Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock...fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Act 20:28-30
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power... 2 Tim 3:1-5
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words... 2 Pet 2:1-3a
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come... 1 Jn 2:18
The Elephant in the Chapel
I find myself at this SimpleChurch.com website for what I am guessing would be a typical reason motivating people who make their way here: to explore notions of what the church really is and whether it can be found in so-called “simple expressions,” or perhaps more usually, the house church. One distinct difference from most other folks finding their way here (I do not say “all other folks”—there is nothing new under the sun) which I might bring to these discussions is that I and my family have been with a house church for the last 12 years, and I have been primed for it for more than a few years beyond the last 12. My understanding of the church is such that if the real thing does exist, it certainly does not exist in any notions or, more importantly, practices we have of it, whether it be the institutional church OR the house or simple church.
Let me state unequivocally that I do believe the real thing exists, but I have to say that at this point my construct has been deconstructed, and what I am writing is my own attempt to either find a new construct, or perhaps better, learn to live without one. By construct I mean: A concept or theory devised to integrate in an orderly way the diverse data on a phenomenon. I believe I pulled that definition off the Web awhile back, and interestingly, found it to be connected in some respects to another psychological term: cognitive dissonance. This latter term had been used to explain the resultant behaviors of people in the aftermath of “The Great Disappointment”. If you’re not familiar with it, well, google it. It’s just one of many examples of the follies of date-setting the return of Christ, but more to the point of my musings, it is a good example of what we do when we find that things aren’t quite working out the way our constructs say they should be working out. Thus with church, we have an understanding of the way things should be, but then we start to learn either a different theology or more of the heart of God (the two not necessarily being the same thing!) and we come to see our constructs collapsing upon us. And so, here are many of us at this website who have left the ruins of our constructs of the institutional church. Ah, but what then, when you see the ruins of your construct of the house church around you?
I will now say unequivocally that this last statement is by no means an indictment of any of the brethren with whom my family and I fellowship. Nor is it meant to suggest that we recently went through some terrible split. No, for the time being anyway, we are all still together. They know the love of God in Christ and we have been the recipients of their love and God’s love through them in manifold ways. They are relatively mature in their faith and understanding of the Word (but then who am I to judge this?). So why then do I describe my construct of the house church as a heap of rubble around me? Simply put, the construct doesn’t work for me anymore.
Enter the Defenders of the house church Construct, those who would say that, “Sure, there are pitfalls, things to watch out for, that ‘Simple Church isn’t Simple’. But it’s still theologically correct.” Some might even say, “Just because you meet in a house doesn’t make it a house church.” To the latter, granted. But perhaps it’s also possible to say—and truth-fully to boot—that “Just because you’re a house church doesn’t make you ‘The Church’”—at least not in any meaningful sense of the Word. That last Word is meant to be capitalized, and that last phrase is lifted from a comment by a contributor to these forums named Jeramie, from Gulfport, Mississippi, who too seems to be seeking the real church, his own particular issue apparently mostly focused on a questioning of why the house church/simple church movements give short shrift to the Word when it comes to the role of Pastors/Elders/Bishops (as well as giving short shrift to the Word when it comes to truly living a life free of personal ownership of earthly treasures.) To be sure, these two questions are among those I have as I stand among the ruins, but they are not the only ones. I have to ask Jeramie, as I ask myself, what are you really looking for? If you or I are looking for a construct that works, I don’t believe we are going to find it in either the institutional church or simple church/house church, not at least until we deal with the elephant in the chapel.
So, what do I mean by this elephant? Put simply, it is the thing we don’t seem to want to confront but has been right before our eyes for 2,000 years of Church history: the effect of the false prophets and the spirit of antichrist as foretold by Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Jude and no doubt others of the apostles (Jude 17). Note I emphasize the effect, not the false prophets themselves. Confronting false prophets is one thing. Dealing with the effects is something altogether different. Concerning unequivocal speech, look right there in those verses I started out with. See how often the word will is used. There’s no maybe about it. But here we stand, 2,000 years hence, pretending that denominations are a good thing (oh no, not us house-churchers), pretending that we don’t need leadership, pretending that we can go back to doing church the way it was done in New Testament times, pretending that by leaving the institutional church and doing New Testament-style churches in our homes we are somehow not contributing to the continued atomizing of the One Body (at least as visibly expressed here on the earth.) How exactly is the house church immune from the “We are of Paul, we are of the Pope, we are of Calvin” phenomenon? Can we not just as easily say, ”We are of Viola/Cole/whoever”?
To be sure, the gates of Hell shall NOT prevail, but who are we kidding if we think that 2,000 years of savage wolves can have had no effect upon the Church (including the house churches) as she exists in the world today? To be sure, there is a Bride being made ready. But if we think that the Bride is going to be seen and enjoyed simply by re-establishing New Testament patterns (whatever those really are) while all around us “the love of many [has grown] cold,” then methinks we’ve got our eye off the true prize.
