Heresy in the house (church)

Yesterday I did a radio interview about the release of our new book, Small is Big! Unleashing the big impact of intentionally small churches. (It's a paperback version of The Rabbit and the Elephant with new and updated material.) The interviewer asked a question we find frequently comes up with people new to the concept. 

"What about heresy in the house church? When there isn't a well-trained pastor, isn't a small group liable to go off the rails?"

Here's the gist of my answer to him:

Where does heresy come from? If you study the history of heresy, it most frequently starts at the top of an organization. The head of a denomination or a seminary or megachurch teaches something off the wall, and the people follow. Renewal, on the other hand, tends to be a grass-roots movement. The lack of hierarchy within the simple church movement is a safety. Besides that, even if a simple/organic church does acquire some wrong doctrine, it is unlikely to have any impact beyond that group.

Where does our authority lie? When teaching occurs from the front, the authority lies in the teacher. When all of us study from the Scripture (as usually happens in a simple/organic church), the authority is in the Word itself. This is especially true when whoever is facilitating (or is well trained in the Word) doesn't answer people's questions, but points them back to the Word for answers. When everybody is trained to study the Bible for themselves, they will quickly pick up on weird doctrine.

The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. We have frequently seen this in action. For example, in a church we helped to start in low-income housing projects where the average reading level was around 2nd grade, I was frequently amazed at how often I heard people quoting Scriptural concepts. They had picked them up from the passages we studied together, but they were applying the principles to other situations.

14 thoughts on “Heresy in the house (church)”

  1. Excellent answer. I hear this a lot, for some reason people seem to think that clericalism is a guard against heresy which makes no sense at all since as you point out most heresy stems from the top of organizations and clericalism tacitly discourages people from asking questions.

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  2. Alister McGrath’s 2010 (spck) book “Heresy” is well worth a read on all this. He suggests that heresy is not the product necessarily of innovation but stagnancy and ideas not being thought through to address new generations / issues. Plus he suggests that heresy is a necessary risk of churches that are engaging properly. More interestingly he tells us that the early church policed its belief borders less clearly only having a proto-orthodoxy of key doctrines that were more policed.

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  3. Perhaps we worry a little too much about wrong belief (especially when it’s about less important doctrines) and too little time worrying about wrong action (which includes inaction)? It is by our fruit that we will be known. Which is better, the son who agreed to do the work, but never did it, or the one who said no but nevertheless obeyed (Matt 21:28-31)?

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  4. I believe the fundamental problem faced by house and organic churches is the church system paradigm that holds us captive. This is why the interviewer asked the question about heresy and “well-trained” Pastors/Leaders. The church system and the body of Christ are not the same. The body of Christ must come out of the church system and then the church system must come out of the body of Christ. Otherwise, the house, simple and organic church movements will end up back where they started. The first thing we need to do is repent of the church system paradigm, diconnect the name “church” from the body of Christ and then allow God to shape His paradigm for the body. God is more than capable of ensuring His people do not get caught up in Heresy. We must understand that God is giving the church system over to heresy (delusion) because it has nothing to do with Him. The church system is on its way to destruction, that is why the body must come out.
    The church system paradigm is no different than any other human orgainsation paradigm; hierarchy, formal use of power and authority, routine or mechanistic ways of working, predominance of one way communication. The church system works like a production line.
    This paradigm is human, so it’s pretty safe to say that the way the body of Christ should function is the complete opposite the church system “way”. The body of Christ is like an ant colony.
    God has used the church system to bring His people this far, now we must part company, leaving behind the “old and dead ways” to enter “a new and living way”.

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  5. Great answers Felicity,
    And congrats on the new book. I would only add that “networks” of house churches are vital, since they can help deal with isolation, heresy, encouragement, and keeping the big picture in view, just like the citywide networks in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47), Ephesus (Acts 20:20), and Rome (Rom 16), and the regional network in Asia Minor (compare 3 Jn 1:5-10 and Rev 2,3).
    All for now,
    Rad Zdero, author or LETTERS TO THE HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT and THE GLOBAL HOUSE CHURCH MOVEMENT

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  6. Steve wrote — “The first thing we need to do is repent of the church system paradigm, disconnect the name “church” from the body of Christ and then allow God to shape His paradigm for the body.”
    I agree. Bible translators are partly to blame for this. I’m going to go through my Bible and cross out the word “church” and replace it with whatever Greek word is really there.

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  7. What they fail to see is the heresy in our present day in the church system. We have super-apostles, their convenient prosperity delusion, occultic practices being mixed in with the charismatic movement (Toronto is only one example), false teachers teaching about going on trances and something akin to astral projection, and the like. Hopefully none of this is trying to infiltrate its way into the simple-organic churches. That’s why we need to know the Word as Jesus is in us and being formed in us.

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