Authority, Arrogance, and Control: But its really not a bad idea

The house church movement seems to be gaining some steam throughout America. Many believers, distraught and utterly frustrated with church experience have turned to the house church. The basic definition of a house church is a church meeting in someone’s home. Obviously smaller than most American churches, many house churches seek to recapture the early church experience and community. There is no doubt that good intentions and pure hearts are behind much of this movement but with those come others seeking the antithesis of what the movement stands for.

Speaking in generalities of the American church is akin to calling everything in the ocean a fish. So much discrepancy exists, even within denominations, that it is impossible to paint broad brush strokes in hopes of capturing a true picture of the church landscape. The American church is much more a mosaic than an impressionist painting. That being said, Scripture sets the same standard for each piece of the mosaic. House churches have become one of the newer pieces of the larger artwork. Some will meet real needs and create outstanding community members could not find elsewhere. There is no doubt of its success overseas, especially in persecuted lands. Hopefully, the house church movement will reach those in the darkness and bring them to the light of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that God will use that piece of the mosaic to make disciples and meet needs otherwise unmet. All that being said, common themes are beginning to emerge that send a message seemingly against the very core of the house church origin.

Authority

One pervasive theme throughout is a natural reaction to spiritual abuse from a position of authority. Churches from all denominations have lost the trust of members because of abuse. Pastors and/or Priests have been convicted of sexual misconduct, financial misconduct among various other immoral actions. The wave of abuse has hit American Christendom painfully hard. Yet, the overwhelming majority of Pastors and Priests continue to have a heart for the people they shepherd and lead. For every situation of abuse, there are thousands of men and women giving their lives for those they minister to.

A major motivation of many house churches is a rejection of any authority other than Christ. Christ is the head of the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23) and no person in spiritual authority should ever attempt supplant that role. However, there is no doubt that authority rested on the Apostles who then placed others in authority to shepherd the churches. Complete rejection of authority is not a biblical concept. Rejection of authority that leads away from Christ is biblical. Yet, we all come under submission of spiritual authority in our lives. We submit one to another and to those God has placed over – even ungodly governments when not asked to compromise God’s Truth.

Arrogance

A quick search of house church networks online quickly reveals the arrogance of many embracing this movement. Many will argue that “real” church happens in homes and the biblical model prescribes home gatherings as opposed to the purchase of land, buildings, etc. The root of such a heart and attitude stands in stark contrast with the initial purposes for beginning such a church. The desire to humbly seek God in close community where all are accountable to one another appears to be the most normal reason given to leave an existing large church and form a house church. However, writing off the former church or proclaiming that all who practice in such “institutions” are false or less than real displays enormous arrogance. Nearly 2000 years after the resurrection of Christ and we are finally get our act together. There is no place in Christianity for such a heart towards brothers and sisters in Christ.

As far as biblical context is concerned, the early church did meet in homes. However, the Bible neither commands nor prescribes the model discussed in Acts and the letters to the churches. Instead, the Text gives principles governing the body of Christ and leaves structure out of the discussion. On top of this, the earliest church met in the Synagogue. Though this practice only persisted a short time, early believers were Jewish and did not consider Christianity a new faith. Jesus is Messiah, fulfilled the law and was worshipped in the context of Judaism.

Control

One final point of contention deals with the issue of control. Leaving an existing church because it doesn’t do what I want or doesn’t meet my needs is simply a control issue. We would do well as Christ followers to spend as much time praying for God’s clear direction for our church as we do complaining about all of the issues we see contained in it. It appears that the newest form of church shopping is simply beginning my own. In doing so, I can structure it to function how I desire. Of course it will be biblical, I am biblical. Understanding this point is being generalized, it is not coincidence that house churches emerge in the most me-centric culture on our planet. The success of the house church movement is out of sheer necessity across the globe in persecuted lands. In America, we begin them because we are dissatisfied with our own local church. Maybe our knees would be a better place to start.

The Church mosaic is large and diverse in America. House churches may add another critical element God uses to accomplish His purposes here. Again, my prayer is such. But let’s not pretend that because I have control, it will be right. God’s church, the body of Christ, does not depend on buildings or the lack thereof. It does not depend on structure or the lack thereof. It depends on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit empowering each member to live the light of the Gospel in the darkness. It depends on an undying devotion to His Word, the Bible. Otherwise, it always becomes about me.

