Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 3)

In our own situation, Tony had a great inroad into the community as a family physician. He would often ask his patients when they presented with a problem, “Have you thought about praying about this situation?” Their usual reply was, “Oh yes doctor, but my prayers don’t seem to be going anywhere!” Tony would often lead them to the Lord there in his office, and then refer them to a home group leader who lived near them. There was much marketplace evangelism of that type that went on.

Perhaps of as much interest is what happened as the UK movement matured. As time went on, greater and greater emphasis was put on church government. Apostles and prophets were recognized, and they competed to bring churches “under” them. Often the input of these mature leaders was valuable, but there was definitely some empire building going on. In the beginning, the main movement was unified, but fairly early on, it split, primarily over issues of law and grace, into two main streams. These streams each held their own conferences and week-long camps which attracted thousands of people to live under canvas for a week to hear well-known speakers. Whole churches would attend these gatherings. Those who emphasized “law” were very influenced by the shepherding movement from over here. The “grace” faction was much looser and less structured and probably less influenced by the shepherding movement. There were other streams as well whose historical roots were different. This division was competitive and unhelpful.

We are now 30 years down the road, and to be honest, what remains there is really just another version of what existed before, but on steroids. Most of the new churches are the British equivalent of a megachurch.

There is really only major group that is pressing forward and continuing to start churches and that is New Frontiers with Terry Virgo as the apostolic figure. (I am not as familiar with groups like “Salt and Light” with Barney Coombs so forgive me if I miss out a group that is going well.) Most of the others, especially over recent years have had some fairly major problems and have faded. If you are interested to know more of the history and personalities involved, the following websites may be of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_Restorationism

http://intotruth.org/res/restuk3.html

A few years ago, we spent some time with John Noble, a highly respected elder statesman of the British House Church Movement, and we asked him what went wrong. His reply to us was interesting. He said that the splits occurred because the leadership became arrogant. (The national leadership was initially known as “The London (or Magnificent) Seven” which became “The Fabulous Fourteen” before it split down the middle as described above.) His other comment was that it also “majored on minors.”

So what can we learn from the British experience. First, this is very different. We have a theology of staying small and multiplying so there is not the temptation to try to build megachurches. The leadership, rather than being young and inexperienced is older, and those who are of the younger generation and seeing extraordinary things happen (I think of groups such as Campus Renewal Ministries and Campus Church Networks) seem to have the wisdom to seek their advice. We have a theology of a servant leadership that lays down its life for those it is seeking to serve.

As I look across the nations, the potential in what is happening in this country is incredible. In nations     where church planting movements are happening, the individual believers are very missional. Right from the day of their conversion, they are taught to tell their family and friends about how they have met Jesus. They are encouraged to pray for miracles—and these are occurring. In several of these movements with which we are familiar, around 85% of new churches start around a miracle. There is extensive training for these new believers which teaches them how to start churches. (We spent Thanksgiving with a couple from India who are seeing extraordinary things happen in that nation. I interviewed them extensively, and when I have finished transcribing the interview, will post the results here.)

So can we see what is going on in this country become missional? Absolutely! We are beginning to hear increasing numbers of stories of people stepping out in faith and seeing churches start with unlikely people and in unlikely places. God could be in the process of raising up an army of ordinary people who will go out to a nation that desperately needs Him to spread the Good News. We need to spend time seeking Him that we become those who extend His Kingdom.

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 2)

Question: Tony and Felicity, what was your experience during the emergence and growth of the HC movement in the UK? I’m guessing that it started out in ways that are similar to what we’re seeing in theUS: believers migrating from legacy churches to HCs. But as it progressed, did you see a shift, or signs that evangelism per se was ramping up in the houses?”

Our own situation was fairly typical. In 1971, we were involved in the start-up of a church in our medical school and had the “distinction” of being thrown out of Intervarsity as a result. In 1977, that church sent us out into the very poor and socially deprived area of the East End of London where we started another church. That grew, probably 50% by conversion (many of Tony’s patients became Christians) until it was one of the largest churches in the area. We started in homes, moved into church basements, a factory and various other places as we grew.

These were extraordinary times. The presence of God was very strong in our midst. Sometimes we would find ourselves flat on our faces on the floor. We would never dare to go into a meeting with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to reveal it publicly. I remember literally running to the meetings because I would not wait to get into God’s presence. We saw the supernatural at work, the gifts were frequently used and many people became Christians.

However, and also fairly typically, the church then went through a split. A couple of years later it merged with another church. It is still in existence and going strong.

