Saturday, April 18, 2009

Authority and the Church P. III

It's been a while, but I thought I'd revisit the issue of authority and the church. The first two installments of this debate I entertained are here, and here. My comments will be in black, and TJG's will be in red.

Having said that, I have to ask a few questions in return: what makes you think that doing Church as a House Church will avoid any of the partitioning, and pandering that accompanies conventional churches? And just to keep in focus with your question a little more, why do you think a house church model will avoid the pitfalls and downswings of churches as they've been through the centuries?

"Meeting in our homes doesn’t ensure anything will be what it is suppose to be. Meeting in the home is not a guard against a Diotrephes but it his the wisdom of God to gather as a family in ones home"

Absolutely it is the 'wisdom of God' to gather in one's home. I have no quarrel with you there. My concern is that you've written off a large portion of history, and thousands of years (2000, that is) of people meeting in larger houses affectionately known as the 'house of God' all for a change in location. If I can venture a bit of sarcasm without it being taken as hostility, you've exchanged mitigation for mortgages. In other words, you've exchanged a bigger building for a smaller building. But practically speaking, meeting in the home is valid, for sure. But not meeting in the home, and opting for a larger place to gather in not invalidated by other Christians meeting in their homes.

But more to the point, the necessity of meeting in homes was a fact of Roman persecution. The apostles and the early Christians met in homes because the influence of the Hellenic Jewish community around them was oppressive, and the Romans were obliged to apply the law to Christians since they were viewed as upstarts, rebels, and a disturbance to the peace. It didn't take 50 years after Christ's death before Jerusalem was burnt to the ground and the Christians were blamed (AD 70)! If they didn't all want to get nailed shut into their public buildings and burnt alive, or worse, they had to meet in secret. Thus the origin of the icthus (the symbol of the fish, or the first letter of the Greek alphabet, alpha): it was a symbol used in secret to identify without speaking who was a Christian. One person would etch the first arch of the symbol into the ground with a walking stick, or their foot, and the one passing by would intersect the arch with the completing arch. Then the two passers-by knew each other as Christians.

Oppression and persecution drove people into their homes, caves, catacombs, and tombs until roughly AD 313; why don't we meet in caves, or tombs then, if we want to be biblically and historically pure, Tim? The fact that the apostles started meeting with people in their homes was not only a Jewish custom at the time, it was also a matter of being a seed community. That is, a fledgling group of believers with no financial clout, and no ability or influence to gain a public building of their choice. Given all that, I'm concerned that 'house church' is simply a different format for doing church and is no more right, or wrong than church as it presently is. God isn't stopped, or slowed by methodology, or location. Geography isn't a barrier to our Lord.

"it is how the apostles brought the body to relate and function together with out any kind of dedicated edifice for that function."

Because it was their only option. I mean, aside from the caves, catacombs, and tombs I mentioned earlier.
"Leadership is to be understood as a servant not a lord.(1Pet.5:3 Luke 22:26) Leaders lead the church but are not lords’ of the church."

Yes, you're right. I think that is an established, almost universal understanding, if not a doctrine (i.e., established teaching) amongst conventional churches. The fact that some people take advantage of a leadership position is not an argument for the illegitimacy of present-day church leadership. It is an argument for the immorality of some people, but it does nothing to debunk the presence, or even necessity of leadership in present-day churches.


Anonymous said...

This is interesting reading, Chris. It made me wonder if Tim somehow felt that meeting in houses would avoid some of the pitfalls of living in community.
We have had the wonderful privilege of meeting in our home for church.
We made the decision after worshipping with a group of people who really didn't know each other on a personal level and who seemed to take "potshots" at each other in each other's absence.
There was quite a transformation in the group when we began meeting in our home.
It is my conviction that strife is often borne of misunderstanding or ignorance of other people. It is often easier to assume and to gather the opinions of others rather than getting to know someone and understand who they are and why they think and behave the way they do.
I believe that meeting in a house fosters a kind of intimacy that doesn't always happen in larger groups -- in churches where people often see each other only on Sundays.
That said, you can plan and make room for fellowship and intimacy. It takes dedication, time and creativity to see that happen.
People are people no matter what roof they worship under; it's just that there is less likelihood for misunderstanding when they know each other, listen to each other, pray for each other.
We meet in a church, but we create opportunities outside of church.
Even something as simple as being available for 15 minutes or half an hour after church ...
Often the opportunities aren't that costly.
They take thought, mostly -- a willingness and availability for other people.
We have heard it referred to as "doing life together". And that is intentional.
I am wondering if this gets more difficult as churches get larger. I have not been part of a church larger than about 200 people.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this discussion. It is one that has filled many a church hall, home, and cafe with exhaustive debate. I have been a part of both scenarios, and see the merit in both points of view, though either can not, I believe, take a hard absolute stand in scripture to completely support one or the other. While not wanting to sound disingenuous to any one person's point of view or preferred scriptural stand, the need that a hardy few have to find a one-size-fits-all-generations gospel clouds the intent of Jesus' message. The intent being that his message was trans generational and trans cultural and did not depend on or require that future generations make a valiant attempt at replicating the actions of the first century church for His message to succeed with any validity. At the risk of sounding too simplistic, the early Christians met in houses for one reason: their lives were under constant threat of persecution and death, and meeting openly in a synagogue or pagan temple was unfeasible during the time of the first disciples. Recent discoveries of first century meeting houses supports the migration of early Christians away from small house churches towards a more practical central meeting place that could accommodate larger groups of believers. On the other hand, the fairly recent move of churches to have cell groups (home groups), expresses a need for a more intimate venue to worship and grow in Christ together. While the following statement is a generalization derived from my life experience, it has been my experience that those of us who embraced a House Church philosophy really did so out of painful experiences with traditional church leadership and settings. As we all know, building anything, a church, a relationship, a life mission, a ministry, from a foundation of unresolved issues with others will always lead to a journey marked with pitfalls. It should be noted that while gatherings of Christians who hold to a house church philosophy are evident throughout the world, (my daughter is visiting one in Gibraltar this week) they have no obvious historical record of generational longevity. Is that a bad thing? Are they meant to have the same longevity as say a church that has a physical structure? Or, are such structured gatherings meant to be more organic and transient over generations? I believe both views have a place in our Christian heritage as our gathering together was not meant to be a ritual of observance based on history or what the early Christians did, but a fellowship of those who pursue Christ. If that takes a leadership form revolving around a house setting, then it should done through love, not through protest of another leadership structure. To advertise yourself as a group that meets because another group does it "wrong" or another way, is to weaken one's message with personal grievances.


Anonymous said...

It is an interesting point that people try to replicate the actions of the New Testament church when what they did was out of necessity.
We do things out of necessity, as well, but look at what works in for our time and circumstances.
The most important thing is to do what works for your church, where you are, in a spirit of love; otherwise, none of it makes sense.
It makes no sense to do want to follow the New Testament example and criticize what others are doing.
One thing i have learned is that "place" is not nearly as important as "people". Perhaps that should be obvious, but we sometimes tend to hyperfocus on the form of something rather than its substance.

Christopher said...

"One thing i have learned is that "place" is not nearly as important as "people". Perhaps that should be obvious, but we sometimes tend to hyperfocus on the form of something rather than its substance."Jo-Anne,

That was the perfect way to say what you did. Awesome. Thank you!