11 thoughts on “Authority, Arrogance, and Control: But its really not a bad idea

  1. Well said from the guy in control. HAHA! Just joking!

    Good points to ponder in your post. Your take that its a ‘me-centric’ heart that often initiates a split from traditional churches to start a home church is interesting. I will be chewing on this thought.

  2. Good questions and thoughts. I’ll throw out some thoughts for the purpose of discussion. Some will be my thoughts and some asking “devil’s advocate” type questions to move the ball forward so to speak. Sorry, its so long!

    I think it’s important to define “church”. I think you alluded to it as being the assembly of believers everywhere. Sometimes this is a global church, and sometimes we use the word to describe a local gathering/expression of believers of Jesus. The point is, its not a building, a denomination, etc. (although I’ll use the term “institutional” church to describe the type of church we’ve seen dominate America, and “home church” to describe the attempt in our culture to meet in homes in a way 1st century Christians practiced).

    That being said, I agree that the expression of these gatherings might vary from home churches to meeting in buildings etc. The “Me-Centric” heart to start a home church can certaintly be there sometimes, but I find that its also present in churches that meet in buildings and everywhere man runs anything. Only Christ is perfect, so I don’t chalk up the desire to start a home church as “me-centric” automatically. There are cases where it is the new ‘home-shopping’ m.o., but consumer driven anything in regards to our walk with Christ is sin, period.

    So, let’s look at your 3 points:

    Authority

    Putting the abuses issue aside, which is one I’d agree with, let me ask a question: If Christ is the head of the Church and we do believe in ‘priesthood of all believers’, then how do we arrive at a point where each local assembly has a structure, yet doesn’t violate the idea of every member functioning?

    Is our process of ordination, and choosing leadership not a ‘me-centered’ system? Case in point: How many of our pastoral staff were found within our own church body as Paul and Barnabus were? I can name 2 that I’m aware of (at Kingsland). The rest came from search teams acting like any business in America, putting together a ‘qualification’ list that sometimes is Biblical (when it follows I Timothy mandates for elders, etc) and sometimes not (must have 5 years experience in a church over 3000). I’d say for the majority of churches in America, 99.9% of their hiring decisions are made like any corporation. This is not to say its not prayerfully sought, or anything, but that is a ‘me-centric’ approach at its core as it puts the perceived needs (not necessarily Biblical ones) of the congregants on a higher plane than anything else often times. Looks, Image, Speaking skills, etc are given priority, not heart, gifting, calling (I’m generalizing, but you see it a lot in America). How often do we arrange our programs, ‘ministry opportunities’, and services based on what the ‘paid staff’ feel is God’s leading verses having every member of the body functioning being part of the process. If Christ is the head, not paid staff, then why do we often allow this to happen in practice? That being said, I think that there will be individuals with a gift of shepherding/pastoring that should excersise that gift and that we should submit to the authority of that functioning regardless of the personality behind it. I don’t know if shepherding is the same thing as being a ‘charismatic personality that can deliever great monologues from a stage’ which too often churches in America seem to favor (note: I am not lumping our church in that catagory, though there are many congregants who are part of that ‘cult of personality’ thing…but definitely NOT the heart of our pastor though). The way we structure our authority will have a direct impact on how much other believers will seek to engage and develop/practice/use their gifting for the glory of God. ‘If a paid professional is supposed to do it, why should I’ kind of mentality. Plus people can be/are skeptical of why this person gets to be the ‘shepherd’ over the ‘flock’. Is this pastor better, more spiritual, or have a better degree than me? I see this alot with not allowing Christians in the congregation to be able to baptize someone they helped “lead to the Lord”, or a family member that came to Christ. Usually only the “ordained” get to do this. Why? The Bible calls all believers to make disciples, and baptize, why have we elevated the few? This is a legitimate gripe. But the error is when they reject all forms of structure/authority. The bible shows a recognizing of authority but it usually came from the apostles, or from within the church after one had served for a while, and they were “set apart” for a certain purpose or ministry. Not because they were elevated to a position of superiority over the congregants that can exist today in which we see the clergy/lay people divide, which violates “priesthood of all believers”.