There were many values that we learned in that move of God that are relevant to what God is doing here today. Let me list some of them in no particular order of importance:

  • Church is built on authentic relationships
  • Non-religious Christianity—a spiritual life lived from the presence of Christ within, rather than keeping a set of religious rules.
  • Involvement in the community
  • Team leadership
  • The value of worship and praise
  • Cross-cultural

But did the church grow from new believers. I have tried to research the statistics, without being able to find anything definitive. Here is a graph from Christian Research.org.uk, the website of British pollster, Peter Brierley.

The graph shows that whereas the traditional church has declined considerably over the past 20 years, the non-institutional churches (which include the house churches) have remained relatively stable in their numbers.

The above graph shows the growth of the Free Independent Evangelical Churches, of which the house  churches would be a major component (taken from The Battle for Christianity in Great Britain by Erroll Hulse.

So we are left with our subjective impressions. Tony and I have discussed it, and have come to the  conclusion that the house church movement in the UK did become more missional. Many of those who went to house churches were actively seeking to reach out to unbelievers. However, the difference is    that it was an attractional type of growth (come hear our special speaker). Perhaps it was easier to invite someone to a meeting than to create a friendship.

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 1)

I am currently in Taiwan speaking at a conference. This is a repost.

Tim Thompson posted the following great question that I would like to try to answer:

“I’m interested in the potential for evangelism in house/simple churches in the USA. Jeff Gilbertson has already reported that most people in US house churches were believers before they came, and I’ve often heard from H2H sources about explosive house-church based evangelism taking place in the developing world. So this has left me wondering… Tony and Felicity, what was your experience during the emergence and growth of the HC movement in the UK? I’m guessing that it started out in ways that are similar to what we’re seeing in theUS: believers migrating from legacy churches to HCs. But as it progressed, did you see a shift, or signs that evangelism per se was ramping up in the houses?”

Unitedkingdom

Let me start by giving a little history of the British HC movement. Note that this is only our viewpoint. We were involved almost from the beginning of the movement until we moved here in 1987. We were never at the national leadership level although several of the leaders of the movement were (and are) our friends.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the charismatic movement hit Britain. At that point in time, the church was in a sad state. Maybe 2% of the population was “born again,” although many more went to church, but in the area of London where we lived, maybe 0.5% went to church. Just like here in the US, all over the country, people were filled with the Holy Spirit, but whereas over here, the focus was on the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, in the UK, it was more on the importance of the body of Christ and discipleship. Some chose to stay within the traditional denominations, but the Lord led many to leave and start churches outside the four walls.

You are right that the beginning of the movement was very similar to what we are seeing currently in the US. Spontaneously, all over the country, churches started in homes. It was a Holy Spirit thing in that again, like here, there was no one person or location around which everything revolved. Most of the leaders, although in their 20s and 30s were mature Christians, many of them from a Brethren background with a heavy emphasis on the Scriptures. The churches started primarily in homes, but without a theology of multiplying the small, they usually grew quickly to become the largest church in town. Of more recent years, they have become known as the “new churches.”

Our own situation was fairly typical. In 1971, we were involved in the start-up of a church in our medical school and had the “distinction” of being thrown out of Intervarsity as a result. In 1977, that church sent us out into the very poor and socially deprived area of the East End of London where we started another church. That grew, probably 50% by conversion (many of Tony’s patients became Christians) until it was one of the largest churches in the area. We started in homes, moved into church basements, a factory and various other places as we grew.

These were extraordinary times. The presence of God was very strong in our midst. Sometimes we would find ourselves flat on our faces on the floor. We would never dare to go into a meeting with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to reveal it publicly. I remember literally running to the meetings because I would not wait to get into God’s presence. We saw the supernatural at work, the gifts were frequently used and many people became Christians.

However, and also fairly typically, the church then went through a split. A couple of years later it merged with another church. It is still in existence and going strong.

There were many values that we learned in that move of God that are relevant to what God is doing here today. Let me list some of them in no particular order of importance:

  • Church is built on authentic relationships
  • Non-religious Christianity—a spiritual life lived from the presence of Christ within, rather than keeping a set of religious rules.
  • Involvement in the community
  • Team leadership
  • The value of worship and praise
  • Cross-cultural

But did the church grow from new believers. I have tried to research the statistics, without being able to find anything definitive. Here is a graph from Christian Research.org.uk, the website of British pollster, Peter Brierley.

