphs out of movements that were once pure. Words like that give me great hope that the day will come when we will see churches of all sizes, types and shapes working together for the sake of the Kingdom and the glory of God.

Movements start out wanting to reform something. In the early stages that often means identifying the problem that you are speaking against. But very quickly the emphasis must be on what the movement is FOR, not just what it is AGAINST. Being always against something leads to death and decay and the fossilization of the movement. The house church and the mega-church can work together if the focus is on how together we can glorify God and bring more people to Him. It can do this if we remember that the people who are in a structure different from ours, are still people of God and fellow laborers in the vineyard.

It reminds me of the time when the disciples were upset with the fact that people who were not in their group, where never the less, casting out demons in Jesus name. Jesus made it clear that they too were about Kingdom business and the people around Jesus should not take offense at what those other were doing.