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The emphasis at this site is not to criticize the institutional church, but rather to lift up its alternative. Many house churches start among people who first meet in an institutional setting, and regular attendance at a good institutional church is encouraged as a source of Christian teaching. But can one really worship at an institutional church? The fellowship pictured in Mt. 18:20 (the source of the house church doctrine of church) is "two or three gathered together." Even "church growth" expert Lyle Schaller says that the "glue" that is necessary to unite worshippers cannot be achieved as a church grows beyond a limit of about 40 people. Other experts point out that an assembly larger than a mere dozen people creates an environment in which some of the people often back away from full participation. And there is the concern so well articulated by that the institutional church tends toward viewing its members as an "audience" and the worship experience as a "show." It is better, he said, to view God as the audience and all the people equally accountable for the "performance" of worshipping in Spirit and in Truth.
Why the House Church?Here are just a few of the reasons:
- Historical. The house church is the biblical church. All of the churches in the New Testament era were small assemblies that met in homes. While setting up institutional forms of "church" may or may not provide a way to honor God, the movement toward the institution and the human authority that tends to accompany hierarchical institutional structure are not theologically neutral.
- Growth. The most explosive growth of Christianity in our own time has taken place in the likes of the People's Republic of China where its only expression has been the illegal, underground house church (more recently the PRC has installed a government-licensed "Three Self" church in an effort to control a movement that decades of political repression has failed to contain). Historian Del Birkey's studies have led him to conclude that the house church is our best hope for the renewal in our times.
- Resisting the Culture. Our culture desperately wants to change our doctrines so that it might Christianity to conform to its notion of "civil religion" and "political correctness." The house church has always been for this reason, just as Jesus said that his disciples should be in the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon outlines how the powerless disciple can be salt and light in a dark world (Mt. 5:13-14), how to withstand evildoers (Mt. 5:39) by showing God's love to the world through suffering at the hands of persecution from bullies (Mt. 5:39), foreclosing landlords (Mt. 5:40), and occupying Roman authorities (Mt. 5:41). It speaks of giving and lending to the most hopeless credit risks (Mt. 5:42). It speaks of a praying community ("Our Father, who art in heaven ..." Mt. 6:9) that fasts (Mt. 6:16), gives of itself (Mt. 6: 21), and depends completely on God (Mt. 25ff). It speaks of the non-judgment of individuals (Mt. 7:1), just as it speaks of the need to judge those who would be authorities in spiritual matters (Mt. 7:15ff).
- Mission. There are several opportunities in our communities that are especially suited for the house church. An invitation offered to a work-place acquaintance to a home is much less threatening than one to a church, just as one example. Another is the unique value of the house church as a ministry to "the damaged" and the possibility of learning the joy of giving by elevating that practice to a personal level.
- Authority. House church advocates reject any human authority other than the very real and present rule of Christ, who was inaugurated the king of his church at the first Pentecost (Acts 2). The house church assembles to know the will of its king through the Holy Spirit and to be obedient to that will. Many in the professional clergy, however, understand their role as a "priestly" one in which they are to be intermediaries between the Lord and His flock, being thus trusted through the process with a certain degree of authority. While they seek the benefits of the vibrant Christianity that manifests itself in small groups, and work hard to make small groups a part of the ministry of their churches, many harbor a concern that the groups might become a threat to their own relevance and livelihood.
- Heresy. Others argue that house churches, due to their lack of seminary trained clergy, might follow the examples of Jonestown and Waco. In this they have a point, as the New Testament is full of epistles that attempt to correct a legion of heresies in various churches--and all of the New Testament churches were, in fact, house churches. It is hoped that these pages can help house churches avoid this pitfall, taking over the seminary's role to the extent possible in a mere web site.