Graph_1_4_4

The graph shows that whereas the traditional church has declined considerably over the past 20 years, the non-institutional churches (which include the house churches) have remained relatively stable in their numbers.

Graph_2_5

The above graph shows the growth of the Free Independent Evangelical Churches, of which the house  churches would be a major component (taken from The Battle for Christianity in Great Britain by Erroll Hulse.

So we are left with our subjective impressions. Tony and I have discussed it, and have come to the  conclusion that the house church movement in the UK did become more missional. Many of those who went to house churches were actively seeking to reach out to unbelievers. However, the difference is    that it was an attractional type of growth (come hear our special speaker). Perhaps it was easier to invite someone to a meeting than to create a friendship.

Repost: Another “Sophie Muller” Story

100_1932

Ricardo with veteran missionary to Venezuela, Buck Smith

100_1904

Puerto Ayacucho

100_1909

Prayer at dawn overlooking Pto. Ayacucho

 

Here is another story about Sophie Muller. (For more information about her from people who knew her, check out the comments on the post, “The Amazing Story of Sophie Muller.“)   Again, this is in Ricardo’s own words.

“I was born in the jungle and I knew Sophie Muller. She was my neighbor. She lived just like us in a house with clay walls and a palm roof. She ate the same food as we did. She hated the comfortable life. In the last twenty to thirty years she ate very little—maybe an egg a day and some chocolate drink. She was a woman totally given over to walking with God. Sometimes we would get up at 3am and we could hear her singing to the Lord in the next house.

“My mother would go with Sophie on trips sometimes. She saw many supernatural things happen.

“When I was around ten years old one of the most important of these supernatural incidents occurred. It became known by all the tribespeople throughout the jungle. Incited by the Catholic Church, the Columbian army persecuted Sophie Muller. She was put in a jail with double doors and double locks. As she lay there, she could hear the soldiers fighting amongst themselves as to who would be the first to rape her. They decided to play a game, and the winner would be the one to go first. But while they were playing, Sophie fell into a very deep sleep. When she woke up, she was in the middle of the jungle.

“In the meantime, my father had pulled together a group armed with bows and arrows to go and rescue her. As they were paddling up river in their dugout canoes they saw a beach with a big turtle sitting on it. Of course, their immediate thought was food—in fact, banquet! So they pulled up onto the beach to jump the turtle. As they did so they heard a whistle. My father recognized the whistle and went looking. It was Sophie, hiding behind a rock. She had had days of just eating roots and was too weak to even call out. She was covered with cuts and scratches with even maggots on her wounds. So they put her in the bottom of the boat wrapped in plastic and paddled up river past various army groups who were no doubt looking for her. When they came to Sophie’s house there was a team there from the mission. They came out to greet her.

“Don’t be sad or worried,” she told them. “Nothing happened. I’m going north for a few days to recover.”

“Fifteen days later she was back in the jungle.”

Repost: The Amazing Story of Sophie Muller

I’m currently in Taiwan speaking at a conference so the next few posts will be reposts.

 

100_1902_5

Looking over the Orinoco River to Columbia

Earlier this month I had the incredible privilege of visiting the Amazon jungle in Venezuela. Many of those living there were tribespeople recently out of the jungle where they still live very primitive lives. While there, I met a man named Ricardo who told me a remarkable story about an extraordinary woman missionary named Sophie Muller. Here is a part of her story in (more or less) Ricardo’s own words.

“In the early 1940’s a young woman in her early twenties came to Columbia from North America. Her name was Sophie Muller. At that time this area consisted of virgin jungle. There were settlements of a few tribal houses scattered throughout the jungle often many days’ journey by canoe apart. The nearest town of any size (Puerto Ayacucho) was not built until 1947.

“Sophie, a reporter for the New York Times, had become a Christian following an outreach in a New York street. She had seen a group of people singing and preaching on the sidewalk and, out of curiosity, had responded to their invitation to join a Bible study. Over time she opened her heart to Christ. She became interested in working with unreached peoples and so went to the New Tribes Mission. She wanted to go somewhere no one had ever been before, and looking at a map, chose the Amazon jungle.

“In 1944 she went to Columbia and, via Bogota, to the jungle. She came to the Guainia region where the Curipaco tribe lived. At that time, witches and sorcerers were in charge of the jungle. There were many strange rituals that included drinking and drugs and wild partying. But there was a legend that had been passed down through the years. Someone had had a dream that a strange-looking person would come with a power greater than that of the witch doctors.

