What’s in a name? House church

Very occasionally, I experience the almost surreal experience of being the person learning most from what I am teaching. The context in this particular instance: I was part of a team that was training people in a country hostile to the Gospel in how to identify the person of peace and start multiplying simple organic churches as a response to a major evangelistic meeting. Tens of thousands were giving their lives to the Lord at these times, and our training had two to three thousand attendees.

I found myself saying to these people, “It doesn’t matter how big the harvest is. God has already provided the buildings! He’s given us houses to meet in!”

Although here is the States we have plenty of buildings to meet in, a harvest of the size we all long for would swamp all our facilities. But God has provided the buildings here too. He’s provided our homes.

Photo Credit: Shapeshift (Creative Commons)

Of the three interchangeable words used to describe churches–house, simple and organic, for various reasons, house church is the one I like least. Here’s why. Firstly it implies that these groups only meet in houses whereas they can meet anywhere–restaurants, parking lots, college dorms–anywhere life happens. The second reason is that  for historical reasons, people associate the term “house church” with an insular,  inward looking group of people,, reacting against the establishment, and convinced that house church is the only Scriptural way to meet.

House church, however, is a Scriptural term used several times in the New Testament, for example, the church that meets in Aquila and Priscilla’s home  (Romans 16:4). Until Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire following the Edict of Milan in 313AD, the church, apart from a few short years right at the beginning of her existence, met in homes. Once Stephen’s martyrdom and the persecution of the church began, the only references which might be construed as having another venue are the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus where Paul held daily discussions (Acts 19:9), which he probably describes later when meeting with the Ephesian elders “I taught you publicly and from house to house” (Ephesians 20:20). Other than that, while Paul spoke often in synagogs or public places declaring the good news about Jesus, all references are to church meeting in homes.

The church began her journey meeting in homes. Could it be that she will end her journey the same way?

What church isn’t

In the last series of posts we looked at how a legacy church might transition to a network of simple/organic churches. A less disruptive way might be for a legacy church to run a second track where only those who have vision for the change get involved in the new expression of church. Whichever way is chosen, there are some principles that the people involved need to internalize for the move to succeed. This next series of posts will look at what principles need to be stressed to accomplish this.

The word “church” is commonly used in three different ways.

  • The building: I left my bag in the church
  • To describe a specific group of people meeting together: New Life Church, First Baptist Church
  •  A denomination: The Catholic Church, the Assemblies of God Church

While all of these three may be useful terms in that we know exactly what they mean, none of them is a Biblical use of the word (with the possible exception of the second one). In fact the third one, the denomination, may be actively anti-Biblical in that Paul told us not to divide from one another, “I am of Paul,” “I am of Apollos” (I Corinthians 1:12-13).

Photo credit: cuellar (Creative Commons)

While most of us have come to the conclusion that church isn’t the building, we still tend to use it to describe the event, the meeting. “I go to church on Sunday morning.” Again this places limitations that aren’t there in the Scripture.

If this isn’t church, then what is?

The next post will cover this.


Listening–a key skill for the body of Christ

Picture 2

I just attended Verge 2012, a conference put on by Austin Stone, a mega-church here in Austin. It was an high-energy gathering with caliber, big-name speakers, sold out several days before it started and with something like 500 groups watching online. I had the privilege of running a workshop there.

But you know what impressed me the most?

In every main session, Stew (Michael Stewart) who organizes Verge, stopped and asked us to spend time listening to the Lord to answer two questions:

  • What is God saying to you?
  • What are you going to do about it?

Sound familiar?

Within simple/organic church we like to say there is one main skill we need to learn. How to listen to God and then respond to what he says. Seems as though Jesus is saying the same thing to many different parts of his body.