    I think our ABF’s are better suited to demonstrate a more ‘biblical’ approach of priesthood of all believers. There is structure (directors, teachers, roles within the class) where everyone submits to one another based on functioning, not heirarchy. As an ABF teacher, people in class allow me to function in my gift of teaching and submit to the authority of scripture (not me) that I present as the teacher, but reject that which is not scriptural, or serve as accountability for me to not serve in the ‘flesh’. I, as a teacher, then turn around and submit to Josh as Discipleship Pastor (i.e. shepherd of discipleship), and the class director for class decisions, I submit to the person functioning as prayer director in class to get us all to practice the disciple of prayer, etc. Everyone serving under Christ (the true head) while functioning with structure. I see many in the house movement desiring this and feeling cynical of the “me-centric” approach in most churches in America that meet in buildings because they (house churches) are biblically rejecting the “corporate” heirarchy we have created (in institutional churches) to better function…most of which came from a modern mindset after WWII, not from scripture. I think balance is called for here. “Institutional” churches need to be willing to deconstruct false heirarchy that man has built to get back to a more biblical approach (that has structure, but whose goal is to glorify Christ as the head, and allow for as many members to function). Leaving the church to start a home one for these reasons of rebellion just replaces one man-made structure for the other and is not helpful if its just a rebellion to the “institution” of church. We should be more about allowing people to function in their gifts, holding them accountable to scripture as a body, recognizing individuals on a scriptural basis and allow them to be ‘set apart’ for ministry and leadership that we all mutually approve and submit to, let them train and learn from people more mature in the faith, etc until they turn around and multiply this. Paul did this with Timothy, Silas, etc. He mentored but saw them as ‘co-laborers’ (see also Pricilla/Aquilla, and other people listed by Paul in his letters).

    Arrogance

    Both approaches can be arrogant in holding to a form of church and making it the pattern to which all others are judged as committing heresy. The Bible is our pattern. Some things that were practiced in the Bible were not necessarily prescribed to always be practiced. Meeting together is prescribed to happen in order for there to be church (assembly), but where to meet is not. It was practiced where some met in Synagogues, some in Solomon’s Portico, some in rented spaces as Paul did in Ephesus when he trained church planters/Apostles for 2 years, and also in homes. What did happen in every assembly is that Christ was glorified, and Paul prescribed in Corinthians using the gifts in a way that were centered on Christ and meeting needs in love and that were practiced orderly so that the culture wouldn’t have a disfavorable view of Jesus. Styles of music, video vs no video, etc, were not addressed, but Biblical guidelines such as heart attitude, and what will be the best vehicle to worship God Biblically for a particular assembly/culture, etc should dictate why we choose the things we practice without compromising the things that are prescribed. God will always move differently in each culture to better communicate Himself to them with out compromising His character/nature. How closely do we look at this and how willing are we to address this no matter what changes must be made in our particular assembly?

    Control

    I agree with this blog on this issue…anytime we try to put ourselves, someone or something else on the throne that Christ rightfully sits on, it is called idolatry, and is sin. Leaving an existing church for a home one for this basis is wrong, just as is perpetuating a current structure in your local church to keep control in certain places/structures/heirarchy and not submitting to God’s Spirit as Christ leads is equally as wrong.

    I think there are good people in both house churches and institutional churches. I think some people start house churches for the right reasons (following God’s lead, seeking to reach a new people group in our culture that may not enter an institutional church, etc) and for the wrong reasons (rebellion, desire to control, etc).

    As long as obedience and heart issues are settled, one is not better than the other in terms of form and judging one in favor of another (on issues of heresy) is not helpful. We need to guard our own heart and be obedient to the path God is leading us on.

    What I would love is for all Christians who are part of the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the assembly or church to find a way to be about making Christ known in this world by working together in both settings. For “institutional” churches to launch church plants with “set apart” individuals in their congregations that establish both “institutional” traditional type churches and home/organic churches. Each has the potential to shine the light of Christ in different places. Are we brave enough to see the good of both and not try to fight over one approach to protect our perceived ‘sacred’ home turf?

    • Matthew 26:65
      Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.

      Just kidding Rufus! I hope to be able to read your entire reply one day so I can give a serious response.