“With her white skin and blue eyes, Sophie certainly fit the bill of looking strange to the tribespeople. So the chief witch doctor   prepared a spiritual ritual in the jungle as a test. He made a chicken stew and added to it Caribbean stick poison—the strongest poison known in the jungle. It will normally kill a person within five minutes. As she ate the stew, everyone watched her intently, waiting for her to die. She did not die, but did throw up a little. Some of the village dogs lapped at her vomit and a chicken pecked at it.  They fell over and died immediately. But Sophie herself was unharmed.

“The witch doctor who had prepared the stew converted on the spot. She became known as a daughter of God and was allowed to go wherever she wanted in the jungle safely.

“My grandfather was the head witchdoctor of the region. Around that time he saw in a vision that there was a more powerful spirit than the one over the jungle. The story of Sophie passing the poison test had spread far and wide throughout the jungle. So my grandfather sent my father to find Sophie and investigate her. My father paddled his dugout canoe for one month to find her.

“When my father arrived, he made friends with Sophie. She was particularly interested in him because he came from a different (Puinave) tribe and spoke a different language. The two tribes have different languages and the majority of the Puinave could understand the language of the first tribe. Sophie evangelized my father in the Curipaco language. He soon received Christ and they started working together. They would paddle for months at a time to different communities in the jungle to evangelize.

“Sophie and my father worked together for fifty years. When Sophie finally left the jungle, she was an old woman.  She had started several hundred churches.

The Holy Spirit and DL Moody

I’ve just finished reading A Passion for Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody, an account of the life of the famous evangelist. I found myself surprisingly moved by his life.

DL Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts. His father died when he was only four years old and his mother was left caring for a large family, including twins that were born after her husband’s death. She had to send some of her children out to work at a very early age in order to survive. Barely literate in his early years, Dwight worked as a shoe salesman for his uncle in Chicago.

Following a conversation with his Sunday school teacher, Dwight became a Christian in 1855. He initially worked  with poor children off the streets, starting a Sunday school for them, and then began a church in Chicago which was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire. He was very involved with the YMCA.

His early years as an evangelist, both in the UK and in this country were very effective in terms of soul winning, mostly because of the huge amount of personal effort that he put in. He emphasized the “inquiry room,” where people received personal counseling in how to follow Jesus. After several years of intense striving, when he was near burnout, DL became convinced of his need of the Holy Spirit. Following an experience that he called “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” he became even more effective as an evangelist, preaching sometimes to crowds of tens of thousands, speaking with great power and authority and with increasing results in terms of people finding Christ. The striving that had marked his early days was gone as he trusted the Holy Spirit to work through him. He emphasized the Holy Spirit in all his teaching from this time on.

Here are some quotes from Moody’s book Secret power: or, The secret of success in Christian life and work:

“I think it is clearly taught in Scripture that every believer has the Holy Ghost dwelling in him. He may be quenching the Spirit of God, and he may not glorify God as he should, but if he is a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost dwells in him… Though Christian men and women have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, yet He is not dwelling within them in power; in other words, God has a great many sons and daughters without power.”

“The Holy Spirit in us is one thing, and the Holy Spirit on us is another.”

“We all need it [the filling of the Holy Spirit] together, and let us not rest day nor night until we possess it; if that is the uppermost thought in our hearts, God will give it to us if we just hunger and thirst for it and say, ‘God helping me, I will not rest until endued with power from on high.’”

“The disciples of Jesus were all filled with the Spirit, and the Word was published; and when the Spirit of God comes down upon the church, and we are anointed, the Word will be published in the streets, in the lanes and in the alleys; there will not be a dark cellar nor a dark attic, nor a home where the Gospel will not be carried by some loving heart, if the Spirit comes upon God’s people in demonstration and in power.”

DL Moody’s later years were occupied in providing education, particularly for women. He founded or helped to found four schools including what is now known as the Moody Bible Institute.  He died at home in 1899.

 

 

Commercial fishing (part 2)


295520289_ab72907a23_m

As I investigated the Scriptures on the subject of commercial fishing in the Gospels, several things became apparent.  There are several passages that talk about fishing:

  • Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-19  Jesus calls the four disciples who are fishermen and tells them he will make them fishers of men.
  • Luke 5:1-11  Jesus tells the disciples who had fished all night but caught nothing to put down their nets again into the deep and they catch two boatloads of fish
  • John 21:3-11  After Jesus’ resurrection, seven of the disciples go fishing.  Again Jesus tells them where to cast their nets and they catch 153 large fish
  • Matthew 17: 24-27  Peter uses a rod and line to catch a fish that has money for the temple tax in its mouth.