Let me give just one example of the effects of the savage wolves. Our fellowship over the years has had to deal with sin among some of its people. Grievous sin in some instances. Nothing unusual here. And certainly it has done damage to the life of the Body. Through it I (personally—the lesson is not necessarily a shared one) have learned that unless the sin is confronted with humility and love, but in the severe way the Word demands, we all suffer more than we ought, the sinner is never truly held to account and brought to repentance (by God, not us!), and the light of the Glory of God shown through the love we have for one another becomes a dimly burning wick. Of course what I am pointing to is “Church Discipline”. But that's just the theologian's term. That is, I'm not just talking about following a procedure because that's what the Bible says to do. I'm talking about moving in the power of the Spirit, a power promised to us who live in Him, and He in us. And I'm talking about this in a Corporate way, the only way that Jesus and his disciples taught us was the true nature of the Church. One Body. Universal.
But herein lies a conundrum. I can only speak of this movement and power in a theoretical way, having never witnessed the Body moving in this way. And how could it, really? Really.
Chew on that question a bit while I answer an objection some of you may have. You may say that you have seen church discipline in action, and seen a sinner turn from his ways as a result. But is there necessarily a causal link? Be careful how you answer! Could it not simply be that the kindness of God led the sinner to repentance (because that's what God does) without regard to the procedure employed? Bear in mind that what you witnessed was one isolated church putting a sinner out, but have you ever witnessed the Church putting out a sinner? If you are Catholic or Orthodox (which one? Greek or Russian?!) you might say yes, you have, since you believe yours is the One True Church. But let's say for the sake of argument that Catholicism and Orthodoxy are just two of the multitudinous examples of division the Church has suffered ever since Paul took up the problem with the Corinthians. If so, then it is impossible—due to the state of the visible Church today and the effects of the wolves—to put out a sinner, to do as Paul did, delivering such a one over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, yet so his spirit might be saved, or to refuse to feed the foolish busybody—to have nothing to do with such a one (ref: Corinthians and Thessalonians).
You know why this is an impossibility: the fool, the sinner, will simply continue to wreak havoc at the church down the street. Sometimes he'll build his own church right across the street! Or start a house church.
So, that is but one example of the teeth marks and shredded flesh. Obviously, following the whole question of Leadership would reveal another. If you look squarely at the elephant in the chapel, which again I am saying is the effect of the false prophets and the spirit of antichrist as previously foretold, you will realize that our constructs will not work, unless (Perhaps! But not likely!) our constructs are rebuilt with this understanding in mind. Or perhaps, as I suggested to myself earlier, it would be better to live without one.
Through all these admittedly negative musings I steadfastly maintain my belief that somehow, in some mysterious way, the Bride is being made ready, and when she is called to the wedding there will be Glory like we've never known. But I am going to have to let go of my idea that doing simple church gives us some kind of advantage in being able to see or walk in the Bride's glory either more or sooner.
I have had tastes of Joy in the Spirit and seen and experienced deep worship over the years, I have seen the Lord working among his people, I have known His presence in ways almost indescribable, and all of this in so many contexts beyond just the simple church. Among these contexts were a large evangelical Episcopalian church in Pittsburgh, a Southern Baptist church with a big-haired telegenic TV preacher, a fellowship group we led as part of a Bible Church, and even while viewing The Lion King on Broadway.
When I reflect on these points of closer contact with the Spirit, the elephant in the chapel, and the oftentimes misguided house churches I have witnessed or heard about (or even the times when I have contributed to the misguidedness!), I can't but help realize that while the concept of simple, house or organic church may be lovely in our image of it, the existential reality is something altogether different. What I do about it now, as I stand among the ruins of my own construct (my image, my idol—Little children, keep yourselves from idols), well, that is the question. Where the pneuma blows...
Marc, I will be praying for you and your family as you seek the Lord's face for the day ahead.
In a comment on 10/23/11 Ryan said that.... "As much as I don't like the church 'system', it needs to exist". This was followed by another comment where Matthew speculated..... "What if just one person up and decided not to go to church any more? What if that one person decided to mentor/disciple just one other person for three years?" The amazing thing is that this has been happening all across the Far East and is largely unknown to the Western world. Wolfgang Simpson has been talking about what he describes as a New Reformation. One that isn't led by an individual or group from the West. It's more like the Holy Spirit is broadcasting on a frequency that people who are widely separated can all hear and follow at the same time. Wolfgang's web site is www.starfishportal.net and he has videos at www.youtube.com/user/starfishlive#p/a I learned of this when someone in the Phillipines posted one of the videos on SimpleChurch.com.
Please allow me to share my house church story. My wife and I went. We both agreed that the house church was done just like "real church," but in someone's house. [Skipping WAY ahead!] They are now in the process of looking for a building. It would appear that our original assessment was correct.
From what I saw of the "home church" it was just "big church" in someone's house. You know, a "pastor" and "elders" and what not... Has that not been your experience too?