    • Rufus,

      I agree with most everything you stated. It is not a fight of me versus them (the existing church vs. house churches) but instead a fight of me vs. sin nature. What prompted much of what I wrote in the beginning was a reaction to many existing house church networks. I encourage anyone to simply google, “House Church” and see what you find. As I mentioned, I genuinely pray and hope for the house church movement to follow Christ’s leading (as I am sure many have). I think this style of church has great opportunity to reach the lost in ways existing churches might not be able to.

      In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul chided the church for choosing sides, “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, or I follow Christ…” Paul reminded them that all follow Christ but they may have learned from different venues. If only we could humble ourselves to proclaim, “We follow Christ” instead of proclaiming who has the “right” way of doing things.

      One note from all of this, I am thankful for the body of Kingsland. It is not a perfect church but I am glad we can wrestle through these issues and honestly make adjustments where the Lord leads.

      • Agreeing with “most everything” Rufus stated could mean you disagree with tens of thousands of words in his reply.

  3. Good points. As sinful people, we try to protect what we are a part of. This is why when people “leave” the traditional church for a home church, there is no humility from the traditional church who judge them for leaving to another model. This is arrogance just as much as those who leave the traditional church for a “better” model. Good scripture to point out the main thing should be Christ, not a form of assembly, or church.

    So what can the traditional church learn from the home church movement that can be applied in the traditional setting to make it more about Christ. Also, what can home churches use from the traditional model?

  4. Wow, am I late to the game or what?

    Rufus – awesome points. I think you really hit the nail on the head, here. It’s about motive.

    I’m not a member of Kingsland. In fact, I live in Dallas. The church which I attend has both Sunday ABFs and home ABFs. Dallas is a big city (though not as large as Houston!), and so many of the home ABFs allow those who live a distance from the church to participate in the church, submitting to the authority of the church. (All little c’s here. I’m just talking about my local body of believers.) And, I definitely think there are merits to this model. There are also some concerns about meeting on and honoring the Lord’s Day, though. For those home ABFs that meet during the week, and for those members who don’t attend the service on Sunday morning, is the ABF then a way for them to fit God into their schedule rather than submitting their schedules to God? (Oh, and by the way, I’m pointing back at myself on this whole submit schedule to God thing. I’m just raising questions here that I wrestle with, too. I’m not trying to judge motives, and in fact, I have no one in particular in mind.)

    The fourth commandment is something I struggle with. It is hard to order my life so that I am wholly focused on God on the Lord’s Day. Yes, I try to live every day in submission to Him, but the Bible notes that the Lord’s Day is a special day, set aside for God. I don’t consider myself too special or different, so I’ve got to think that others struggle with the Lord’s Day like I do. I wonder if some of the home ABF movement is not another expression of the struggle I have with commandment four. I think that our consumer-driven culture is one reason for the struggle with the Lord’s Day. Rufus, you handled this point in relation to ABFs above. I can’t help but see a connection.

    Anyway, my two cents.

    • I agree with you that people can make ABF’s or HBF’s about their own schedule and not about submission.

      We have small groups in our ABF’s at Kingsland but we strive to keep connected to the larger body of the ABF and Kingsland as a whole.

      I find that these are a good way to extend Biblical community to those who wouldn’t connect with the larger church body as a whole, but you have to balance this with not shrinking back from scriptural instruction to meet together, worship together etc.

      So the short answer is that again it’s still motive. Are you using ABF’s/HBF’s to make God fit your schedule, prefered model of church etc, or are you willing to submit to God’s word no matter what structure it is?

    • I agree Joel-steen.

      I hate any model that focuses on self, unless it’s MY-Self. Which by the way, saints, we (by which I mean “I”) are hosting a healing crusade whereby I forsake my marriage of 30 years to continue to build my Kingdom, uh, heal you of your infirmaries.

      We will be taking a huge fee, er, modest love gift for our services, uh ministry, so get your tickets while you still can.

      All gifts are tax-deductable, and only 2% will be paid out towards my divorce settlement whereby my wife of 30 years will receive the south Hampton estate, and the Miami property…as well as the ocean front property in Aruba. In these economic times, and with so much need in the world, we thought it would be modest to split up our 6 houses (3 apiece).

      See you at the gig…uh, ministry time next month.

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