There is obviously more than one way the disciples are fishing.  In the Luke example, they were in a boat and let down their nets.  In the John example, they throw out their nets.  In the Matthew and Mark examples they were fishing from the shore.  Further investigation reveals that although in English the word net is used in every example, in the Greek, different words are used signifying different types of nets.  For example, in the Matthew and Mark examples a specific purse net is described.

Commercial fisherman (which is what the disciples were) would have understood that you use different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and the kind of fish you want to catch.

So in terms of the harvest where we are fishers of men, there may be different ways that we approach  “catching fish.”  What may work in other nations may not be best here in the West

There is one more passage.  This comes in Matthew 13 where Jesus tells a parable.  The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net (literally a dragnet or seine which is a type of net used to catch large numbers of fish) let down into the water…

The question I am pondering these days is, “How do we ‘let the kingdom of heaven’ down into the community around us?  Especially here in the West where people are jaded and inoculated against the Gospel.  What kind of fishing net will catch a multitiude of fish?

Any ideas?

Commercial fishing

3039817359_5790abcb07
Modern day fisherman on the Sea of Galilee

While we were in Mongolia a few years back, I had a dream which over has had a profound effect on my thinking.  In the dream I was handing a small group of people a book.  “It’s about how to be a commercial fisherman,”  I told them.  The only other thing I remember about the dream was telling them that the important principle was to fish where Jesus told them.

This dream seemed to be more than a post pizza (or in the case of Mongolia, mutton) dream and it started me thinking.  For Peter, Andrew, James and John, who were all commercial fishermen, when Jesus told them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” they would have understood this in the context of commercial fishing.  They would not have thought hook and line (ie one fish at a time), they would have assumed fishing nets catching large numbers of fish.

I started investigating the different Scriptures on fishing in the Gospels.  More about that later.

Shortly after this we went to India and one of the people we were with works with fishermen on the coast of India.  So I asked him about how they fish.  (These would be primitive fishermen, probably very little different from fishermen in Jesus’ day.) He told me that they have different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and what they are trying to catch.  They have a funnel net which is the kind of net they use when they don’t have boats.  They also have a drag net which is maybe 800 to 900 yards long for when they have more than one boat. There are actually several different kinds of nets that are used.

So what does it mean to be a commercial fisherman in the context of Jesus’ comments to his disciples?

More to follow.

Is Christianity in the USA in crisis?

I was brought up in the UK–a post-Christian culture. To be honest, there are advantages to such a situation. Where there is even mild persecution (ridicule) it produces a different standard of disciple. There’s a cost to becoming a follower of Jesus, and those who do so have counted that cost.

I watched the UK slide from being a “Christian” nation to its current status where maybe less than 2% of the population are committed Christians. When I was a child, most of the country still found it acceptable to attend church. By the time I arrived at medical school, certainly within academia, Christians were put down and their views (“You really believe the Bible is true?!”) ridiculed. Christians in the media were consistently made fun of and displayed as ineffective “wimps.” Now, with notable exceptions, church has ceased to be relevant in any way within the culture.

This country is already well down that slippery slope.

  • In America, 3,500-4,000 churches close their doors each year. Balanced against this is the number of church starts. From 2000 to 2005, there was a net growth of 303 churches per year (closures combined with new church starts.) This sounds great until you realize that we need to gain 3,205 per year just to keep up with population growth. We are less “churched” now than we’ve ever been.
  • Historically, between 5 percent and 10 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation. That number has skyrocketed to between 30 percent and 40 percent among younger Americans.
  • Christianity within secular academic circles is consistently mocked. We have friends who teach within the university system, and they tread a very fine line in order to hold their positions if they are known as believers.

We are probably only a generation away from being where Europe is now.

Are we in crisis, and is there anything we can do about it?

 

Is the church in the West in crisis?

I love the body of Christ in all its different forms. The traditional church has served us well for centuries while society revolved around Christianity. But things are changing.
Is Christianity in crisis in this country? The following statistics concerning pastors are not meant to be a criticism of the traditional church, but they are worrying.
  • Fifteen hundred pastors in the US quit every month due to stress, extra-marital affairs or conflict in their churches.
  • Over fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Almost forty percent say  they  have been in an extra-marital affair since entering the ministry.
  • Seventy percent say they only study the Bible when preparing for sermons or lessons.
  • Seventy percent say they do not have close personal friends.

Whatever kind of church we are part of, let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in “full time ministry.”

The question remains. Is Christianity in the West in crisis?